Ernie Grunfeld offered his first extended comments since dismissing Flip Saunders and replacing him with Randy Wittman, explaining the direction and the plan in a lengthy telephone interview, but he also expressed his enthusiasm for how the team has played over the past four games.
The Wizards have claimed two victories over Charlotte since the move – matching the win total of the first 17 games – and have had the 10th toughest strength of schedule in their past 10 games.
They will continue to play some difficult opponents for the rest of the month. But Grunfeld said he wouldn’t measure progress for the team strictly through wins and losses.
“We want to see these guys develop,” he said in a telephone interview. “Of course, we want to win as much as possible. We’re all very competitive people. But we’re all committed to this plan and following through on it and seeing it come to fruition down the road.”
The Wizards have nine players on their rookie deals, Nick Young is in his fifth season, and veteran forwards Andray Blatche and Ronny Turiaf are both out with injuries. So, the opportunities for players such as Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker have increased and Grunfeld has been pleased with their contributions, amongst others.
“I think we’ve seen some real good signs from all of our young players. They’ve had some real good moments,” Grunfeld said. “We’d like them to be more consistent, as we continue to move forward. But we’re looking for effort. We’re looking for competitiveness. We’re looking for energy. And I think we’ve seen that the last four games.”
John Wall struggled through the early part of the season, but Grunfeld noted that the 2010 No. 1 overall pick has picked up his game in recent weeks. In his past 10 games, Wall is averaging 19.7 points, 7.3 assists and shooting 44.9 percent from the floor.
“We want to see that competitive fire,” Grunfeld said. “Over the last 10 games, he’s playing much better and his competitive spirit is there, as well as the rest of the players. Obviously, John makes everything go for us and he’s a huge part of what we do, but this is a team game and you need production from a lot of different players, not just one player, and we want to see improvement as we move forward. I think we’re sharing the basketball much better. As with all young players, there is a process of growth and a process of learning and we’re going to have to continue that process.”
Grunfeld also noted that while Vesely, Booker, Shelvin Mack and Kevin Seraphin are seeing more minutes in the past week, Young and JaVale McGee have also raised their level of play. In his past 10 games, Young has scored at least 20 points five times and is averaging 19.1 points. McGee has grabbed 40 rebounds and blocked 16 shots since the coaching change.
“I knew a different voice was needed and a different style was needed to take more advantage of the type of athletes and the type of players that we had on our roster. We wanted to change the pace of the game,” Grunfeld said. “Obviously, we’re playing a different style now. We’re playing a style that takes more advantage of our athleticism and our strength and speed and quickness and that’s something we want to build on, and that’s something we want to improve on as we move forward.”