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Flip Saunders ready to zone out

And that, guys, is the hyperbolic, paraboloid, transitional floating zone. Understand? (AP Photo)

The Wizards wrapped up their first practice a few hours ago and reporters were allowed to catch the final 30 minutes, as players went through defensive drills, then separated into three groups to go over some pick-and-roll work, and more individual defensive work.

The three groups were separated in white, black and green teams. The white team featured Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, JaVale McGee, Adam Morrison and Sean Marks. The black team had Hilton Armstrong, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Kirk Hinrich, Al Thornton and Yi Jianlian. The green team included Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Hamady Ndiaye Cartier Martin, Lester Hudson and Kevin Palmer. Josh Howard was doing individual rehab work off to the side.

The one thing I've noticed about these practices -- at least from what I've seen -- is that they are relatively quiet, with Coach Flip Saunders and his staff focusing on teaching and fundamentals. After Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo sat in on practices on Tuesday, Minnesota Golden Gophers Coach Tubby Smith -- who coached Saunders's son, Ryan -- looked over the workout on Wednesday. After practice, Smith, who won the national championship at Kentucky in 1998, went over to greet Wildcat alum and No. 1 overall pick Wall.

Saunders joked that with such a young team, these practices have the feel of what people would see in college. "Assume that they know nothing," he said. "Basically, [it's] back to basics, trying to go through everything and not leave any stone unturned. I've got a lot of college coaches here, and I've always run practices a lot like college practices -- a lot of fundamentals. But when you look at our team, the number of guys we have under 22, 23, a lot of these would still be in college and getting a lot of these fundamentals. We have to go through that. We may have to do that even more than with a veteran team."

Saunders said that he would also implement more zone this season, adding that his team would utilize it nearly 25 percent of the time. "If you play Miami, you better learn to play zone," said Saunders, who developed his defensive zone principals at Minnesota playing for the late Bill Musselman. What a zone does is, you're designating where your help is coming from at all times. So you're designating help. In this league, when you're playing against LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, players of that nature, there's got to be help there. "

With time to implement his strategies on a group of young sponges, Saunders said he came back to his roots. "We're back to my hyperbolic, paraboloid, transitional floating zone. We're playing that," Saunders said. "That's always been a staple. Last year, we played a little bit, but not as much as I would've liked to play."

If you aren't quite sure what a hyperbolic paraboloid is, it's a mathematical term to describe a surface shaped like a saddle. It looks sort of like a Pringles potato chip. Not sure how that plays out in basketball, although I assume it has something to do with the position of the players within the zone (I sure would love to hear Saunders explain it to his players in that terminology). I'll certainly do more on this later -- but a can of Pringles wouldn't be a bad idea right about now.

"Teaching the zone, what it does, it helps out your man to man defense," he said. "It's very unique, because when I first came in the league, you couldn't play zone. But everyone was trying to play man to make it look like zone. Now that we can play zone, everyone loves to play man. I think what happens is, it helps your man principals."

Saunders said having a team of players with considerable height and length gives the Wizards some advantages in playing zone. "I think that it can be, not only length, but the size and quickness of our point guards, whether it was John, or Kirk or Gil, all three of those guys, are long," Saunders said. "When John is in front a zone, it's like putting a 6-8 guy up there, with his length."

By Michael Lee  | September 29, 2010; 3:39 PM ET
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Posted by: Goelez | September 29, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Thorton is a guy that had really gotten out of shape from his college days. He looked 20-40 lbs. heavier from his GT days when he got here last year.

Posted by: flohrtv | September 29, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

How much heavier is that than his Florida State days?

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | September 29, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

More Zone?
So much for improving the defensive rebounding...

Posted by: bozomoeman | September 29, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I know we are in rebuilding mode, but it would be nice to do some damage this season on the eastern conference and show that we are up and coming. With that said, what if we were to trade Nick Young + Al Thorton (or Josh Howard) + 2011 first round pick to Philly for Andre Iguodala? We want to be a running team, right! Or at least that is Ted's vision. So why not grab an elite 3rd banana that plays a position that we are weak at and is just now getting in to his prime. We would be able to run on anyone and AI seemed to pick up a lot defensively during the summer FIBA experience.

Posted by: jonnyflo14 | September 29, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

@jonny - Mr. Snyder, is that you? There is nothing to be gained by contending for a playoff spot. What the Wizards, and every other franchise in this city needs to do is look at the example the Caps (and every franchise that has had success over a long period of time) have set: build your team with players that you have drafted and have grown up in your system. Once you have a solid team identity established, then adding a free agent who fills a gap makes sense.

Coach Saunders has a fairly unique opportunity to create a team culture essentially from scratch this year, especially with Gil being as withdrawn as he has been. For the first time in forever in DC, the head coach actually has the opportunity to be the team leader rather than someone standing on the sidelines pleading for his team to play some D. I'd much rather see this team steadily improve over this season and even the next if it means seeing the kind of success a team like San Antonio has enjoyed over the past decade. You have got to have a foundation established before you can rebuild anything.

