DALLAS — Bradley Beal doesn’t necessarily need a statistic to tell him what he has already seen on the court. He can feel it during games: The Washington Wizards could be playing a lot faster.
“Throughout the course of the game, sometimes we’re not running hard enough or we’re not getting into our sets fast enough,” Beal said before Tuesday’s 119-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. “Sometimes we’re getting into our sets too late in the clock. A lot of times, Coach [Scott Brooks] doesn’t even want us running sets. That’s how fast he wants us playing.”
During their loss in Dallas, the Wizards had to force the action after falling into a big deficit. Doomed by unacceptable three-point defense (Dallas made 13 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half), Washington trailed by 24 points before halftime. The Wizards gave chase in the third quarter, hitting several jumpers early in the shot clock while outscoring the Mavericks 29-17 in the period. But after trimming the lead to 97-91 in the final quarter, Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr.'s individual effort on three consecutive plays effectively ended the rally.
Smith, who finished with 19 points, outhustled Dwight Howard for an offensive rebound before setting up DeAndre Jordan for the dunk. Then Smith tossed a lob to Jordan, who directed the ball into the rim with his back to the basket. When Smith came up with a steal, spinning away from Beal in the open court, and assisted Harrison Barnes on his layup, Dallas (3-7) pulled ahead to a 12-point lead and never looked back. John Wall scored a team-high 24 points, and though Beal and Otto Porter Jr. each had 19 points, the Wizards fell to 2-8 on the season.
Before the start of the season, the Wizards emphasized playing fast as a hallmark of the team identity. With one of the most dynamic point guards in the league, as well as an abundance of athletic and interchangeable wings and a big man who can run, Washington has the capability to play fast within the sets. Though the team plays at a high pace (104.95 possessions per 48 minutes entering Tuesday, which was eighth in the league), the statistic doesn’t necessarily show if players are running to spots, screening with force and being decisive.
In tracking data collected by John Schuhmann, a senior writer at NBA.com who focuses on advanced statistics, the Wizards averaged 11.2 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession, which is just 24th in the NBA. The statistic specifically tracks player movement within a set and reveals limited activity within the Wizards offense. Schuhmann has noticed spots of lethargy within the team’s sets.
“I think that’s where they lack,” said Schuhmann, who has watched several Wizards' games, both with and without Howard in the starting lineup. “There’s not decisiveness and activity offensively.”
The Wizards run when they can. They utilize transition often and have shown a knack for generating steals (10th in the NBA). But they’re not necessarily scoring enough on the break, where they ranked 20th, averaging 1.08 points per possession in transition.
Could the team’s early struggles on defense be to blame?
“We can always play faster, but it starts on the defensive end,” Porter said. “We can’t get out and run unless we get stops.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, Washington ranked 26th in points allowed per 100 possessions, per Synergy Sports. Instead of getting a rebound and pushing the ball, the Wizards are stuck inbounding the ball after an opponent scores.
“We haven’t been doing a great job rebounding the ball,” Wall said. “So we’ve been taking the ball out of the net a lot of times instead of just getting rebounds and pushing the pace.”
The Wizards could still accelerate the offense even after an opponent’s made shot, but the team’s move to spread around ballhandling duties has caused a bit of confusion that’s slowing things down.
“We didn’t know who was taking the ball out,” Wall said. In practice, “we try to simulate to have our [power forward] take out the ball every time and have the [center] run the floor, get the ball to me and let our [wing players] run the lane. So we can simplify that a little better.”
When Beal is sensing the need to pick up the pace, he has gone rogue by performing the role as the inbounder, even though Brooks wants his guards out and running.
“Because I want to get it out and go fast,” Beal said. “A lot of times Coach hates it when guards take it out. It’s usually a big’s job to take it out and guards just get out so we can push the ball ahead.
“I notice it. I catch myself sometimes not running hard,” Beal continued. “That’s why I try push myself or have guys on the sideline or coaches pull me to the side, if I’m not running hard enough, tell me and I can correct it and make sure I’m running hard enough.
“I think it’s something we definitely need to do more of. I think we do it in spurts instead of consistently.”