The breakdowns on defense have come from all over. It's not one person. It's not one unit. It's not one game. It's multiple games for long stretches and it almost cost the Wizards when they gave up 63 first-half points to the Charlotte Hornets before coming back to win 118-111.
Tonight, they play the depleted, demoralized and hopeless N.Y. Knicks. They allowed the Knicks to come back from a 27-point deficit on Nov. 17 by scoring 47 points in the fourth quarter to make a 119-112 loss look more respectable.
What has gone so horribly wrong lately with Washington?
In this loss to the L.A. Clippers last month, a very winnable one coming out of halftime, the Wizards shot 6 of 9. But they allowed the Clippers to make 8 of 9. And repeatedly they couldn't find J.J. Redick. That he remained this open for this long in transition is almost criminal. Redick set his season high of 31 points on seven made threes because of plays like this.
Absent frontline help
Dribble pitches and handoffs are difficult to defend if there's no pressure on the ballhandler. In this case it's Griffin and he's handing off to the best shooter on the floor. The primary defender, Bradley Beal, is trailing. Ideally, Markieff Morris switches from Griffin to Redick to take away the look and Beal does one of two things: Double the ball off the trail to prevent it from getting back to Griffin at the arc or switch to Griffin. The latter is the more conservative play. Morris can defend Redick 1 vs. 1. Beal can defend Griffin at the arc 1 vs. 1. But giving Redick, or any kind of shooter, this kind of space on the handoff is begging for trouble. If DeAndre Jordan was taking this handoff (would never happen, but hypothetically speaking), then the soft coverage would be understandable. But this is basic knowing of personnel.
John Wall is the most notorious but far from the only Wizards player to do it. In this situation, he had to switch with Morris. Teams prefer to switch smalls on Griffin because he's not really adept playing in the post and good position defense can pick up offensive fouls. He has bad footwork. Wall, however, reaches from behind which opens up the lane and puts the bigs in a tough spot. If Marcin Gortat is in deeper position, Wall can get away with this reach and whiff. Gortat's man is DeAndre Jordan who is 16 feet from the rim and not a threat. Instead Griffin gets an uncontested dunk which is the worst possible outcome. When the Wizards beat the Clippers in December, they succeeded in making Griffin a jump shooter. In this game, he was alllowed to be a dunker.
And this gamble on Nic Batum wasn't necessary. Wall simply had to move his feet and stay in front of him on the switch. Instead he gambles for the strip from behind which opens up the paint/mid-range to suddenly put pressure on the frontline. This is a quality look and it leads to an easy bucket for Charlotte.
— J. Michael (@ThisIsJMichael) April 6, 2017
Contrast what you've seen in those examples to the Wizards in the second half agaisnt the Hornets, who went from 60.5% shooting to 42.5%. This is how they did it:
Better transition defense
Gortat doesn't bail out Kemba Walker by overextending himself to stop this open-floor drive. He stays vertical and forces the small guard to try to finish over him and gets the block. Most importantly, he's back and in position to do so rather than trailing the play. Four Wizards are back vs. three and it leads to Beal getting a transition dunk the other way.
After roaming to help ball contaiment, Gortat gets back to find his man (Cody Zeller), puts his body on him and boxes him out to rebound in traffic.
Aggressive coverage on the dribble pitch/curls
Gortat jumps out on Batum after he takes this handoff and challenges that three.When a good three-point shooter gets the ball in this position, the close out must be aggressive because the player making the pitch/handoff essentially is a screener. And then he picks up Batum again off the handoff and the ball pressure forces a bad pass turnover. Beal gets the steal and the dunk but Gortat created it.
Marco Belinelli is a very good shooter. Kelly Oubre is trailing over the screen but Ian Mahinmi shows and gets the quick strip to get Brandon Jennings a layup in transition. The key is to be aggressive in the decision-making. Frank Kaminsky is Mahinmi's man and is spotting up in the corner off his help. He can shoot. The ball had to be trapped to prevent the reversal or Oubre had to fan back to cover for Mahinmi. The strip made that a moot point.
The issues for the Wizards are fixable. It's not talent. It's patience, communication and discipline. The typical claims made on their behalf -- fatigue and rest -- are just excuses.
The more disciplined they play, the less energy they'll expend trying to recover on plays or trying to come back from double-digit deficits.