The comparisons between the Wizards and Charlotte Hornets can't be avoided. While one appeared on track to bigger and brighter things ahead behind a possible All-Star backcourt, the other had to reassess its roster and steady itself following an injury rash.
Even after Sunday's 113-98 win over the Hornets, the Wizards (39-41) are the team that has been turned upside down. Their season ends Wednesday with nothing better than a .500 record following a 46-win 2014-15 in which they advanced to the conference semifinals. Charlotte (46-34) is a No. 6 seed with a shot at moving up to fourth, already 13 games better in the win column than a season ago.
Like Washington this season, Charlotte was riddled with injuries last season. Like Washington did with Nene, Charlotte moved one of its bigs to the bench this season, Al Jefferson, and went with four perimeter players.
The Wizards began with reshaping Kris Humphries, eventually traded, as their starting "stretch" four while Charlotte's Marvin Williams has been learning that role for years. Then they went to Jared Dudley, a career backup who was undersized for the role which necessitated a move to acquire Markieff Morris.
Why were they more successful? The Hornets have moved up 22 spots in three-point shooting, from dead last a year ago to No. 8 going into Monday's games, without compromising their defensive identity. CSNmidatlantic.com had one-on-ones with Hornets coach Steve Clifford, their prize free-agent acquisition Nic Batum and the Williams who has gone from being an NBA nomad to a highly sought-after free agent when the season ends because of his versatility:
Batum is in the final year of his deal after being scooped in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers last season. GM Rich Cho, who spent a season running Portland, had a prior relationship with the 6-8 combo forward who can play shooting guard, defend both spots and stretch the floor with his three-point shot.
"There are two things. He’s such a facilitator. Even when you talk to him, the way he views the game is so much about making his teammates play better. Having one guy like that you can play through so much makes such a difference. He doesn’t care if he scores. It doesn’t matter. You can put him in the pick-and-roll, a dribble hand-off, run him off staggers (screens) or post him. When that second defender comes, he wants to move the ball. When your guys when you play through does that it becomes contagious."
The Wizards have Otto Porter as their starting small forward and Bradley Beal as their starting shooting guard. The latter has been injured or playing on a minutes restriction most of the season. Neither is as experienced as Batum.
“Without being there every day, I think that to me you play to the strengths of your best players. There’s certain things that equate to winning. Being able to play four out is a big deal. With Williams and (Frank) Kaminsky, we’re always four out. To me, sometimes when you’re either taking a guy who is learn how to shoot threes or you’re just playing a smaller guy who can’t guard that position you can be four out but it’s hard to be balanced. Golden State, when people say they downsize, no they’re huge. Except when they play Draymond (Green) up front, they’re big everywhere. Again, I just think you have to have guys like Marvin. He can shoot the three and guard most four men so you can play four out.
"With Washington they’d played (Marcin) Gortat and Nene together for so long so it was a little different seeing those guys go four out, one in. Nene coming off the bench. Humphries was capable to shoot it out there but three-point shooting we work on every single day. Something I personally spend a great deal of time on and Frank does as well. Those are shots they want us to take to make the four-out-and-one-in work. I don’t feel it’s anything you can just take a team and do it. You got to have the personnel for it.
"Nic, he makes everything work for us. He’s guarding multiple positions. Obviously he can play multiple positions on offense. He definitely is the plus for us. With him out there playing the pick-and-roll and Kemba (Walker) out there playing the pick-and-rolls, Cody (Zeller) is such a great screener and he’s a little unorthodox as well because he’s such a fast five man. A lot of guys can’t keep up with him. The organization did a great job putting together the right personnel.
“A few years ago a 'tweener' is a guy you can’t really find a spot for them. Now I feel like that’s what everybody is looking for one. Golden State kind of changed the game with Draymond. With Draymond’s ability to play out on the perimeter and on the inside, a lot of them are trying to do the same thing. It does help guys like myself.
"I think Golden State, when they played small ball, they proved they could win. The whole league now starts doing it. We’re doing it with Marv. The first time I played against Marv, Marvin was strictly a small forward. Now he’s just a natural power forward. He spreads the floor. When you get a guy like Al Jefferson who can post up, you can free him up and get more space. That’s better. He’s close to 160 (made) threes this year. That’s a big thing for us.
"I think Morris is a good fit for them if you try to go that way. In the East, we’re all like that. Maybe Toronto is different because Toronto starts (Luis) Scola but they end up with (Patrick) Patterson. Patterson can shoot threes so it’s kind of the same. (Paul) Millsap can play outside. Boston got (Jared) Sullinger, they can put (Jae) Crowder at four, (Kelly) Olynyk shoots threes, (Jonas) Jerebko shoots threes. Miami got (Luol) Deng. Even (Chris) Bosh. The league is like that.
"I think they need more time to put Markieff in the system, training camp and get used to him."