Defense Remains the Issue

This is my fourth season covering the Wizards on a daily basis and there has been one constant throughout that time: This team does not consistently play defense. Nothing new there -- you fans have been harping on it for years -- but the defensive issues are a huge problem now that Gilbert Arenas and his 30 points a game are becoming distant memories.

The recent defensive issues were outlined in a story I wrote in today's paper.

The problems are familiar: too much dribble penetration, sloppy or late rotations and an inability to grind down and really play solid defense late in close games. That is a big reason for the team's 0-8 mark in games decided by seven points or less. Basically, all a team has to do is move the ball from side to side a couple of times and an open shot or drive to the basket will materialize.

Go back to last January when this team played some really good basketball. During one stretch, it won 102-98 in OT at Atlanta, beat Boston 85-78 and then 88-83 one night later and later in the month posted a 102-84 win at Dallas. In each of those games, defense was crucial. Then again, Brendan Haywood, Roger Mason Jr. and a healthy Antonio Daniels were a part of the mix.

Until this team -- and that includes all-stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler (who was really playing energetic defense during that stretch I mentioned from last season) -- digs in and improves defensively, the playoffs will slip further and further away (cue Jim Mora Sr.: "Playoffs? Playoffs? How about winning a game?")

As much as statistical analysis has become a part of the game for teams, fans and sports scribes, the really simple truth can be found in one stat: opponent's field goal percentage. The teams that rank 25th through 30th are the T-Wolves, Raptors, Wizards, the team formerly known as the Sonics, Knicks and Kings. Each of those teams is below .500, three have already fired a coach and Sacramento's Reggie Theus is on deck. Meanwhile, look at the team's with the opp. field percentage: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas and the Lakers. Go figure.

By Ivan Carter |  December 9, 2008; 8:44 AM ET
Previous: Monday Update: Daniels, Butler Practice | Next: Random Thoughts on Pistons, 'Wolves


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this team isnt going to change until they get defensive minded players and coaches in here. I love this team but realize that 2-3 guys playing defense isnt enough to get jack squat done. We will continue to give secondary and tertiary players "season high" nights against us as the year rolls along. not having Gilbert nor Brendan has exposes us for what we really are at this point

Posted by: WizardsExtreme | December 9, 2008 9:19 AM

It's not so much that they don't "grind down and really play solid defense late in close games." Sometimes they can do that, other times not. It's that early in the first and third quarters--where the tone of the games are set--they don't "grind down..." Every single game, without exception, the Wiz allow other teams--even on their home court against teams with losing records--come in an establish THEIR games. They hit their first four or five buckets, get into a rhythm, get comfortable and began to dictate the game. This team's defense will have arrived when they are shutting teams down in the first quarter and sending a very tough message: this game won't be easy. You drive, you pay. We're contesting everything. Watch Boston. Watch the old Detroit teams. From the openning tip they're imposing their will. That's defense, not trying to shut a team down in the last 15 seconds.

Posted by: jweber1 | December 9, 2008 9:20 AM

Terrific playoff teams have defensive-minded players. Ernie Grunfeld has failed to upgrade the personnel. Sure he is constrained by the cap, but so is every team in the league. When will Ernie be called out for this?

Posted by: SteveC28 | December 9, 2008 9:22 AM

clearly this team needs to improve on defense (who could argue that)...but I don't think we can ever realistically expect this team to become the Spurs or the old Pistons on D. This team wins with offense...I would love to see a little more D, but let's be honest, this team is losing right now because they just don't have enough consistant offense (re: Arenas hurt and Stevenson in a slump/returning to normal after a good year last year). We can over analyze this team, but the reality is that this team will never e a "good" defensive team and will not win consistantly until they find a consistant third weapon on offense...and unfortunately he's sitting on the sidelines in a suit.

Posted by: cedric_lockhart | December 9, 2008 10:12 AM

Unfortunately, the Wiz seem to think a "stopper" is something found in a sink or bathtub. A part of the problem may be that they are "tweeners" either too small or with reaction times that are not quick enough to defend their positions. Perhaps Tap, an ex college coach could devise a zone.
Alternatively, as much as I like Caron, why not trade him AND ET for Brand (based on Lee's column today) plus whatever pet cat the 76s want to provide that has an expiring contract. When Brand is at full strength, he could be a quick 4.

Posted by: lrmc623 | December 9, 2008 10:12 AM

That's why MeTawn should have been shipped out of here for Josh Smith or AK-47.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | December 9, 2008 10:14 AM

The problem isn't just the players and their efforts. It's also scheme, coaching, and the team's philosophy (i.e., "we outscore teams," not "we stop teams").
There was a telling quote by Jamison at the beginning of last season, something like, "We don't need to become one of the top defensive teams in the league. We just need to be middle of the road, which would be a big improvement for us." Way to set your goals high.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | December 9, 2008 10:35 AM

It would be nice if Grunfeld/Tabscott would say what everyone else in the league knows-

Antawn Jamison simply does not play defense.

Caron Butler does a terrific job of getting steals, but regularly gets beat man-to-man.

None of the big men will give a hard foul, ever.

The team is made up of soft, nice, rich guys. Other teams know it, and they humiliate the Wizards every night. It's time for a reality check at the Phone Booth. Until they learn to play with defensive intensity and ferocity, they will continue to be an embarrassment to their fans. And that's the sad ass truth.

Posted by: bryc3 | December 9, 2008 10:38 AM

No team can play defense when the instructive philosophy from the coaches is always flawed. They do not play good defense because basic defense is not stressed and they do not teach team defense.

One of the reasons for their woeful substition patterns, which also screws up their Offense, is because they yank players from the game for Perceived Individual Defensive Flaws.

