Even before they lost John Wall for eight weeks with a left knee injury, the Wizards faced a dilemma in finding a way to consistently generate offense.
In the past year, the Wizards have made several moves to change the makeup of the team but none of the players acquired are expected to provide much scoring punch this season – though they hope 19-year-old Bradley Beal will eventually develop into a reliable offensive option.
Wall’s injury is more disconcerting because the team has been built to complement his skill set. They have big men who can set screens, rebound and get the ball out to the speedy Wall for fast-break opportunities. They also have shooters to spread the floor and allow Wall to break down defenses off the dribble.
Without a playmaker with Wall’s talents, Coach Randy Wittman will have to be creative and design a scheme reliant on sharing and ball movement, because the Wizards have few players outside of Jordan Crawford – and possibly Beal – who can consistently create his own shot.
The Wizards have averaged fewer than 99 points in each of the past five seasons, topping out at 98.8 in 2007-08 – Eddie Jordan’s last full season on the job. They fell all the way down to 93.6 points last season – the lowest in eight years – and ranked 23rd in the league in scoring, 21st in field goal percentage (44.1 percent) and 28th in three-point field goal percentage (32.0 percent).
Wittman said he wants the Wizards to be an up-tempo team this season, but running wasn’t the problem, as they finished third in the NBA in fast-break points. They just didn’t know what to do when they got to the finish line. They were the only team to rank in the top 10 in pace – possessions per game (seventh, 95.1) – but finish near the bottom in offensive efficiency – points per 100 possessions (28th, 97.8).
The Wizards showed dramatic improvement defensively after trading for Nene, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.4 points in the final 25 games, but the offense only got slightly better when he was in the lineup. They averaged 93.8 points before the trade and 93.4 after the deal. In the 11 games Nene played for Washington, the Wizards averaged 95.8 points, which would’ve put them at 20th in scoring.
Wittman said the Wizards would likely rely more on Nene in Wall’s absence. Nene is their best and most efficient low post option and he shot 60.7 percent from the field last season, which would’ve ranked second in the NBA behind New York center Tyson Chandler had he played enough to qualify. He never has averaged more than 15 points in a full season, but he also rarely had to serve as an offensive focal point, spending most of his time in Denver with Carmelo Anthony.
“It certainly does help us to be able to play through him, like I think we’re going to be capable of doing,” Wittman said of Nene. “So no question, that’s going to be a big plus.”
But the Wizards will certainly need more that just Nene. Crawford has never been afraid of accepting more offensive responsibilities and is capable of erupting for big nights (last season, he became the first Wizard since Antawn Jamison to score at least 20 points in seven consecutive games). He will also have to be more disciplined with his shot selection and make sure he doesn’t score at the expense of other players establishing an offensive rhythm.
The only way the Wizards can make the most of being without Wall for the first month of the regular season is if other players such as Beal, Kevin Seraphin and possibly Martell Webster can embrace enhanced offensive roles and establish confidence in their own talents. Wall is often more excited making plays for others than padding his offensive stats, and he would be elated to return to a team that wouldn’t depend on him for too much scoring.
The Wizards probably won’t be a thrilling offensive team until Wall comes back. And, unless Wall returns with an improved jumper and shows that he is capable of scoring consistently, the team might continue to struggle on the offensive end.
If Wall really did improve this offseason and his teammates get better with him sidelined, the Wizards could make some decent progress with defense remaining the anchor of the team.