The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Kevin Seraphin gone, Wizards can go all-in on small-ball

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kevin Seraphin signing a one-year deal with the New York Knicks on Tuesday represents a new chapter for the Washington Wizards.

After the 2015 season, it seems clear that small-ball lineups featuring John Wall at the point surrounded by three shooters and one traditional big man should be a staple for the Wizards. The success of this strategy in the playoffs, and especially the emergence of Otto Porter Jr. as a legitimate difference-maker, can be traced in large part to the havoc such units cause on the defense.

Of course, Randy Wittman and Co. rarely used these lineups in the regular season (less than 200 total minutes according to, largely ignoring the benefits of the three-pointer for his sometimes stolid brand of execution over efficiency. While many assumed this was the result of a lack of appreciation of the intricacies of the modern game, the ease with which the Wizards took to small-ball in the playoffs should give one pause.What if, instead of contrarian fuddy-duddyness, Wittman’s regular season reliance on twin-towers lineups was a reflection of his roster?

[Wall is headed to Team USA camp]

Seraphin’s departure seems a perfect time to meditate on the issue, as he was one of the main beneficiaries of the apparent “two bigs only” policy. With a heavier reliance on wings playing at the four, Seraphin would almost certainly not have approached the 1,235 minutes he played. Yet, which perimeter player from last year’s roster would have filled those minutes? Wall’s 35.9 minutes per game might already be too many. Bradley Beal missed several weeks through injury, which forced Wittman to play Rasual Butler 1,505 minutesat 35 years old. To illustrate the unlikeliness of that feat, Butler had played 1,581 minutes, total, in the previous half-decade.

By walking out the door, Seraphin is closing the book on the 2014 Wizards’ offseason. That period saw the Wizards’ major pickups being yes Paul Pierce (a somewhat like-for-like, but lower minute replacement for the departed Trevor Ariza) but also re-signing Seraphin while adding Kris Humphries and Dejuan Blair. In other words, despite the increasing en vogue trend of smaller, spread pick-and-roll attacks, the players available to Wittman simply weren’t suitable.

This offseason saw the total reverse. While Pierce opted out and moved on, the Wizards replaced him with a quartet of shooting wings in Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, rookie Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the stretch-four-by-design Jared Dudley.

[Oubre’s new signature Adidas shoe better have spikes]

This enables Washington to spend more time with those small-ball lineups, especially when the shooters are arrayed around Wall-Marcin Gortat pick-and-rolls. With a standard “miniscule sample size” caveat, (these lineups played a total of 163 minutes, including the playoffs), Gortat-plus-four-smalls units put up an Offensive Rating of 121 points per 100 possessions. This would have led the league by a sizable margin. Though the Wizards’ overall three point rate was 28th in the NBA at 20.3 percent during the regular season, those quicker combos took 31.3 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which would have finished seventh over a full season, just above the NBA champion Warriors. Those additional threes largely came from the complementary Wizards as Wall’s beyond-the-arc attempt rate dropped from its normal level while Beal’s stayed relatively constant:

Gortat himself also benefited, shooting using the extra space to shoot 62.3 percent, as compared to his already excellent 56.6 percent shooting.

In other words, the Gortat-in, everyone else-out attack resembles the idealized version of a Wall-led offense: space for the star point guard to operate, (with some help from Beal) while finding either Gortat ducking to the goal or a bevy of shooters daring their defenders to help. With this summer’s additions (and subtractions), the Wizards might just have the roster to make that vision a reality for extended periods for the first time in Wall’s career.