Michael Sykes of Bullets Forever and I exchanged emails today. I asked him about the Washington Wizards, and he asked me about the Minnesota Timberwolves. These two teams tip-off against one another at 6:00PM (CST) tonight. This is to provide insight about the enemy. Be sure to follow Sykes on Twitter if you're into that sort of thing. Also, follow Bullets Forever, too, while you're at it. Or don't. It's entirely up to you.
Q:Thinking about the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors all came to mind before the season as potential NBA Finals candidates. Maybe it's just me, but is the feeling in Washington that the Wizards are somewhat overlooked. What type of expectations do the Wizards have for themselves this season?
This team feels like it could be a legitimate title contender after their dismantling of the Clippers' offense the other night and their recent winning ways, but we still don't really know.
This is still a team that was blown out by the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers once. They lost to the Boston Celtics and have played many close games with many bad teams. John Wall has turned a corner and become elite on both ends of the ball, but the offense is still disconcerting.
The team's expectations for themselves before the seasons started were clear: Make it back to the 2nd round and then advance. Wall has even made mention of the NBA Finals a couple of times, so I'd say they're where they expect to be right now and that's pretty different from the norm.
Q: The Wizards are 8-2 over their past 10 matchups. What has them playing so well right now? What do you feel has been their best win thus far this season?
John Wall, John Wall and John Wall with a little splash of Marcin Gortat have this team playing at another level. Wall just recently won Eastern Conference player of the week while averaging just over 18 points and 10 assists per game. He's playing defense at another level and is literally throwing guys open for great looks.
The team's defense in general is top notch and has hovered around the top 5 as far as defensive efficiency goes this season. Bradley Beal is starting to come along as well, so the team is still a work in progress. They aren't exactly as good as they can be two or three months from now.
The best win for the team has to be the one from last Friday against the Clippers. The team held one of the best combos in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in check throughout the game. Wall outplayed Paul and hounded him on the defensive end. The offense was clicking on all cylinders and both Gortat and Beal had great scoring nights. That's the team fans in Washington want to see this year.
Q: If you would like to vent about Randy Wittman, feel free to do so in your answer to this question. Is there added pressure on Wittman to take the Wizards to the next level this season?
Wittman's offense is awful, but the fact of the matter is they are one of the best defensive teams in the league and have been for the last three years. Wall has taken a step forward as an elite point guard in the game in large part because of how Wittman holds him accountable and expects him to improve as a player.
I'm not sure if Wittman has any pressure added on with the team's expectations this year. If they fall out in the first or second round, ownership will surely be disappointed and demand improvement the next year. But I doubt he'll lose his job like, say, George Karl and Mark Jackson did. The team loves him and they're playing far better than they ever have.
Plus, he's already seen a year where he has had to perform at a high level as a lame-duck coach with a one year deal. How much more pressure can be added?
Q: The Wizards are 12-0 when they commit less turnovers than their opponent. They are 9-2 in games they score more than 100 points, but 3-6 in matchups opponents score 100+. Knowing this, it's tough to determine whether the Wizards are more of a defensive minded club, or offensive? Or, is this just an indication of how balanced this team really is?
The team has more of a mean-streak defensively than anything else. When they score more than 100 points in a game it's normally because their defense worked at such a high level to create turnovers. They're at their best in transition and having Wall at the point really helps. They hunt for open threes and looks at the rim when the defense isn't settled and Wall is great at holding the ball until the very last possible moment while going full speed.
Offensively, this is a generally bad team. They hunt for the first open look they find and normally that isn't the best one. Teams willingly concede midrange jump shots to them and they consistently take them. Wall has stopped settling so much in this recent stretch of play and has been able to create more plays for others because of it, but Beal still struggles with getting to the rim and settles with hands in his face way too often.
Flip and Randy many of the same tendencies offensively. They don't really like threes too much and kind of shun the point value of a shot for open looks. It's maddening, but it's worked so far for the Wizards because of how good they've been defensively.
Q: Do you miss Ryan Saunders at all? Most of us here are familiar with the Gametime Concepts software he helped develop, but are still wondering what type of things he brings to the table as an assistant coach?
Ryan is a fantastic assistant coach and he played a huge role in the Wizards' being so prepared defensively last year. I'm sure, by now, you've all seen the impact he has with statistical analysis on the team, but he played a tremendous part in scouting the opponent here.
Lastly, Sykes asked me a question -- you can find my answers to all of his questions over at Bullets Forever -- that had something to do with Flip Saunders and a Subway diet? Anywho, I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked him to explain it. Here's what I found out.
Note: I know the link isn't where I said it would be, and that's because the post isn't up at BF, yet. So, hold tight and I'll update this post when things are done at the other end.
This is one of the funniest memories I have as a Wizards fan. When we were 1-15 with Flip before the team made the transition to Wittman, the team was so bad they made Flip feel sorry for himself. He told the media he went to Subway because he felt bad and, basically, felt he did not deserve to eat anything better.
After the team upset Oklahoma City one night, he told reporters he wasn't getting subway that night. Here's a link to the OKC story here and then there's the original quote about Subway. It's pretty ridiculous!
(I found this photo on the internet. Someone had photoshopped this already.)