Before the Washington Wizards took the floor at Verizon Center to face the Charlotte Hornets for the second time in a week Friday night, the team’s coaching staff presented some data to the players in the locker room. The statistics displayed the team’s shooting percentages and revealed an indisputable correlation: The Wizards shoot better when they take shots after at least three passes in a possession. The empirical evidence supported the staff’s emphasis on ball movement.
The players implemented the findings in the first half. Passes whipped around well-executed half-court sets. Open shots were created, and layups and dunks were plentiful. The Wizards’ efficiency fueled a 16-point first-half lead, and they entered halftime enjoying a nine-point cushion.
The advantage was quickly erased in the second half. The offense became stagnant. Over-dribbling marred their flow and created turnovers. On other possessions, dribbling was skipped and quick, and contested shots were hoisted. The Wizards’ shooting efficiency plummeted and giveaways increased. The Hornets’ offense capitalized, at one point generating a 23-1 run to take a commanding 17-point lead on the way to a 96-86 victory that left Wizards Coach Randy Wittman discouraged.
“Our offense is putting too much pressure on our defense,” Wittman said following the loss. “We are trying to do too much individual stuff from an offensive standpoint. That’s the reason why we struggle shooting the ball right now. We take more zero-or-one-pass contested shots than I’ve seen in a long time.”
The Hornets have been stingy under Steve Clifford, a defensive mastermind entering his second season as head coach, but again, the statistics supported Wittman’s rationale. Washington entered halftime shooting 20 for 37 from the floor, good for 54.1 percent. The efficiency plummeted in the second half, in which the Wizards shot just 8 for 33 (24.2 percent). They finished the game with 20 turnovers.
It was not the first time Wittman voiced concerns about his offense this preseason. After the Wizards defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 94-89, on Oct. 9, Wittman blamed a lack of ball movement for the Wizards’ 20 turnovers. Nine of the giveaways in the contest were credited to point guard John Wall. On Friday, Wall committed four turnovers but shot just 3 for 12 from the floor in 27 minutes, though he made seven his eight free throw attempts.
“A lot is always on my point guards,” Wittman said. “A lot of that falls on them, no question. Of getting us into something, controlling what we’re doing from an offensive standpoint, I hold him and my points, I’m harder on them than anybody else.”
A flurry of injuries and occasional days off to rest veterans have made generating offensive cohesion more difficult, but Wall emphasized the personnel variation isn’t an excuse for the offense’s lapses.
“On offense you just got to play,” Wall said. “We got a lot of sets where you just move the ball and guys just got to be comfortable running plays and taking the open shot. At different times you’re going to have people injured, you’re going to have people in foul trouble. So you got to play with different lineups. That’s not an excuse.”
Wittman and his players have reiterated the team’s defense is where it needs to be for their regular season opener against the Miami Heat on Oct. 29. But the offense is behind, and the Wizards have two exhibition games and several practice sessions remaining to rectify the flaws.
“I don’t care if it’s preseason or not,” Wittman said. “If we think we’re just going to go through the motions, when it’s time to play you’re going to find yourself in a little bit of trouble.”