Wizards have to work out kinks on offense


John Wall had six assists and 10 turnovers in the two preseason games. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
December 21, 2011

The Wizards don’t have much time to correct all of the mental errors and offensive struggles that were readily apparent during their two preseason games against the Philadelphia 76ers. They lost both games, but the final results weren’t the only problem. How they played — or rather, didn’t play — together on offense remains a concern.

After the Wizards’ 101-94 loss on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center, John Wall gave an answer to a question about the team’s readiness for the season opener against the New Jersey Nets next Monday that summed up the primary dilemma on offense: The players don’t trust each other yet.

“We’re still trying to figure out what each others’ roles is, who’s going to be the main scorer, who is going to be the secondary scorer,” Wall said. “I think when we get that down pat, we’ll be pretty good.”

That time certainly isn’t now, as the Wizards often appeared to be in a competition to see who could take the most questionable shot. Andray Blatche opened the game missing three rushed jumpers, Jordan Crawford took quick shots from all over the court, JaVale McGee turned for a jump hook before knowing where the rim was and shot an airball.

And, Wall, the set-up man, didn’t get his first assist until 97 seconds were left in the first half – but he had already committed three turnovers, including a traveling violation that occurred when he tried to force up a shot inside on 76ers big men Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand and landed on his feet without releasing the ball.

The Wizards eventually calmed down and made plays for each other on Tuesday, using increased ball movement during the second and third quarters, when they scored 62 of their points. But Coach Flip Saunders again noticed that the Wizards have had trouble with the ball “sticking.”

“And a lot of times, the guys that it sticks with are sometimes the same guys. It’s a process that you go through,” Saunders said. “Right now, we have 15 guys that think they’re all a primary scorer. That’s one of the problems, why young teams struggle is because they are all trying to create their own identity. The main thing I’ve got to do as a coach, I’ve got to establish what those roles are and whatever that role is, play it to the best of their ability.”

Saunders said he would meet with each player individually over the next few days, to eliminate some of the confusion that has contributed to the Wizards’ offensive woes during their two preseason losses. Through the two games against Philadelphia, the Wizards are shooting a dreadful 34 percent from the field (61 of 179) and an abysmal 15 percent from beyond the three-point line (5 of 33).

“It’s always like that,” Saunders said of teams struggling offensively during the preseason, “but we’ve got to have the right guys shooting. We don’t have flat-out shooters right now.”

Blatche led the Wizards in scoring, averaging 15.5 points, but Crawford led the team in shot attempts — and misses — through the first two games. He shot just 9 of 31 from the floor and has yet to find a comfortable place within the offense as he tries to stave off the recently re-signed Nick Young and possibly Roger Mason Jr. for the starting nod at shooting guard. He rarely gets the ball in great position for an open look, and has forced up shots if he goes a few possessions without a touch.

“I thought Jordan, he tried to do too much,” Saunders said of Crawford, adding that he and Young often tried to “outdribble the trap” rather than move the ball.

When asked about the reason for his poor shooting, Crawford replied, “It’s just missing shots. Simple as that. Not worried about it at all.”

Young shot just 3 for 10 in his preseason debut, with many of his misses attributed to being winded after arriving from Los Angeles and signing his deal the day before. Saunders wasn’t certain if Young would have enough time to re-claim his starting job against the Nets.

“That will usually play itself out. I don’t know. Right now, if I was going to base everything on how guys have played, I’d start Roger,” Saunders said of Mason, who shot 2 of 4 from beyond the arc in limited action the two preseason games. “Roger Mason has had a great camp.”

The Wizards have been more effective in the open court, with defensive rebounds and turnovers setting up easier scoring opportunities. But they will have to establish a better rhythm in half-court sets and go into each possession understanding which matchups to exploit and how to make the extra pass in order to get a more efficient shot. That starts with Wall, who has had just six assists and 10 turnovers through the two games, and has had difficulty deciding if he wants to be the primary scorer or setup man. Wall also shot just 30.8 percent in the two games.

Crawford said the problems should be resolved by the time the games really count.

“We’re professionals,” he said. “Everybody knows it’s preseason. Everybody knows you’re going to do things, a little out of the ordinary, putting up shots. You can kind of get away with a couple of things like that, because it’s preseason, it doesn’t count. I think as the real season comes along, people will play together and find their rhythm. But everybody is coming together.”

Wizards note: Jan Vesely, the Wizards’ top pick in the 2011 draft, practiced fully Wednesday for the first time since Saturday but couldn’t finish because of a nagging right hip injury that relegated him to the exercise bike. Saunders described the injury as a “twinge” in Vesely’s hip. Vesely will try Thursday to practice fully again but will be limited if the twinge sensation returns, Saunders said.

leem@washpost.com

Staff writer James Wagner contributed to this report.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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