[ The 3-on-3 Roundtable is a weekly segment on Hoop District where three of our highly insightful staff writers answer three questions regarding the current state of the Washington Wizards. ]
In this week’s edition: Zain, Joe, and Shaun will share their thoughts on the melodrama surrounding Nene after he publicly called out the “young guys” and challenged them to improve.
The Wizards dropped an O-fer on their 3-game road trip to the Midwest and now face a short stretch of winnable games, including two marquee matchups against Cleveland. Can they bounce back?
And lastly, how does Martell’s reinsertion into a starting role fare for the Wizards after Trevor Ariza’s injury?
After the loss in San Antonio, Nene angrily called out the younger players to “get their heads out their butts and play the right way.” What are your thoughts on Nene’s public criticism of his teammates?
Zain: I could do a David Letterman “Top 10” on reasons why Nene blasting his teammates was completely out of line. Nene probably couldn’t open an Evite through his Gmail without straining his calf. Nene is shooting a higher percentage from the field than from the free throw line, in his defense he’d probably say “I don’t like getting anything for free.” On a serious note, there aren’t many scenarios where anyone can be excused for publicly blasting their teammates. It could have been handled in the locker room, and it can be handled without singling anybody out. The Wizards aren’t replacing a few “younger guys” away from competing with every team in the NBA. I wouldn’t pin any of their losses this year on one or any few players of the team. I find it puzzling that after a game in which the Wizards were out-rebounded and shot inefficiently, the 6’11 guy who’s complaining had two total rebounds and shot 33% from the field.
Shaun: It’s normally a bad sign when your teammates call each other out in public, whether it’s the veterans calling out young guys or a superstar calling out everyone. What makes matters worse is Nene hasn’t played well himself. Coming off of a four point and two rebound performance, it’s understandable to be frustrated. But with that said, his anger was aimed at the wrong guys. Out of the entire team, only three players had scored in double figures against San Antonio – Beal, Wall, and Webster. Each of the three are considered “younger”. Meanwhile, veterans like Nene, Ariza and Gortat totaled a paltry 16 points. If I’m a younger guy in the team, I would be insulted, not motivated, to hear him speaking against me. This kind of behavior early in the season can cause divisiveness. That’s the last thing the Wizards need right now. If Nene had taken responsibility and been angry at himself while collectively saying everyone needs to get better, it might have done some good.
Joe: Honestly, I’m pretty sure Nene has the ability to speak like that considering the players on this team — when speaking of tenure — but as a fan I do take exception to the fact that it’s kinda hard to call out other players when your own play had been spotty to shitty at best. By no means is the season over obviously but the recurring trends that tend to happen around these parts give every Wizards fan a case of sports fanatic indigestion. Preseason playoff expectations, check. Team off to awful start, check. Fans calling for firings of GM and Coach, check. Players complaining about the young kids on team, check. Stay tuned for next week when we get the players only meeting report.
The Wizards began their road trip getting edged by OKC in overtime, then losing grip of the Mavericks in Dallas, before finally getting blown out in San Antonio. They now return to Chinatown for a short home stint against the Cavs and Wolves, before traveling to Cleveland and Toronto—all of which seem like winnable games. What are some things that must change or improve the most for the Wizards to close back in on .500 over these next few games?
