RICHMOND, Va. – The tone at Wizards’ training camp has reverted to what it was in John Wall’s previous NBA seasons. Defense comes first as they started the second day of camp though Scott Brooks did install some half-court offense
A year ago, after the Wizards had been a two-time playoff entrant that advanced to the conference semifinals under then-coach Randy Wittman, the shift was made to offense which was the focus of each day of camp. He tried to implement an up-tempo style with a “stretch” player at the power forward spot. It didn’t work.
Brooks has hit rewind and made sure every player knows the priority as they entered their second consecutive day of two-a-days on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday.
“There’s a balance that I try to figure that out. As the coach I want to make sure that we have the proper amount of time spent on both sides of the ball but we really want to develop an identity defensively,” said Brooks, who takes over a team that went 41-41 and ranked near the bottom of the table in three-point defense and rebounding for most of 2015-16.
“In order to do that you’ve got to practice great habits. You have to commit to it. They have to see every day of practice before they do it on the court. I would say it was 75% defense (Tuesday). … I felt we needed to get that across.”
The pick-and-roll coverage has long been a point of contention. The Wizards have defended it well for smalls stretches, but for long stretches they’ve had bad communication between the guards and bigs. When they did it correctly in the playoffs for the 2014-15 season, they swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks to six games.
Last season, they were shredded by Kyrie Irving and LeBron James who forced switches and went into isolations to create mismatches on the pick-and-roll. The Wizards had no answers. Only frustration.
“We have a lot of emphasis on closing out, the right positioning on defense and then we tried to put it in motion right away,” center Marcin Gortat said, still miffed about not making it three consecutive playoff appearances. “We all have that thought in the back of our head. It should be this motivational factor for us. Every time we go on the court we should think about what happened last year and how many times we got punked.”
Wall was All-NBA Defense two seasons ago but fell off last season in part because he wasn’t fully healthy. He required surgeries to both knees on May 5 and is working his way back. The success of the Wizards’ defense begins with the 6-4 point guard’s ball pressure to disrupt the opposition and keeping the ball out of the paint.
“We’re a long athletic team. We added some pieces that can help us on the perimeter defending and in the post, being rim protectors and containing the pick-and-roll. He wants everybody to be aggressive,” Wall said of Brooks.
“Everything we do, he wants us to be overaggressive and not passive. This is a point guard league and the best players on each team run a lot of pick-and-roll. We want to take those guys and make them uncomfortable when they’re coming off. Not letting them be comfortable and pick and choose the spots they want to get to.”
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