In retrospect, this should not be a surprise. As Jorge Castillo detailed here, Randy Wittman and the coaching staff did not merely talk about playing at a higher tempo. They practiced that way, drilling the new system into the players.
The Wizards were roughly league average in shot clock usage last year, and were 16th in pace, according to NBA.com. Even with pace amped up league-wide, the Wizards have gotten into their offense far earlier, up to fifth in pace and finding far more frequent chances early in the shot clock:
Perhaps the best illustration of the commitment to playing with speed has been Washington’s play following opponents’ made shots. Pushing tempo following defensive rebounds or steals is relatively normal opportunism, but the Wizards are are not letting opponents celebrate for a moment. In Saturday’s loss to New York, Jose Calderon hit a jumper retreated back on defense and immediately had to contend with John Wall coming at him at full pelt:
This is far from an isolated incident, as the Wizards have attacked relentlessly, getting to the basket, drawing fouls and generating open threes early in the shot clock. Most of the efficiency benefits of playing on the break after steals and rebounds is a result of shooting in the first seven seconds of the shot clock (hence the famed Phoenix “Seven Seconds or Less” offenses of Steve Nash and Co.)
According to NBA.com play-by-play logs, 7.5 percent of shot attempts immediately following an opponent made field goal were taken in the first seven seconds of the shot clock in 2014-15. Golden State, unsurprisingly, was the league leader, shooting “early” more than 18 percent of the time. The Wizards were slightly below average at 7.1 percent. With all the normal caveats about sample size after three games, the Wizards have shot in seven seconds or fewer on 15.3 percent of similar opportunities this year at a scorchingly efficient 55.4 percent effective field goal percentage. This doesn’t even account for the plays, like the one above against New York, where fouls were drawn or offensive rebounds resulted from the defensive discombobulation.
All isn’t perfect, though. Part of the pushing for early shots is to search for good shots, knowing that if efficient opportunities do not present themselves, there remains plenty of time to find a better one. Wall and Bradley Beal especially still have a habit of settling for early, long two point pullup jumpers. Four of these shots per game may not seem like much, but when they come so early in possessions, the Wizards do the opposition a favor. If a few of those quick jumpers are the price of this sort of relentless aggression, it is hard to argue the reward is not worth that cost.
Additionally, turnovers have been a slight bugaboo, with Washington tied for seventh in turnover rate. Qualitatively, the increased speed and sheer amount of running appears to have led to at least one lull in energy every game thus far. However, if the Wizards continue to push the ball like this every night, they will acclimate to the pace, both eliminating those pauses for breath and reducing turnovers.
Almost more than the 2-1 record, the delivery on the promise of the revamped roster and the preseason vows are the biggest positive signs for Wizards’ optimists. Maintaining this speed of play will be a challenge both physically and mentally throughout the season. But perhaps no player in the NBA is better suited both maintaining and controlling the game at breakneck speed than Wall and the thought of him continuing to do so is a thrilling one.