Since the preseason, the Washington Wizards have placed an emphasis on an egalitarian style to lessen the scoring burden on stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. The early returns are all positive as Washington sits atop the East at 3-0 as the conference’s only undefeated team. Along the way, the Wizards are registering 1.75 assists per turnover, the second-best ratio in the NBA’s early going.
“We know me and Brad are the main guys but we trust in all our other teammates,” said Wall, who shot 3-13 Monday as the Wizards opened a four-game road swing in Denver. “When those guys play well for us they make our team a lot better. It takes a lot of pressure off us. I didn’t shoot the ball well but these guys picked it up, making plays and getting defensive stops.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks revealed some of his own philosophy about the importance of ball movement in describing Washington’s defensive strategy against Nikola Jokic.
“We wanted to actually make him be a scorer because he’s such a great passer,” said Brooks after the win in Denver. “He makes their team feel good about themselves because he makes easy buckets for them with his back door passing, with his cross-court passing, with his trailing, hitting threes. He’s just an amazing passer so we wanted to make sure that when he had the ball, we stayed at home on their scorers.”
While Washington sought to make Jokic look for his own shot more, Beal said that the Wizards were able to overcome a tough shooting night and questionable defensive performance by keeping his teammates involved.
“We had a bunch of turnovers and they would come back and turn it over, so the game was kind of sloppy,” said Beal. “But at the same time, we were able to get back to playing our style of basketball, getting back to moving the ball, sharing it, making sure everybody gets a touch, making sure we’re getting good shots every time down the floor. Once we did that, we were effective. Regardless of a make or a miss, as long as we get a good shot we’re okay with it.”
Wall noted the importance of getting defensive stops and forcing turnovers to feed the team’s hyper-efficient offense.
“We showed glimpses of our defense at times,” said Wall. “We’re a long, active team that we can put pressure on teams, blow up pick and rolls, blow up coverages. When we’re on the weak side, we’re trusting and helping each other. We’re one of the top two best teams in the league in scoring, getting threes or getting layups. When we can turn teams over, we can get more possessions.”
Washington averages a healthy 111.2 points per 100 possessions, good for sixth in the league in the early going. On the defensive end, the Wizards are giving up 104 points per 100 possessions, which rates a middle-of-the-pack 16th. With the defense struggling, Washington will need to continue to lean on its improved depth. At least four starters have scored in double figures in all three games, with all five reaching double digits against Denver.
“A lot of guys got involved,” said Brooks. “Kelly [Oubre] played and did a great job and made timely buckets. Otto [Porter], obviously he was good. March [Marcin Gortat] was making his shots. Offensively, we were good.
“I think that second unit is going to be really good,” Brooks continued. That’s the hard thing about my job. You’ve got so many good players but everybody can’t play. But they have to be ready. I give our staff credit along with the players. They keep guys fresh and keep guys ready so when they do get called on, they’re going to be able to perform just like Thomas [Satoransky] did tonight.”
Despite a chippy incident late in the game when Jokic made contact with Brooks after a timeout was called, Brooks remained effusive in his praise for Denver’s centerpiece.
“The kid is one of the best bigs in the game,” said Brooks. “He’s not only probably the best passing big but he can score. He puts the ball on the floor, mid-post, he can post up, he can shoot the threes. He’s a handful. [He’s a] really terrific player and he’s going to have potential to be an All-Star.”
The Wizards continue their tour of the Western Conference with a stop in Los Angeles Wednesday to face the Lakers. That game will be followed by a Friday visit to Golden State which will pit the early frontrunners in the East against the defending champions. The Warriors are the model of using superior depth to reach championship status. For the Wizards, they will continue to leverage improved depth and ball sharing in hopes of reaching similar heights.
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