Merry Christmas Knicks fans.
1. First of all, congrats to Washington on getting a nationally televised game on Christmas even if it is against the Knicks. Washington is in third place in the Eastern Conference, can this team stay ahead of the likes of Chicago, Cleveland and Miami?
Miami? Yes. Cleveland? I think so, even before the Andy Varejao injury. The other big boys (of whom in the East there are not that many — we should probably mention the Hawks)? After Tuesday’s home loss to Chicago, coming off another home loss to the Suns on Sunday, I’m not so sure. (And yes, I’m allowing myself to admit this only a third into the season.)
Washington has the talent and depth to compete with anyone in the league. Their three main problems, in order:
1) Maximizing their offensive potential, in particular, 3-pointers — 15.6 3-pointers attempted per game, third-fewest in the NBA; 38.9% shooting on 3s, best in the NBA. Washington must take more 3s in order to not be a middle-rung offensive team. They attempted just nine 3-pointers against the Bulls, made five of them.
2) A lock-down perimeter defender. John Wall is getting better and the team might be able to get by without one (with Trevor Ariza now in Houston), but it’s still a weakness, and you can’t have your lead point guard play that part, anyway.
3) A reliable drive/slasher past Wall. Knicks fans should be very familiar with Bradley Beal, but he’s still developing. Past that, Andre Miller, Paul Pierce, Rasual Butler, and Otto Porter are not threats to get the defense moving with quick penetration. Washington averages 17.6 drives per game (per NBA.com player tracking metrics), which is third-fewest in the NBA.
2. Washington is 4th in the NBA in defensive rating (99.7) per NBA.com. What is the plan to stop the NBA’s 5th leading scorer Carmelo Anthony?
Paul Pierce to start, although his left big toe has been bothering him lately. But you’ll remember that Pierce used his veteran tricks to bother Carmelo into an 8-for-23 night when the Wizards won by 15 points in the Garden on November 4. After Pierce, Rasual Butler and Otto Porter are probably next in line, and either could get ‘Melo salivating enough to get him scoring in the 40s, which could be a scary proposition for the Wizards under the bright lights of MSG and a national television audience. Also note, according to NBA.com, the Wizards have a 93.0 DefRtg* in the 714 minutes that Pierce has been on the court, a team-best.
3. The Knicks have struggled so mightily to stop opponents that posters on Knickerblogger.net often joke (actually they aren’t joking) about which opposing player will set a season high or career high against the Knicks. Which Wizard do you think might have a really big game today?
Rasual Butler has been amazing this season. Now consider that he was the very last, fifteenth man to make the roster. Some figured an undrafted hopeful might fill spot No. 15; maybe journeyman guard-shooter Xavier Silas; maybe journeyman guard-shooter John Lucas III, who was brought in for a tryout at the 11th hour before the regular season. The 35-year-old, 11-year veteran beat them all.
Now, out of all NBA players who have attempted 80 or more 3-pointers, Butler is third in 3-point percentage at 51.3 percent. With Martell Webster out due to back surgery and Bradley Beal missing training camp and several regular season games with a broken wrist, Butler has been a godsend. Against Chicago on Tuesday Butler just went 1-for-7 from the field (1-for-2 on 3-pointers). I expect a bounce back game from him against the Knicks. And if not Butler, then big men — either Marcin Gorat or Kevin Seraphin, both of whom need bounce back efforts — will be next on the Knickerblogger list.
4. I moved to Washington from the New York area in 2000, the Wizards were a pretty dismal organization back then. Today the Wizards have a solid foundation of young, talented players and offer fans a really nice experience. Does this change underscore the importance of a good ownership/management structure?
Definitely. A change in ownership certainly helped Washington. Previous majority owner Abe Pollin passed away in November of 2009 and current owner Ted Leonsis took over in the summer of 2010. Prior, Leonsis was strictly majority owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team and a minority owner in the Wizards — there was long a plan in place for Leonsis to take over for Pollin at some point.
Pollin, for all the good that he did for the community, was terrible at team-building, tragically nepotistic, and cheap in all the wrong ways. Leonsis (a “blogger”), upon taking over, implemented patience (and a 10-point plan or something like that), which allowed Ernie Grunfeld (remember him, Knicks fans?**), who’s been president of Wizards basketball operations since 2003, to blow the team up, become bad-by-design (but not like the 76ers, but more by just playing JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and Nick Young at the same time), and ultimately rebuild (with two no-brainer draft picks in Wall and Beal). That, was a long sentence, perhaps a run-on, which is seemingly for how long the Wizards were bad. And I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Leonsis pivoted plans a couple times and has a bad habit of taking victories with blog posts that suspiciously resemble “mission accomplished” banners on aircraft carriers.
Randy Wittman was then allow to enforce a culture change in his ability to bench “talents” like McGee (before ultimately sending him packing). And, of course, we all remember Wittman giving Blatche the “DNP – Conditioning” treatment.
So, yes, all of this certainly underscores good ownership that empowers management to do their job without risk of ultimately having to succumb to player personalities and demands that are detrimental to team culture.
[**For further reading on Ernie Grunfeld’s career running NBA teams from New York to Milwaukee to D.C., read here — TAI did a two-part series on him in April 2013.]
5. Is there anything that Randy Wittman does that Derek Fisher should emulate?
No, probably not.
I do like Wittman more than other Wizards followers seem to — he’s able to balance the fine line of being an old school hard-ass who doles out tough love with being a guy who gets players to respond and take his coaching.
I imagine it’s a plus that Wittman was an actual NBA player who was teammates with the likes of Dominique Wilkins. Fisher probably has the advantage nonetheless because today’s players remember him more.
Otherwise, I think D-Fish is fine on his own. Despite already having a star player already in place, change is tough and takes a long time. If Guitar Man Dolan continues to back Phil Jackson, which he better, and if Jackson continues to practice patience and back Fisher (why wouldn’t he?), I think things will eventually turn around in New York. I think … not necessarily hope, but I think.
6. Prediction for today’s game.
Wizards win. Not so much because the Knicks are very #KnicksTape, but more because John Wall and Bradley Beal seem to love to play in New York. The game, however, will be closer than Wizards fans might expect–within double digits; the Knicks might even cover the spread.
EDITED TO ADD FROM BRIAN CRONIN: In a minor Christmas miracle, Rett, the son of our buddy Jim Cavan, got through his surgery on Tuesday and his tumor was removed. The next issue is whether his liver would respond after being placed back into his body (the tumor took up about 80% of Rett’s liver, so in removing the tumor they had to actually remove the liver entirely. They then placed the healthy parts of the liver back in to his body and the plan is that his body will re-accept it and begin regenerating the rest of the liver). Today we learned that it appears that the liver is regenerating! Awesome!
Merry Christmas, everyone!