The 2020-2021 Washington Wizards are a bad defensive team. And that might actually be an understatement. Given the personnel, it seems unlikely that this group will magically turn into a good defensive team anytime soon.
Larry Hughes and I have talked a lot about the team’s porous defense on the Bleav in Wizards podcast. On this week’s show, Hughes explained what it takes to be a good defensive team in the NBA and how they could improve.
We also discussed if anyone on this roster had the potential to make the jump to be an above-average individual defender. We both feel Rui Hachimura is one of the few guys with the potential to make a major leap defensively. We haven’t really seen that from Hachimura so far this season but he’s still young and should continue to make strides on that side of the ball.
On the podcast, I asked if it’s possible to be a strong defensive team without a few upper echelon individual defenders. Obviously, the more plus-defenders you have the better but you need a Defensive Player of the Year caliber guy to anchor your defense in order to be really good? Hughes believes that players tend to look better and receive more recognition for their defense when they’re surrounded by other engaged defenders and the team is successful on that end.
After discussing high-level defenders, I wondered who the best individual defenders were in Washington franchise history. Several of the marquee names were before my time and having only seen grainy NBA Classics games makes it harder for me to comment on their defensive prowess.
Looking at the players to make NBA All-Defensive teams seemed like a reasonable place to start. This is surely not an all-encompassing way to go about this so please let me know in the comments who else you think deserves some recognition for their defensive contributions to the Washington basketball franchise.
Over the years, I thought John Wall’s defense became overrated as his effort and attention to it seemed to wane. Yes, he continued to rack up a lot of steals but he also gave up a good amount of career highs to players like Elfrid Payton. But in 2014-15, Wall turned in an impressive defensive campaign which earned him Second Team honors.
Wall was a menace at the point of attack and helped lead the Wizards to one of their best overall defensive seasons. The team finished in the top five in defensive rating (103.0) and Wall was the tip of the spear. He averaged 1.7 steals and .6 blocks. The blocks may not seem like a lot but the ones he had were spectacular enough that it seemed to make opposing players look over their shoulders when he was on the court.
Yes, I do a podcast with Hughes. Yes, I am biased enough that I would have hyped up his defense regardless. But “the facts is the facts” as they, and Hughes is one of two Washington players to ever make an All-Defensive First Team.
In 2004-05, Hughes lead the NBA in steals with 2.9 per game and took on the toughest perimeter assignment each night. The team only finished 19th in defensive rating that year but that number looks a lot better when you see how much it dropped without Hughes the next few years and largely the same core.
Anecdotally, we’ve had several of the core members of that team (Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Hawyood, Jared Jeffries, Etan Thomas) on the show and they all raved about how much Hughes did for them defensively and as a leader in the locker room. The Wizards opted to let Hughes guard the other teams’ best players one-on-one. He gave up some big games along the way because of that but his willingness to guard them straight-up gave him additional credibility to hold teammates accountable.
As a rookie in 1985-1986, the 7-7 Manute Bol lead the NBA in blocks with 5 per game, despite only playing 26 minutes per game. Bol was a real deterrent for the Bullets and helped the team finish fourth in defensive rating (out of 23 teams at the time). He only averaged 3.7 points and 6.0 rebounds but clearly made an impact on the team’s defense. This earned him a spot on the NBA’s Second Team.
Unfortunately, the team was limited offensively and flamed out in the first round of the playoffs in a close series with the Philadelphia 76ers. As a 32-year-old, I can’t imagine what it felt like to root for a Washington team that was prolific on defense and anemic on offense. It feels like I’ve entered The Twilight Zone just typing that.
“Bobby D” was the perimeter stopper on Washington’s only NBA Championship team. In 1978-79, Dandridge received the recognition he deserved by being named to the All-Defensive First Team.
Even though that year’s team ultimately ended up falling short and losing in the NBA Finals, they finished 8th in defensive rating, which was one spot higher than the year before. My dad always says that Dandridge is “the most undervalued player in franchise history” and I don’t think he’s alone in that belief. We certainly could use someone like him on the current roster.
Elvin Hayes is the only member of this team to appear on multiple All-Defense teams. From 1973-75, he earned spots on the Second Team. In 1973-1974, the Bullets finished fourth in defensive rating, largely due to Hayes’ 18.1 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1.1 steals. The next season, they jumped to first even though Hayes’ numbers dipped ever so slightly.
For many Washington basketball fans, when they think of the ideal defensive anchor they think of Hayes. It’s hard to argue with that as the Bullets were routinely a top defensive team in the league with him manning the paint. Plus, he has a championship to show for it.
We will be giving away an autographed picture of Bradley Beal so make sure to check out this episode of the podcast for the details on how to enter to win!