[Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, we invited you to ask former Wizards Video Coordinator Bryan Oringher about his time with the team and what he’s learned about the league through his experience.
If you haven’t done so already, make sure check out his breakdown of what went wrong in the Wizards’ loss to the Kings and follow him on Twitter. His responses are below.]
Were you involved in coaches meetings? Did you provide input on rotations, player lineups, etc., or are you more of an information source for the coaching staff?
Bryan: Yes. I was in every coaches meeting for the most part. As far as input—correct more of an information source. Sometimes would be the analytical “voice” if there was something big from the analytics team that I agreed the coaches should see. Would occasionally speak up if I saw something drastic on film or something I knew regarding tendencies or play calls of opponents.
What role did you play in player development? Did you use your time more for scouting of future opponents or macro-team conclusions, or did you work with players individually in their improvement?
Bryan: Both. I was on the court for every practice still and would help pass/rebound before or after practice when I could. A lot of video is taking a look at ourselves and not just opponents and watching video either as a team or individually (usually coaches would do this) with a player. If there was a certain player we thought Bradley Beal could emulate or take some tricks from of course we’d try to pull film of that guy doing it to show Brad and so on. In season, video is more tied into the game planning and opponent prep but we definitely played a role in player development as well. See Quin Snyder changing his video room titles to DAV recently.
Did you have interactions with Tommy Sheppard and Ernie? What was it like working with them?
Bryan: Of course. Both treated me great.
What does a typical day look like for a video coordinator (practice or day of a game)? What are your responsibilities pre-game, during games, post game?
Bryan: Current Wizards’ Video Coordinator Jimmy Bradshaw broke down a typical game day in a piece here that’s a good read.
What would you tell someone who is looking to get better at analyzing film to focus on when watching the game that the average watcher isn’t paying attention to?
Bryan: Great question. Don’t watch the ball. Familiarize yourself with knowing generally speaking where the ball is and then learn to really watch the game thru the other 9 guys on the court. Watch the set and movements of the offense. Watch how the off-ball defenders are reacting to everything and how they move. Basically, widen your lens.
People get too caught up just watching lowlights or “how in the world did this happen?” instead of watching the full play. I’ll see people blaming guys for awful D sometimes when they’re playing hard and the other team just exploited something schematically. Learn to watch the game away from the ball—especially defensively—and see who’s in a stance, who’s in the right position, who’s locked in and in between the ball and their man. Everything else will follow.
Who were some of your favorite people to work with in the business -- players, coaches, FO, etc?
Bryan: I really enjoyed everyone I worked with in my time with the team. I tell people that in my life I’ve probably texted John Wall 500 times and he’s responded to almost every single one. That’s the type of guy he is, usually within 5 minutes. Amazing person. Basketball savant, like Rain Man-level.
I had a great relationship with Brad I thought—all players have a lot of “yes men” in their lives so I tried to carve a niche as the guy who would ‘keep it real’ with them. And I think Brad really appreciated me holding him accountable and telling him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear.
Sam Cassell, Ryan Saunders, Roy Rogers etc. were a lot of fun. Current assistant Ryan Richman will be a head coach someday.
It’s obvious you have more data about the other team come playoff time and sometimes have a short recovery time with back-to-backs, so how you scout teams differently at different times of the season?
Bryan: You may be surprised by this but I tell people that we honestly prepared for every single game like it was the championship. Wittman in particular wanted to know every single play call, how we could stop their sets and counters and so on and so forth. As you mentioned with the schedule of course wasn’t always possible. But then yes, everything is amplified tremendously in the playoffs.
If every team had to run the triangle offense, who would the top/bottom 5 be? #AskBryan— Mark Brockman (@MarkRBrockman) November 7, 2018
Bryan: The triangle offense? We’re still talking about the triangle?
Offensive numbers would be wayyyy down, I’ll say that.
I often read articles that refer to “limited practice time” in the NBA. For example, a team makes a mid-season trade and the coach says something like “It will be tough to integrate new player X because practice time is limited”, or “Our rookies don’t get a lot of reps because practice time is limited”. Isn’t practice time something the team has control over? Is the number of hours spent practicing limited by the collective bargaining agreement? Can the Wizards force John Wall and Dwight Howard to practice the pick and roll on their own time, or is that something specifically limited by the collective bargaining agreement?
Bryan: I’m not a CBA expert but I’m sure there are some provisions about practice time being something within reason and pretty bare-bones. Practice time is mostly limited because of the intensity of the schedule. With games basically every other day and your major guys playing 35-40 minutes in them, the “sport science” guys have basically just figured out that intense practices in conjunction with this amount of live game action threatens the health of players and decreases their game production.
Most great coaches and teams even, like Pop with the Spurs, have opted for much shorter and less frequent practices in exchange for all-out intensity in games. Truthfully the best way to integrate guys mid-season is often to have a great development staff of capable players who can run thru the sets and coverages at a reasonable speed and authenticity.
In 2016-17 with the Wiz we had almost a “practice squad” of coaches who could scrimmage against low minute guys rookies etc. Having a G-League team now close by will hopefully help with this as well and require fewer coaches having to pretend they’re pro basketball players.
How are the Wizards perceived among NBA insiders (execs, GMs, coaches, assistants). I don’t mean now, amid this dreadful start — but in general? Over the past couple of years, we as fans have been hoping for them to take the next step, or to get a lucky break and ascend. But among the cognoscenti, has there been a widespread belief that this was never going to happen, that this group — though talented — was never talented enough, or deep enough, and that the structures in place (GM and coach) were woefully inadequate to the task?