Good defense comes from a good team defensive philosophy and not individual play. The reason why they switch so much is because they are playing individual defense and not team defense.

Let me explain. If you are playing a man to man, you cannot automatically switch off your man once he makes a move. If you switch, your man to man becomes flawed and you will not be able to switch fast enough to keep up with the ball...i.e. an open shot in yo' face. Man to man means you have to stay with your man.

One of the reasons that defensive rules was changed because of the Detroit Bad Boys is because they would hold, push, grab, block, do anything to keep their man from getting free. And if you think that this was individual defense, you are wrong, this was individual toughness in a team defensive philosophy.

You must teach good court position and to stay with your man as long as possible. Once you start switching mediocre teams will get open shots.

The simple way to stop fast breaks, is to always have 3 players first down the court to create a triangle with the tip always stopping the ball. Phil Jackson.

This team for years has always depended upon individual defensive play. Until they figure what team defense is they will always suffer.

And team defense is not switching the moment the ball starts to moving or when an offensive player makes a move. Think about it, THEY WANT YOU TO SWITCH CAUSE YOU CANNOT KEEP UP.

I am a fan of the phrase, "You Can't See The Forest For The Trees", because too many of you and the Wizard's keep emphasizing individual defensive play and you are missing the point. Good defensive champioship teams taught and still teach team defense.

If you are playing man to man, all that means is you must stay between your man and the goal no matter where he goes. When you have 5 players knowing they must do this then individual switching and inadequacies are minimized.

The reason why EJ thought BH was not an NBA center is because he thought he could not play defense. But SURPRISE, HELLO, KNOCK KNOCK, Brendan Haywood was taught team defense at Carolina and so was Antwann Jamison, for that matter, so was JaVale McGhee, though he did play at Carolina. Team Defense is what the Wizards must do and stop making decisions based on a flawed Individual strategy.



Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 9, 2008 12:02 PM

"That's why MeTawn should have been shipped out of here for Josh Smith or AK-47."

The Hawks and Jazz would have jumped at that deal. "Hey, let's trade one of our best, most important players for an underpeforming, 1-dimensional, 2nd-tier SG."

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 9, 2008 12:23 PM

Meanwhile, look at the team's with the opp. field percentage: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas and the Lakers. Another thing Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas and the Lakers have in common, is they all over the luxury cap? Go figure.

A team like Detroit who is already over the luxury cap resigned Antonio McDyess because that team wants to win a championship more then watch the bottom line.

When the Wizards philosophy is they will not go over the luxury cap threshold no matter what, they can not spend 35 percent of their cap space on two players who do not play defense and expect to win a championship.

They could have signed Josh Smith for the money they wasted on AJ! With the money they should have saved by letting Gilbert go to GS they could have resigned Roger Mason, made a trade for a true point guard like Chris Duhon, and they would still be under the cap.

Starting lineup with BTH out would be Duhon PG, Mason SG, Butler SF, Smith PF, McGee C and that team would be better then 3-15.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 9, 2008 12:37 PM

"The Hawks and Jazz would have jumped at that deal. "Hey, let's trade one of our best, most important players for an underpeforming, 1-dimensional, 2nd-tier SG."

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 9, 2008 12:23 PM "

As Les BouleS should have also.

MeTawn, as I've said before, gets great stats and does what he does.

Unfortunately, that doesn't include playing D, playing inside and getting to the FT line consistently, or having the ability to carry the team past the first round of the playoffs.

KG in the past and TMac have gotten heat for not doing the same. Shockingly, there's hasn't been ANY slamming of co captain know it all MeTawn by the press despite him cashing in on over 16 mil in salary last season, and getting 50 mil this past offseason for a 32 year old stat guy.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | December 9, 2008 1:20 PM

Will someone explain why Maguire doesn't get more playing time?

Posted by: browneri | December 9, 2008 1:45 PM

This is one of those where I agree with just about everybody here..especially bryc3. Our marquee players specialize in offense. Thing is, we've NEVER been a good defensive team yet we've been competitive. Until we made major roster changes, it will never happen. Why not focus on what we do best? Why not try to score more points and put the emphasis on offense? I'd rather get 45 wins and a first round exit than the 10th pick in the draft and a year of boredom. We have the offensive weapons and depth to put up 100 per night if we speed up the tempo. Not every team can do that. We'll beat some good teams and lose to some bad ones with this approach but at lest we'd be winners for the most part.

Posted by: original_mark | December 9, 2008 1:56 PM

This team needs to get it together and make a run at the 8th spot. As of today, the Wiz are 5 games out of the 8th seed. Yes, thats right, 5 games back. That goes to show how pathetic the east is, other than CLE and BOS.

Under most circumstances, i would say f&^k it, lets get a good pick. But this year's draft class is HORRIBLE! I mean it really is dreadful. Other than Blake Griffin, there is NOTHING. All the other top players are scorers who are bad defenders( Curry, Harden, Jennings etc). Assuming Gimpert comes back healthy next year, do we really need another scoring guard?? No! The best big man is Mullens from O State, and he has shown absolutely NO reason to be considered like Duncan. He seems like a low budget Brad Miller.

This is why Gimperts comments a few weeks back still rub me the wrong way. Tim Duncan?? In this years draft??? HAHAHA!!!

Of all the years to tank it in this decade so far, this is the one you wanted to avoid. Way to go Wizards. Lets make a run at the eight, at least it will be fun to watch.

Posted by: cj658 | December 9, 2008 2:25 PM

Starting lineup with BTH out would be Duhon PG, Mason SG, Butler SF, Smith PF, McGee C and that team would be better then 3-15.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 9, 2008 12:37 PM

The team better with duhon and smith instead of jamison and arenas? highly doubtful

Posted by: T-ROB | December 9, 2008 5:43 PM

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