Scott Brooks had a lot of success developing young players in Oklahoma City. That's an area of need for the Wizards, whose two best players are in their early 20s.
His strategy? Don't baby anyone, basically. That's what he told Chris Mannix in an interview for The Veritcal Podcast, taped during Las Vegas Summer League.
"When you’re dealing with young players, you can’t always talk about them being young," the new Wizards coach explained. "You have to treat them as NBA players."
"We have a bunch of young players on our team now. Kelly Oubre is only 20. Otto Porter is 23. Bradley Beal is only 23. John Wall is 25.
"But I tell them … we’re Washington Wizards and I don’t care how old you are. The competitive spirit that you have to display night in and night out is going to have to get you playing time."
Competitiveness over experience — that's a departure from former head coach Randy Wittman, who had a reputation for being stingy with playing time for rookies.
In 2013-14, Porter averaged 8.6 minutes per game despite being the No. 3 overall draft pick that spring. Last year, rookie Oubre did slightly better with 10.7 minutes per game. Only Beal received substantial run in his rookie season.
Whether playing time was a function of Wittman's short leash or the players' abilities is up for debate.
What's not in dispute is that Brooks inherited a tremendous talent in Wall. Mannix asked about the similarities and differences between Wall and Russell Westbrook, whom Brooks coached for six seasons in Oklahoma City.
“I’m really just now, the last couple of months, getting a chance to know John. And obviously I love Russell and what he’s about," he said. "I notice in John a lot of the same similarities [sic]. He loves the game."
"For instance, we had a draft workout about three weeks ago in D.C. and we brought in six players. I knew not one player out of the six players.
"I was with John. He not only knew where they were from, he knew their stats, he knew their tendencies, he knew their background. He knew their high school, their AAU. He knew them all.
"And I'm looking at him like, 'You need to get a life. Don’t you do anything other than watch basketball throughout the day?'"
In summation, Brooks said he believes Wall has all the ingredients for NBA success.
"Three things I’ve noticed: He loves the game, he has a big-time skill set and he’s very competitive. And if you have that, along with good character, there’s a reason why he’s a three-time All-Star at such a young age."
How the new coach plans to handle Beal, Wall's partner in the backcourt, will draw more attention because of Beal's history of stress reactions in his legs. It's a tough situation for a player who's still developing, and Brooks said one of his first priorities was devising a new strategy to mitigate that risk.
“I was just with [Beal] this morning and watched his workout in Las Vegas. And he said this is the best he’s felt in any of the offseasons," he told Mannix.
"You know, he's 23 years old and he’s going into his fifth year. It’s really pretty incredible. Your body as a young player, you have to go through a lot and it’s a shock to the system. Every young player has to go through that. You have to be able to manage their workload. I think going forward, the staff that we have together, we understand that.
"The analytics on the medical side is important. The workloads, the things that we have to try to prevent injuries from happening, is going to be very important for myself. That’s one of the things I wanted to improve on this summer and I think we have a good game plan going forward."
He also discussed limiting the length of practices as a way to reduce wear and tear. But even with a healthy backcourt, Brooks made a point of saying the Wizards' identity will be rooted in defense.
“John Wall and Bradley Beal are big time scorers and they can help their team score, but we still want to be known as a defensive team that can score. Not an offensive team that only wants to defend when it scores."