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Day 2 With Les Wiz

The Wiz are on the court once today after going twice yesterday so I thought I'd drop in and share a little info before today's workout. There has been a lot of talk about defense around this team all offseason and in the last few days and I think everyone can agree that this is a good thing.

Then again, I heard all of the same talk last year at this time and saw only a slight improvement when it counted so, I'm going to have to wait and see how this all plays out.

What I will do is give you, the beloved reader, a specific idea of HOW the Wiz are ramping up on D instead of just quoting a bunch of guys talking about it. As Antonio Daniels said, "We've all heard that before."

A portion of last night's practice gave me an idea of what to look for. The Wizards were working in a half-court set walking through a few basic defensive rotations. A visiting coach -- Kevin O'Neill, who is known for his defensive philosophies -- walked the fellas through a series of situations they will see in just about any game. A player drives from the wing to the baseline and is cut off by a rotating big man. Now what? O'Neill concentrated on the back side guys, in this case instructing Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson on how the coaches want them to react to a play that is going away from them.

To me, this is key because it is precisely how the Wizards were often hurt last season. Gilbert, Caron Butler, Jamison and other wing players would sometimes get caught shooting for a steal or sagging into the paint off of a weak-side shooter and that player would break the defense down either with an open shot with dribble penetration. Remember that late season night in Chicago when Ben Gordon made all of those threes off of skip passes or dribble penetration and kick-outs?

The area where Gilbert has struggled is not necessarily with on-the-ball defense though he hasn't exactly been Joe Dumars. The bigger issues have been when he's off the ball or has to get through screens while chasing his man (remember Jose Calderon running him off screen after screen in Toronto last season and gettting whatever he wanted?). Gil tends to turn his head, stop his feet and follow the ball with his eyes when it goes away from him and he tends to drop his hands and run his shoulder smack into a screener instead of using his upper body to slide around the screen. Caron got better at getting over and through screens as the season went on but also gets caught either cheating to get into passing lanes or sagging off when the ball went away from him.

The point is, guys in this league are going to make shots because they simply so good. Paul Pierce and Michael Redd are going to have nights when they light you up no matter what you do. The key is make 'em at least work hard for it. That's really what Eddie Jordan and his staff want this season. No easy stuff.

The drills the team was working on yesterday will focus on these areas and it will be interesting to see how the players perform in the eight preseason games.

The Darius Songaila situation will be worth following all week in camp and -- if his back continues to bother him -- the preseason. Neither Songaila nor the team have set a timetable for his return and though nobody with the team is freaking out, we all know how tricky backs can be, especially in the NBA where guys don't exactly get a lot of time to rest aching bodies. The player who stands to benefit the most (sounds harsh but hey, it's competition right?) is second year forward Andray Blatche. Remember (and I know you all read my story on Blatche in Tuesday's Post right?) the kid missed all of camp and the preseason last year after being shot and was essentially playing from behind all season.

Now, Blatche is getting to practice all of Eddie Jordan's sets, he's getting good hands-on instruction from coaches and he's getting to blend his game with the team's veteran players. I'm told that the biggest key for Andray will be getting comfortable with all of the sets Jordan likes to run. After all, you can't be on the floor if you don't know exactly what you are doing.

To me, Blatche is the x-factor on this team. If he can be a contributing player -- give the team around 9 to 10 good minutes a night -- this is a different team. Everyone agrees that he has sublime talent.

I'll be checking back later after today's workout. In the meantime, can someone please send some good karma to my Twins today? Can't lose Game 1 at home with the ace, Santana, on the bump. Then again, big Frank Thomas took over, so what are you gonna do? Good thing the Twinkies have a guy named Boof on the bump today.

Later

By Ivan Carter  |  October 4, 2006; 11:24 AM ET
 
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Comments

Thanks for the great info! It's great these guys are learning what they need to do defensively. I guess I'm surprised that they didn't already know. Particularly Gilbert. Let's just hope they actually use this new found defensive knowledge when the games start.

Posted by: sting | October 4, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Guys;

Let me hook you up with some places to eat that are close to the Seigel Center.

For lunch, dinner or sunday bruch if you are in town for that, you want to hit Avenue 805 on Davis Avenue. you head west on Broad street away from the Seigel Center, and it will be on your left hand side, across from the Science Muesuem of virginia. tucked in behind the pizza hut. Park aon davis and you will see it.

tnhey have a rotating menu, but if they have the crab scallop and salmon cakes as a sandwiche or main course get it. they have pasta, seafood, great soups, it is way better than TGIFridays.

You can also head east on Broad, to 12th street, and take a right, then a left on M ian, and you are in Shockoe Bottom. Try Bottoms Up pizza, if the weather is like it is today then sit out on the deck, try the white pizza with asparagus hearts. Good beer, lotta honeys to scope if you are into that.

From the Seigel you can walk across the street to a Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

also within walking distance, a stroll not a hike, would be Cuba Cuba. you'd walk east to lombardi, then go south (the opposites side of the street from the gym) about two blocks. It's good cuban food. I think that whole walk is 8 blocks one way.
I know you guys don't know your way around, but don't talk smack about food in richmond! If you want to find a specific type of food just ask and I'll give you directions

Posted by: Ed from richmond | October 4, 2006 12:37 PM | Report abuse

As a Wizards fan and Yankee Hater, I send you no karma. The A's are the best hope to take down the Yanks! Wouldn't be classic Curse of Les Boulez, if Songaila's back made him a lemon and they wasted their mid-level exception on him.

Posted by: George Templeton | October 4, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Good info, Ivan. Keep up the good reports. (Maybe less baseball, more entries?)

Posted by: Steve | October 4, 2006 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Good stuff, and I'm glad to see the shift in defensive philosophy. Turnovers are almost irrelevant in the NBA -- the teams that force the most turnovers are generally poor defensive teams. The good defenses have the same thing in common -- they force misses. Expending energy trying to force turnovers and generate steals is a waste because NBA ball handlers are so good. At most, a team will force a turnover on 17-18% of opponent possessions (Wiz were 2nd best in this category last season, forcing turnovers on 17% of opponent possessions). Bottom line -- NBA teams get shots.

IF the Wiz are serious about de-empasizing steals and turnovers, and changing focus to contesting shots, it can mean only good things for the team.

Posted by: kjb | October 6, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

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