The Wizards have unveiled a number of new things this preseason: draft-pick Kelly Oubre Jr.; a headband for Bradley Beal; some And1 dribbling skills from Otto Porter; and, oh, by the way, an uptempo new offense.
This might be the single greatest development in the D.C. sports scene since… well, since the firing of Matt Williams, so really just a week or so. But still: This is good news.
The Wizards have been in something of a bizarre place the last few seasons, leaning on a tough-minded defense despite being led by a blazing fast, exceptionally dynamic point guard in John Wall.
It’s a recipe that led to consistent improvement, especially on the defensive side, but that has failed to maximize Wall’s many talents, and also hasn’t always produced the most watchable games. (Important: Those two facts are not unrelated.)
The move to a faster-paced offense should solve both of these problems.
At its base, the offense should move the ball quickly and consistently, no longer settling for slow, ambling walks across the court and set plays that took forever to develop. Players are expected to make quick decisions with the ball, ultimately increasing the number of offensive possessions, thereby tiring out defenders.
To the casual viewer, it’s been a pleasure to watch—and watchability is a weirdly underrated trait in teams across the entire spectrum of sports. One of the most tedious mantras in sports is that “defense wins championships”; the implied expectation is that you should suck it up and enjoy low-scoring, boring sporting events because trying to score points is pointlessly flashy and meaningless. If you score too many points, you’re definitely not going to be able to win important games.
This leads to things like Dale Hunter’s stint coaching the Capitals. Hunter, for the soundest of strategic reasons, championed a monumentally boring style of hockey, memorably immortalized by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports as “tedium on ice.” Hunter’s approach involved limiting the opportunities for an incandescent superstar like Alex Ovechkin while playing a grinding, defensive, blue-collar game.
(Is Barry Trotz Mr. Excitement? No, but he has the good sense not to handcuff a superstar.)
The net result may have appealed to hockey fans of a certain mindset, but it led to some nigh-unwatchable hockey, full of insurmountable one-goal leads and frustrating-to-watch lineup decisions. That Caps team managed to upset the defending champion Boston Bruins in a tightly-contested seven-game series (each game was decided by a single goal) and lost to the New York Rangers in the next round in a similarly close seven-game series, but even the wins were victory via root canal.
As a viewer and a fan, that matters. So it’s nice to see that the Wizards—presumably influenced by last year’s NBA season, which saw high-scoring Golden State also becoming NBA champs—are trying to implement a modern, fast-paced, watchable strategy.
It’s something the University of Maryland should probably be considering as well. Firing head coach Randy Edsall was the right decision for a lot of reasons, but foremost among them was the fact that this was a coach who seemed aggressively dedicated to boring football. He appeared to hate baseball caps and do-rags and earphones and long hair and tattoos and basically anything that was fun. To the casual viewer, his offensive game plan appeared to center on rocket screens and straightforward handoffs. Even at their best, Edsall’s teams played tedious, retrograde, uninteresting football—sure, that style didn’t win games that matter, but at least it was also not fun to watch.
Which is weird, because Maryland is all about the way they look. I love what the university and Under Armour have done with the Maryland uniforms in all their hideous variety. I love the way they’ve turned the Maryland flag into an icon or a #brand, and I applaud their efforts to market the Terrapin squads the same way that Nike and Oregon marketed the Ducks, a connection that UMD President Wallace Loh has been remarkably overt about in interviews.
But the Terps have gotten as far as they can on looks alone; Oregon also had help from wide-open offensive attacks and, for four crucial years, a mad scientist of a head coach in Chip Kelly. Awesome, widely varied uniforms can capture attention, but they need to be combined with a similarly interesting offense to close the deal.
If the Wizards had debuted nothing this preseason but Bradley Beal’s headband and a fancy dribble from Otto Porter, no one would be particularly excited. As they hire the next coach, it’s time for Maryland to similarly bring the on-field product up to the level of the snazzy uniforms.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.
Flickr photo via Keith Allison