Bryan: I can’t really speak to perception around the league. I think the Knicks and Kings have the incompetence medal pretty much locked up. I don’t think the Wizards have had a major perception issue. I think their front office is more respected than the general public thinks and has generally made sensible decisions. I think the belief around the league this season—also prevalent in the media—is that for some reason there’s been a certain apathy to their play and a surprising lack of urgency and intensity by the players.
How often do you guess offensive plays are called throughout the game for individual players(outside the last minutes)? Do most coaches implement a system that the players read and react to or is there consistent plays being run throughout the game? Not counting OOB plays also— Dexter L. Mike (@unxpected1) November 7, 2018
Bryan: Good question. It depends totally on the team. Teams like the Rockets and Warriors mostly just have a general system and read and react. They hardly call plays. The Spurs and teams out of the Pop tree will call a decent amount of plays, but they’re usually pretty equal-opportunity movement read-and-react sets.
The Celtics, Kings, 76ers, Timberwolves, and any Stan Van Gundy team have pretty big playbooks. Almost every team I’d say has, at least for their starters, a couple plays in the playbook that are “his” plays - ie certain sets that a particular guy is really good at and usually ends up being the playmaker or the guy looking to be the scorer on that set. For example, Brett Brown has certain “packages” of plays for JJ Redick, plays for Joel Embiid, plays to get Ben Simmons in the post, etc.
I’ve been wanting to understand this for 2 years now, and your (excellent) video breakdown of Wiz defensive struggles just reminded me to do so.
The automatic switching problem is not new to the Wizards, as we’ve seen it for the entire Brooks regime. I am also sure that the coach is not stupid and he understands this. So, my question is why does he keep the same failed schemes in place? and why (despite 100% surely realizing it) does he keep five reserves lineups?
P.S.—I really miss Randy Wittman. How was he as a coach?
Bryan: There’s no magical scheme. Most schemes are workable in themselves if the players do them with maximum effort and intensity. I’m sure Coach Brooks would argue that his “schemes” are in fact not being done. As I’ve mentioned, the Warriors and Rockets switch a ton too, and when they’re locked in and switching with physicality and purpose, teams are stymied against them. If you switch unnecessarily and to take shortcuts and switch without contact and soft, you get exposed. The schemes can work if done correctly. That requires incredible discipline and focus.
As far as the reserves lineup, I personally would always want at least one of John or Brad in the game and I would agree that five-reserve lineups for this team are a mistake.
Wittman was a great disciplinarian and defensive coach. He got guys to really buy into playing defense, had a great system that he drilled and obsessed over every day, and the results reflected that. He also was an offensive savant and magical with the plays he would draw up.
Bryan: Not perfect but never as bad as anyone made it out to be. Like Simmons and Embiid in Philly they’re not BFFs. They don’t have a ton in common. But they get along just fine and you’re naturally gonna have some friction with two alpha-males who both have dominant personalities and want the ball end of quarters and games. I think they’ve come to realize they each need each other and are much better when they’re on the same page. Splitting them up would be a basketball tragedy.
@BryanOringher People say the NBA is a player's league. Yet I'm curious, how much of an impact coaching actually has on the performance? Let's assume the current Wiz would be coached by a TOP-3 coach (like Brad Stevens), would it make a difference?— Johnwasgeht (@johnwasgeht) November 7, 2018
Bryan: A big impact. Yes.
What are a couple of your favorite BOBs (Baseline Out-of-Bounds Play)’s and SOBs (Sideline Out-of-Bounds Plays) to run?
Bryan: Brad Stevens has a phenomenal SOB package. Everything looks the same but a lot of different wrinkles out of them. I also like coaches who run their regular stuff out of SOB: Brett Brown will run just a diamond-type movement set that they sometimes get layups on and then go right into a regular set if it’s not open. Randy Wittman had some great BOB plays—to be honest I haven’t paid as much attention to BOB plays this year as I should. Will try to take a look soon.
Why do sometimes coaches make decisions based on trust or gut instead of based on facts and analytics?— Nacho Yzaguirre (@NachoYzaguirre) November 7, 2018
Bryan: Great question. So the fact is, while many coaches talk about analytics and rave about their love for them, a strong majority of coaches in my experience don’t really believe in analytics. Even many of the ones who talk about it and claim to be supporters are often just doing what they know makes them look better to their owners or fan base while knocking them behind closed doors.
Interpret that as you wish, but the truth is that I mostly believe they’re correct. There’s a reason almost every superstar player or Hall of Fame coach it seems has expressed some sort of anti-analytics sentiment. And this is coming from someone who got into sports after reading Moneyball and loves that in baseball. There are just an overwhelming amount of numbers out there that can be made to make any possible argument and a lot of it is just junk that doesn’t pass the eye test. Don’t get me wrong. There are useful things out there. There are a ton of stats and tracking and so on that can provide competitive advantages and there are numbers to help paint a picture and so on. But these coaches are people who have been in the NBA often for 10 years as players themselves and then 30 years as coaches. They’ve watched and studied the game every hour of their existence almost. They know the game inside and out. They understand the strategy and why certain things work and why they don’t. You really need an approach that balances everything: eyes, ears, and numbers as Rich Cho used to say. With all due respect, and I know I’m gonna sound like Get off my Lawn guy here, but anyone sitting at home running analytics deriding how coaches are doing things that don’t truly understand the schemes, play calls, terminology, strategy, etc. isn’t qualified.
Pick whoever you want as your analytics superstar coach, and unless they’re part of the Rockets organization, they probably don’t believe in analytics nearly as much as you think they do. And even then they probably believe in it less.