On this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast, former Washington Wizard Larry Hughes provided insight into what has led to the Wizards’ latest hot streak. I think most fans would agree, one of the key factors has been the presence and energy of Daniel Gafford. The increased defensive communication has also played a role in Hughes’ opinion.
Hughes also believes that Gafford’s defensive impact should only continue to increase once he’s had actual practice time with his teams and can fully integrate into their schemes. Better understanding where his teammates are going to be will allow him to be even more active.
Of almost equal importance has been the added dimension he brings to the Wizards’ offense. The Wizards take more shots in the paint than most NBA teams and Gafford has added to that by efficiently scoring from within 10-12 feet of the basket.
What he lacks in perimeter spacing he adds in vertical spacing and Hughes thinks Westbrook has benefited from having a consistent lob threat to play with. Hughes also felt that Gafford’s penchant for highlight-reel dunks and blocks would give his teammates an emotional boost during games.
While the Wizards have been much improved defensively during this 8-game stretch, Hughes feels there is still plenty of room for improvement. I asked him about the coaching staff’s insistence on switching everything 1 through 5 and how it routinely resulted in matchups where Russell Westbrook or Raul Neto were trying to guard Zion Williamson.
Hughes provided some examples of how they could continue to adhere to their established principles without allowing the offense to dictate everything. He can explain it better than I can try to summarize here so check out the episode around 23 minutes in if that interests you.
Russell Westbrook’s shooting has been markedly better down the stretch of games and I wanted to see what Hughes thought about the notion of a“clutch gene.” He explained how Westbrook’s confident mindset and not being afraid to fail allows him to step up in those situations. He was also able to draw a parallel to playing with Michael Jordan late in his career and how playing with a player with that level of confidence rubs off on teammates.
Hughes also explained the value of even a first-round playoff appearance for an organization. I assumed that it would mostly benefit the young players but he believes it has a much wider impact. According to Hughes, a competitive showing in the playoffs is something that prospective free agents will consider when making their decisions. Hughes also added that having fans in the arena would make the playoff experience even more valuable for the players.
Daniel Gafford’s impact and improved communication - 1:00
How Gafford’s energy is contagious - 5:00
Why would Chicago give him up - 6:00
Westbrook’s stamp on the team’s mindset - 9:30
Injuries are likely to start to pile up at this point in the season - 12:00
How hard it can be to beat a team full of unestablished players like OKC - 16:00
Davis Bertans’ improved play and getting him better shots - 18:00
Westbrook’s “clutch gene” and Michael Jordan’s mentality late in games - 21:00
Switching everything defensively and the mismatches it can create - 23:30
Some strategies the Wizards could try on defense - 26:00
Jerome Robinson going from dog house to starter to free agent - 31:30
The addition of Jordan Bell - 33:30
The Wizards’ playoff prospects - 35:00
The value of playoff experience for the whole organization - 38:00
The boost from having fans back in Capital One Arena - 41:00