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.
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