Posted by: nkeitt | September 29, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

@nkeitt I would disagree about contending for a playoff spot. The is everything to be gained. I creating a culture of winning and expectations. Yes, we shouldn't expect to get to the playoffs this year, and maybe not even next year, but there isn't anything wrong with setting that a aspiration/elevated goal. Of course building the foundation for future success this year is best for the team, but I see no reason that Iguodala couldn't be a part of that foundation. Maybe it's too early to give up on Al Thorton, since he might be an even better version of Iguodala, but he is an established NBA veteran and you know what you are going to get from him. And it's exactly what we lack. Maybe we have Andre and Al on the roster and Iguodala is able to mentor him a little bit more, especially about the three spot which seems to always have been a weak spot for this franchise. I don't think you can use San Antonio as an example (except as a blue print for continued success by making smart business and basketball decision at the same time) as they were gift wrapped Tim Duncan. You can't tell me that they weren't thinking NBA Championship when they won the lottery that year and the rights to draft Duncan first just because he was a rookie. That would have been selling their franchise short as well as thumbing their noses at the fan base. Setting realistic and high expectations don't have to be mutually exclusive. Those two can co-exist.

Posted by: jonnyflo14 | September 29, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Nick Young + Al Thorton (or Josh Howard) + 2011 first round pick to Philly for Andre Iguodala?
Why not, or better yet, as long as we're dreaming small forwards, Carmelo Anthony. I doubt the Sixers or the Nuggets would go for it but with the collapse of the Devin Harris-Nets trade the Nuggets are facing the prospect of getting nothing for Anthony given his reluctance to resign. They also might like Howard's expiring contract and a 2011 first round pick along with NY.

Posted by: midlevex_ | September 29, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Whatever the Wiz do, giving away 1st rd draft picks shouldn't be done. If you are trying to change the culture of your team then you want "your" type of guys playing. Right now the team is full of young and unproven guys who are willing to LISTEN because they have done nothing in this league. Hinrich works because he is a vet who does all the right things. Gil will work because the one thing he does is show guys his crazy work ethic. After last year I doubt he will as immature. I wouldn't take on anyone else's "star" player at this point because the Wiz are grooming their own star player and his name is John Wall.

Posted by: odash | September 29, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

You rebuild while throwing away the foudation to build with. No giving away draft picks, spwcifically # 1's. We grwo with Wall. I really don't believe some you guys dont know how speacial he is. Don't panic,let the process work (Carmelo for a player or two) but no pick

Posted by: bossclifnpooh2 | September 29, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

sorry should hit my spell check

Posted by: bossclifnpooh2 | September 29, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

". . . if you aren't quite sure what a hyperbolic paraboloid is, it's a mathematical term to describe a surface shaped like a saddle. "

- shaped like a saddle - lie the Cap Centre!

Go Bullets!

Posted by: MikeNelmsReturns | September 29, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Zone 25% of the time? Let's hope Young and Thornton aren't study buddies.

Posted by: djnnnou | September 29, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

". . . if you aren't quite sure what a hyperbolic paraboloid is, it's a mathematical term to describe a surface shaped like a saddle. "

- shaped like a saddle - like the Cap Centre!

Go Bullets!

Posted by: MikeNelmsReturns | September 29, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Anyway we can get a player by player update with regards to progess? I would like to know how Booker, Morrison, Hudson, Young,...are doing and developing. Any insight on who will start at the 3?

Posted by: Gooddad | September 30, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I see no reason to make a trade right now, especially if we are giving up a solid draft pick. One more solid veteran may get us into the playoffs as an 8th seed, but that is as far as we will go, and even that would be a long shot. The conference is simply too strong. Besides, the 8th seed plays the 1st seed..i.e. Miami. In the end, it would be a wasted trade.

If anything, I think we should be looking to trade for more draft picks, not looking to give ours away for players who really can't make much of a difference right now. Iguodala is a consistent player, but he is not a game changer. Carmelo Anthony is a tier above, but there is no way we are going to get him for a trade as described above. Besides, he improves nothing on the defensive end.

Strong drafts, and then select veterans to fill out the gaps are where we want to be - in 2013.

Posted by: pezzypezpez | September 30, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"Nick Young + Al Thorton (or Josh Howard) + 2011 first round pick to Philly for Andre Iguodala" - jonnyflo14

I would make that trade in a heartbeat. I think we are going to be better this season than most people think. playoff spot will be hard, but i don't expect us to be sitting there with a top 5 pick in next year's draft, unless we get lucky with the ping-pong balls. Besides usually traded-picks like that are protected.

What I don't see is Philly making that trade. At least, not before the season starts. Closer to the trade deadline, they might be more willing to part with Iguodala.

Posted by: segastyle | September 30, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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