As the Washington Wizards grow, so does Randy Wittman


It’s no secret that Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman has made some decisions and play calls during his tenure in Washington that leave you saying, “huh?”

One of those decisions struck again in last night’s heart-breaking overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, in which the Wizards held a double-digit lead for much of the first half.

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To set the stage, the Thunder were in-bounding the ball with a little over three seconds remaining in overtime and with the score tied at 103. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook received the inbound pass beyond the three-point line and drove through the lane for an easy layup with 0.8 seconds left. The basket proved to be the game-winner as Wall missed a desperation three-point attempt to end the game.

Now, it’s easy to say, “Well, Westbrook is one of the fastest players in the league. It’s hard to stop him when he sprints toward the basket.” And that’s true. There’s no question about it.

But what puzzled me and many other writers, fans, etc., after the game were the circumstances that led to Westbrook’s easy lay in.

The first “huh?” decision came before the inbound pass was even completed. Wittman had Bradley Beal on Westbrook instead of John Wall. Where was Wall? Standing in the corner guarding Dion Waiters who didn’t even move.

To be fair, Beal had been guarding Westbrook since the final minute of regulation after Wall picked up his fifth foul. And Beal is a good defender, yes. But why wouldn’t you keep your fastest player on their fastest player?

It’s almost common basketball knowledge at this point that both Wall and Westbrook are the two fastest point guards in the NBA. You can debate all you want, but when you watch them in action, there’s no question.

Wall is also on a max contract. He needs to be able to show he can play in those situations without fouling out.

On the play, Beal got caught off-guard – inexcusable in the final seconds of an overtime game, but he is only 21 – and the rest is history.

After the game, Beal told reporters:

"“I got caught ball-watching. He just beat me backdoor. I tried to deny the ball. I shouldn’t have tried to deny him. I definitely take the blame for this game. Everybody else had their man. I lost focus for a little minute and he got away from me and he ended up hitting the game-winning layup.”"

The other “huh?” decision was that Wittman had Nene hovering around the three-point line. Now, you can make the case that you want tall, lengthy players in the three-point vicinity to try to throw off a last second three, and I get that.

But Westbrook and Durant had been abusing the Wizards all night by driving in the paint. It all started in the first quarter – yes, the Thunder did get away from it in the second period – but that’s one of the aspects of both Westbrook and Durant’s game that makes them so good.

After Westbrook blew right by Beal, the Wizards had no chance. With Nene out of the paint, Wall standing in the corner and Rasual Butler toward the top of the key, the only player left down low was Paul Pierce.

Pierce is a gritty defender, but he’s no match to rotate and shift toward Westbrook quick enough.

It was essentially an open lay-in.

With nearly four seconds left, you have to be ready for anything. There’s plenty of time to set up a jump shot – which the Thunder love to do – but there’s also plenty of time to dribble in the paint and even make another pass after the ball is inbounded.

Wittman was very prepared for the three-point shot had the Thunder opted to take that route, and you can make a case that he made all the right calls, the players – specifically Beal – just messed up. But in the end, as the play developed, he left the Wizards stranded should the Thunder opt to go inside.

And after Beal messed up, that’s exactly what Westbrook did.

Randy Wittman is a very good coach. He’s helped the Wizards rise from the abyss. And as he has helped his players develop and grow, he too has learned as a coach.

And that’s exactly what he and his players will do after the final sequence of events in last night’s loss: learn and get better.

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