Zain: The Wizards need to balance their offense in a sense. I have noticed that once they hit a couple of shots from downtown, they continue to “play the lottery.” They have become a 3-point shooting team which is great, but they far too often find themselves forcing them every possession after they’ve converted a couple. The Wizards have some tricks in their bag but they tend to use a solitary one in succession until it bogs down their offense. When the Wizards aren’t converting fast-break attempts, their half-court offense is painful to watch even with Wall in the lineup. When you take out Wall and the Wizards are forced to run a half-court offense almost exclusively, they go on very long scoring droughts. I would like to see better executed P&R, along with some off the ball screens to free up better looks for the wing players. If Eric Maynor can figure out how to penetrate the lane better then it could drastically improve the productivity of the bench-unit. He can’t drive into the lane if he was in a Bugatti getting on the highway that had a 100-foot wide merging area. Accelerate. Brake. Turn signal. Hard brake. Friendly Hand Gesture. Accelerate. Hard Brake. *Passes back to Beal*
Shaun: The biggest change they need to make is defense. They have to get stops in critical moments. There have been way too many breakdowns, not enough rotating and not enough help in critical junctures. This team can score fairly well but it doesn’t matter if you’re dead last in opponents field goal percentage. There needs to be greater attention given on that side of the ball. Aside from defense, the team simply needs to take better shots. They are shooting at a 43% clip from the field, which means they’re giving defenses a much greater opportunity to grab a board and push it down the floor for easy transition buckets. There isn’t a single guy on this team that is a lights out shooter, but collectively, they need to take smarter shots and simply knock them down. It’s not rocket science. Lastly, they have got to improve their free throw shooting. At this point, it is an embarrassment as they are ranked dead last in the league, shooting 68.8%. On average, they are leaving six points a game on the court just by missing free throws. In a one point overtime loss to Oklahoma City, the Wizards shot 13-26 from the line. Leaving free points on the court like that is a recipe for disaster.
Joe: Cavs, Wolves, Cavs, Raptors. 4-0 should be the outcome if this team is who they preach to be, a playoff contender. 3-1 is acceptable, 2-2 is not, 1-3 may cause Jason Reid to look into Wizards players with hidden tattoos. They go 0-4 and how do Ernie and #WittmanFace make it through the week? As far as what the team has to do to be successful in its next 4 games: play with passion, play for each other, pass the ball around…because 15 assists isn’t going to cut it, and they need consistent play from the two guys who are supposed to be carrying this team, Wall and Beal.
After the hamstring injury to Trevor Ariza in San Antonio, Martell Webster stepped in and took advantage of his opportunity, finally performing like a player who earned a $22 million extension this past summer. Considering Martell may get more playing time with the first unit, what does he bring to the floor that Ariza doesn’t?
Zain: Martell Webster brings a comfortable sense of predictability to the Wizards. He might not always shoot the lights out but he also won’t make you throw your remote at the T.V. in rage. Trevor Ariza has had some good games for the Wizards, games in which nobody else has contributed the same amount to the goal of winning. However, he has two to three plays a game that illicit reaction similar to what you scream at stupid teenagers in horror movies. “What! What are you doing! No, don’t do that! That’s what he wants you to do. Oh jeez. He’s gonna do it. Yup. It’s over.” Trevor Ariza is the guy who sees a bloody trail leading to a closed door and proceeds without any caution and too much curiosity. He will hit a corner 3 occasionally that that makes you feel bad for being mad at him earlier on. “Man, he really is a nice guy though at the end of the day.” Then he will attempt to penetrate into the lane like he’s on ice skates and the basketball is covered in coconut oil and you’ll hop on Twitter and post “Man, where is Martell Webster they never put that dude in the game. #22mill”
Shaun: Ariza has been playing surprisingly well but Webster has a greater arsenal of offensive assaults. He can drive and get to the rim better and has a more developed and consistent jump shot. I think he’ll bring a little better flow to the offense as well. Ariza has come up big but Webster is the more natural fit in the offense. He just hasn’t had much of a chance to show it this year with the limited minutes. Last year, Webster was arguably the most consistent player on the Wizards roster and could be counted on for double digit scoring, solid free throw shooting, and the ability to penetrate and get to the basket. The Wizards should look to use Webster more, even after Ariza returns. He could provide a great change of pace playing as a 2-guard when Beal needs a breather given his bigger frame for defensive advantages. While Ariza is out, I expect a solid stretch of games from him.
Joe: I’m on the support Martell train so there is absolutely nothing wrong IMO with Ariza heading to the rehab room. Ariza is not a long term Wizard and I believe they are trying to showcase him for other teams and until his injury he had been the most consistent player on an extremely inconsistent team. While I know Martell can have a significant role and contribute the type of points Ariza was providing, the one area where he’ll have to pick up his game is on the defensive end. Outside of that one, although very big attribute, Webster brings a passion, attitude and overall energy to the team when he’s in games. I think as long as he’s in the starting lineup he’ll recoup some of that Unleash the Wizard that’s been laying dormant from being on the bench so long and I’d expect to see him have a killer game and feed of the crowd when Washington plays at home again.