Several weeks ago before one of their rare practices this season, the Wizards held a team meeting where Russell Westbrook asked each player to define their roles. The team was in the middle of a disappointing start, and a misunderstanding over responsibilities was in his, and Bradley Beal's, eyes part of the problem.
So, one by one they went around and each player stated what they felt was their primary duties in front of the group. Rui Hachimura, for example, proclaimed he can guard all five positions on the floor.
"Everybody had to talk about it. Everybody started talking and I mentioned, I said ‘I can guard one through five,'" Hachimura said. "That’s what I told the team, the whole team."
"Rui challenged himself and we’re holding him to that standard," Beal added.
Not long after that conversation, the Wizards clicked. They have now won five straight games, their longest streak since February of 2018. They knew they were a talented team, even as they cratered to 11 games under .500. It was about maximizing that talent and one way to do that, evidently, was to define their roles.
"That was the gist of it, finding our roles and what everybody’s distinguished job is on this team," Beal said.
"Everybody bought into that. That’s what we need for everybody to chip in for us to win. It’s really just guys being ready, ready for when Coach [Scott Brooks] calls your number."
Going into this season, both Brooks and general manager Tommy Sheppard noted how Westbrook's vocal leadership style can have a unique effect on young players. The same goes for Beal, who continues to develop as a leader now at 27 years old.
They said sometimes a message has more effectiveness coming from a player than it does a coach. You can see that in the way Hachimura, in particular, describes the impact Westbrook and Beal have had on his defense.
"Russ told me I can guard one through five, that I'm the only one who can do it here on the team. That actually made me start to think about how important defense is," Hachimura said.
"It made more confident that he trusts me with that kind of stuff. That made me start to feel I can guard anybody in this league."
"Defensively, I say it to him, Brad says it to him, Russell says it to him; he's the only guy on our team that can guard one through five. That's a luxury to have," Brooks said.
Westbrook rarely shares details on conversations he has with teammates when talking to the media. Sometimes he will flat-out say that is private information.
But on Wednesday night, he did share what he believes his role as a leader is on this team.
"My job is to make sure that as team we come out and compete. That’s all I can ask. Missing and making shots is all a part of the game," Westbrook said.
Clearly, the message he and Beal are sending is getting across.