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Roundtable: What else can the Wizards do to slow down Isaiah Thomas?

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Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Before Game 2, Marcus wrote a piece about what the Wizards could do differently to slow down Isaiah Thomas. Clearly, the Wizards did not have a lot of success implementing that in their loss on Tuesday, but there’s a new opportunity to try something different on Thursday, which got some of our writers talking about how Washington can change their game plan.


Fim Oshin: Look I'm going to say this, I hope Mahinmi plays. He might be the missing piece to our bench.

Marcus Atkinson: He might help, but am I crazy to think that they should give Satoransky some of Jennings minutes? The way I see it, you can't keep having him go out there and not do anything on offense with the way he plays defense. He hasn't scored a point in the last three games. Last night he didn't even register an assist. Satoransky can't be that bad. At least he would play better defense if nothing else.

Alan Jenkins: It's far from the panacea but I'm with Marcus, I think you give Satoransky all of Jennings minutes, play 4v5 on offense. On the defensive end, it's nearly impossible to be worse than Jennings and since the Wizards like to switch everything, he sometimes gets switched onto Crowder or Smart who just back him down whereas Sato has a bit more size. The only thing you lose is pace.

Either that or play Wall the entire second half.

Jake Whitacre: Or at least if the defense is going to be that bad with Jennings on the floor, bring Trey Burke in with Wall to at least provide some spacing on offense.

Kevin Broom: Give Ernie credit – he’s constructed a bench so deep that the Wizards can ponder multiple options behind Wall – Jennings, Satoransky, Burke…an embarrassment of riches.

Mahinmi might help some, but he’s not The Missing Piece. The Celtics are killing the Wizards with their spacing and Thomas’ ability to go wherever he wants with the ball. Defenses usually are trying to funnel penetration (and the ball) away from the middle – Thomas gets there at will. The Wizards have some challenges there that Mahinmi won’t solve.

First, the perimeter defenders have to move their feet and body and cut off Thomas’ preferred path. Which is a brutal job because IT is so quick, such a good ball-handler, and a terrific shooter.

Second, they need help to arrive faster when Thomas gets penetration. Which is a brutal job for any big because IT is so fast, AND because Horford is a good shooter and a skilled passer, AND because Boston has other competent shooters elsewhere in their lineup.

Third, Wall and Beal are the logical people to put on Thomas, but a) they both carry a big offensive load; and b) the Celtics are excellent at running sets that force switches and get matchups they like.

The Wizards’ best option might be to do something unconventional like sticking Porter on him and let Gortat play kind of a one-man zone where he defends whoever is closest to the basket. Tell Porter to play back on Thomas, try to force IT away from the middle, and use his length to contest shots when IT pulls up. If Horford is away from the basket, let guards or whoever defend him. The challenge with this is the Wizards would need to communicate like crazy for it to have a chance to be successful, and – even if they did communicate well – I think Stevens and the Boston coaching staff would recognize the holes pretty quick and start attacking them. So, maybe it’s more of an assignment issue: just put Porter on him (playing back, etc.), play the usual defensive scheme, and hope like hell Thomas comes back down to earth.

All this is a long way of saying that Mahinmi isn’t the solution. He’s a good defender and rim protector, but he’d still have to deal with a skilled, mobile center, which means he still has that same distance to cover that Gortat does to help in the middle.

Mike Prada: I think they had the right idea for a couple possessions late in the game when Gortat hard trapped IT to the point where he couldn't see his outlets, plus Morris zoned up in the back. That I think is the best strategy. It worked for those couple plays, that's for sure, and when IT was struggling against Chicago that's how Lopez was doing it. And though Mahinmi isn't a panacea by any means, he's probably better at that than Gortat is.

The problem is that Boston started using misdirection to confuse Gortat and lean him off-balanced so he couldn't trap. Isaiah hit a huge 3 late where Gortat got fooled into trapping Bradley (I think?) coming off a pindown, not realizing that was decoy action. That meant he was late to help the guard on IT's screening action and IT got a three. Brad Stevens is a great coach, but Wiz gotta stay disciplined there. It's hard, but there is still a big difference between a hard trap and a kinda hard trap. You can't give Thomas ANY room to maneuver off those screens, because if he gets any, he'll split the double, throw the early pass or use a hesitation to freeze his man.

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Kevin Broom: Yeah, I talked trapping on a radio hit I did in Baltimore this morning. The problems there is that the more they do it, the better IT gets at countering. He's a good passer and great ball handler, and when he breaks the trap it's 5 on 3. Also, Morris' is less than ideal as the zone guy, especially with limited mobility because of the ankle (which hopefully will get better). Plus, Celtics coaching staff is superb.

Discipline is the right word for the Wiz. They're going to have to use a variety of strategies-- I don't think any one thing will work for long.

Mike Prada: Yeah it's really hard. You have to do something to expose his lack of size. If you really trap hard and well, you block his vision and it almost doesn't matter as much who the zone guy is.

But Boston is so damn good at making that difficult to do. It's like trying to swat a fly.

Mike Sykes: I think trapping is probably the best option here but I also feel like they need to deny him of the ball when he doesn't have it in his hands.

He often brings it up but when he loops and goes to set screens the Wizards have to be physical with him and keep him from getting it back for as long as possible.

That's difficult because either Wall or Beal would have to do that and, like Kevin said, they've got a heavy offensive load. But they've got to throw something different at him.

Mike Prada: Teams have been trying to deny him the ball all season. He's too fast.

Mike Sykes: I know but you've got to try. There's no one thing that's going to slow him down. It's going to take multiple.

Mike Prada: So one approach would be to keep passing him off these screens by switching and overplay his left, make him go backdoor. Way easier said than done, though. Part of the challenge is that if you delay even half a second switching him off, he has you beat. And if you switch with the wrong personnel, he'll take the big to school OR give it up and get it back.

I would give Tomas a shot here in this sense -- if you're already not playing Bogdanovic his usual minutes, you could give Sato some of those. Sato could be useful trying that scheme.

Marcus Atkinson: The thing about defense is this, you don't have to complete stop someone to be effective, you just need to get them out of rhythm and make them uncomfortable. The problem with the Wizards current defense on IT is that they allow him too much open space to create, which goes to his strengths. If you trap him, you at least stop his ability to get into the middle of the court momentarily. If you force the ball out of his hand, stay discipline with the rest of the players, then they just wasted time and have to either find a way to get someone else to create or get him to do some miraculous. I think allowing him to continue to use screens without stepping up (Gortat stays back a lot on the screens), is not going to do anything to stop his rhythm.

All of the things mentioned are great, but we also have to think they stopped making him work on defense after the first quarter too. They need to make him expend some energy on that end too.

Quinten Rosborough: I'd also like to see the team experiment with playing Bojan over Kelly. In theory, he should be able to make the Celtics pay for hiding Thomas on him -- he can score and pass with his back to the basket, and should be able to run the pick and roll and pick and pop.

He might be worse than Jennings on defense tho so who knows.

Kevin Broom: I don’t think this is a terrible idea, in part because I think Oubre gets WAY overrated on defense. He plays with effort, and he does some good things, but he commits a lot of needless fouls. That gives opponents high-efficiency possessions, which undercuts what could be valuable defense. He hasn’t learned the line between aggressive and reckless.

Bogdanovic is a poor defender, but might help some on offense.