ATLANTA -- Don't think there are any differences in the Wizards under Scott Brooks on offense? That would be wrong. Think they're approaching defense the same way? Not even close. Whether or not these changes produce more wins and a playoff berth will be determined soon enough, but the process begins tonight with the bigs -- namely Marcin Gortat or whoever is in the middle -- making all of the defensive calls.
Last season under Randy Wittman, there was mass confusion. They routinely switched coverages, changed game plans, wouldn't adjust in-game and guards also were making calls to complicate the communication process. The results were busted coverages left and right. Brooks is intent on avoiding that catastrophe so the frontline handles the defensive calls.
"The guards can't see what's going on. We're closer to the basket. We can see the floor. It's kind of like how K.G. was with Boston, directing the defense from the back," said Markieff Morris, projected to be the starting power forward next to Gortat, in referencing the now-retired Kevin Garnett.
Of course with a new coach, the language changes. Some teams call "blue" when they want to do what's called an "ice" of the side pick-and-roll. In other words, send the ball to the baseline. Under Brooks, the Wizards call that "push." Sending the ball-handler to his weak hand results in a call of "weak." Those details really are minor.
What Brooks wants is for the Wizards to follow the ball first and foremost. He doesn't want his defenders preoccupied on the weakside of the floor.
"We want to make sure we load to the ball and get into the paint within the rules," Brooks said. "You only have 2.9 but we want to utilize that. ... We've had a tendency in the past, early in camp, staying next to your man when your man doesn’t have the ball which was not a good thing."
Most teams manipualte the defensive three-seconds-in-the-lane rule to use an extra defender -- usually the center/rim protector at the 2/9 position -- to contain the ball against superior players on the strongside of the floor. It's effectively a zone defense principle but they have to get out of the lane, of course, before a violation is called. That leaves the offensive player on the far side unattended because he's not a major threat from that spot.
"We’re slightly better than we were last year. If we want to win basketball games, everything starts on defense," Gortat said. "We all have this bad flavor from last year. We all know we basically we (expletive) it up, to be honest with you. That’s what we did. You can quote that.
“We've got to be humble, we got to work hard, shut our mouth, don’t talk who we are, who we want to be and how far we’re going to be and stuff like that. Just go out on the court and do it. Just freaking do it. Let our actions speak for us. This is where everything started, having the right schemes from coach Brooks. It made us more comfortable with everything we do. We’re leaving the farthest guy open. We helping each other on the pick-and-rolls. All five of us got to work."
This all requires John Wall and Bradley Beal to work harder on the defensive end. Taking plays off isn't an option, but early on it will be a challenge for Wall who admitted that he has had trouble maintaining that level as he regains his conditioning after missing so much time because of surgeries to both knees.
"The biggest thing is he wants pressure on the ball. Our coverages are a lot simpler than last year. He makes it easy for the defense," said Beal of Brooks' concepts. "It’s really up to the bigs to make the call. The guards got to adjust to that. That’s how it goes. They see the whole defense. They see everything that’s going on behind us so they’re essentially the playmakers on defense."
The Wizards went from being a top 10 scoring defense three years in a row to 21st during a 41-41 season. They can't allow the sort of defensive debacle that took place on the road last year in Denver.
"We got to be up into the ball," Morris said. "Honestly we're going to average a lot of points. We got a lot of guys who can score the basketball. ... We just have to be a defensive-minded team. I'm usaually up into the ball on pick-and-rolls, usually showing, because I'm quicker than the average four. We're going to be different in a good way."