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The Wizards’ lack of an offensive identity adds to their defensive struggles

Larry Hughes breaks down their obvious lack of a plan on both offense and defense and how those two sides of the ball are interconnected.

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
Scott Brooks talking to his coaching staff during a game against the Nets
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

What kind of team is the Washington Wizards? What kind of team do coaches and the front office want to be? Do they have the personnel to be the kind of team that they want to be? Those are the questions Larry Hughes and I tried to address on the latest episode of the Bleav in Wizards podcast.

To my untrained eye, the Wizards have mostly looked like a disjointed collection of individuals out on the court. I feel reasonably confident in saying that most fans would agree with me on that (plus a few more profanities perhaps). I started by asking Hughes if his view of the team so far has been similar to that of fans.

“I don’t know what the identity is right now,” Hughes said. “I don’t know what gives the Wizards the best chance, the best possibility of winning basket game and being consistent...I don’t think the way they’ve been playing is going to be successful. And I don’t think that’s something that they want to continue to carry on, to try to outscore people, try to put up a bunch of points, try to get to get a bunch of possessions. That’s what I’m seeing.”

So what should they be doing?

“I don’t think that’s the right way to go,” said Hughes. “Understand what your foundation is. Begin to build a structure in your culture of how you’re going to play each and every night. I just think that trying to outscore people is not the right way to go about it.”

Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards
Davis Bertans taking a contest shot
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Like in most jobs, everyone understanding their roles and responsibilities is paramount to success. Players also have to understand how their specific role contributes to the big picture.

“I can’t say it any simpler, those guys don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” said Hughes. “When you think about the offensive end and if they should take a shot or make a drive-and-kick pass, it looks to me that they’re trying to take the shot. And to have no identity, to have no role, to have no (necessarily) responsibility, it puts everybody at a disadvantage.”

I thought Hughes brought up a really important point here. Personally, I have been so focused on how bas the defense had been that I almost gave them a pass for how unorganized they look on offense much of the time. Yes, the offense has been clunky but it hadn’t really dawned on me that it might also be hurting them in other ways. Hughes expanded upon how their offensive shortcomings actually play into their defensive struggles.

“You’re playing basketball on the offensive end that’s obviously centered around Brad’s ability to score the basketball. And obviously, Davis Bertans ability to make shots. Well, if Brad is not taking great shots and Bertans isn’t taking great shots, then you’re putting your defense in a bad spot.”

“If you got guys flattened down to the baseline and you’re talking about taking a bad shot or bad three, no one is getting back. Your effort is not even the same, trying to get back. If someone takes a bad shot and you’re all the way on the baseline. I think that they need to shore up what they want to do on the offensive end, spread the cookies around a little bit more.”

The Wizards looked better in their recent win against the Phoenix Suns largely in part because they had better offensive flow and didn’t put themselves at a disadvantage defensively quite as often. Even minimal improvements on both sides of the ball would have a significant impact on their overall record.

Phoenix Suns v Washington Wizards
The Wizards chase on defense and give up a layup against the Suns
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

As nice as that Phoenix game was to watch, it seems too early to say if that was a one-off performance or if they have made lasting changes. Scott Brooks made some comments earlier in the week about introducing more structure to the offense and focusing on set plays as opposed to more general actions.

Hughes continued on to explain why that offensive flow is so important to how they perform on both sides of the court.

“So everybody’s in the game...You know Brad is going to get 40 (points), maybe 26 shots. You know Brad is going to average 35 right now, maybe. Well, what does it look like if you have just 26, 27 (points)? So just kind of understanding what the total product looks like.”

“I think we talk about defense,” Hughes said. “You also have to look at the offense to see the number of bad shots that are taken and quick shots that are taken. Just ill-advised things that happens that don’t allow you get to get back. And then if you watch the good teams play and you see the structure in which they play on offense and how that puts them in a better position to stop transition buckets, to match up properly. Then you can figure out where your downfalls are.”

We also continued to talk about the shared responsibility for these problems between the players, coaches, front office and ownership. Additionally, we broke down what the team should to do replace Thomas Bryant’s production. So if those topics interest you as well, please check out the rest of the episode!

Episode breakdown

What is their identity? - 1:00

This roster isn’t built to just outscore teams every night - 4:00

Holding people accountable - 5:30

What is their plan? - 9:00

Best way to replace Thomas Bryant’s production and roster additions - 14:00

Wizards aren’t interested in playing defense - 25:00

Bad offense leads to worse defense - 33:00

When is it time to make a change? - 37:00

How do you fix it? - 39:00

Inconsistent playing time for guys who are actually producing - 45:00