On Friday night against the Denver Nuggets, the Washington Wizards found themselves in an all-too-familiar position. They hung with the opposition for the better part of a half, then let the game get out of hand - and saw it end in embarrassment.
Short-handed again, the Wizards were forced to play their slowly developing young players for extended stretches. And while there were bright spots - like second-year point guard Javaris Crittenton’s career-high seven assists, 13 points from rookie center JaVale McGee and 17 second-half points from second-year shooting guard Nick Young - there were equally as many, and perhaps more, blown assignments and poorly executed plays.
But with the Wizards reduced to nine healthy players, interim coach Ed Tapscott had to play the young players, regardless of how effective or ineffective they were.
“I can’t play all the veterans for the entire 48 minutes,” Tapscott said.
So the coach - previously the team’s director of player development, who was charged with the growth of those young players - tried as he often does to find positives in the situation and make the most of what ended up being a 124-103 debacle.
“It becomes an object lesson in learning how to play the right way, how to play winning basketball - even when you’re not a winning team,” Tapscott said. “And there is a right way to play, even when you’re not winning, and that’s what I kept stressing throughout the game. And we had episodes of good, solid basketball - winning basketball - when you play the right way, and then we have episodes of very poor basketball.”
Tapscott has stressed the importance of driving to the basket to generate higher-percentage scoring opportunities. He also wants his guards, particularly Crittenton and Young, to penetrate and draw defenders toward them and then kick the ball out to teammates.
But while the Wizards got the ball into the paint, they got caught up in what Tapscott calls hero play, otherwise known as one-on-one basketball.
“Hero basketball is jackknife dunks, reverse layups, plays that make the late-night highlights on sports programming - but they become low-percentage plays,” Tapscott explained. “You might make only three or four; what happens on the other six? They’re dunks the other way. Great effort, bad percentage basketball.”
Young said he struggles most with finding a balance between trying to prove himself as a player that his veteran teammates can count on and applying the patience and discipline Tapscott demands.
“Being a young guy, I’m trying my best. I want Antawn [Jamison] and the other veteran players to have confidence in me. So, me, I’m trying to show aggression and show I’m trying to compete,” Young said. “It’s kind of hard. Being out there on the court, you can feel things. At times I felt like I could take my man. But you’ve got to listen to Coach, whatever Coach calls, you have to run. I’m trying to be ready, but it’s hard. You’ve got to wait for your time.”
Tapscott said these struggles aren’t uncommon and pointed out that younger players usually have two or three years to watch, observe and work their way into the rotation - rather than learning through such a heavy dose of trial and error.
“I remember having the same conversations with an old coach a long time ago,” Tapscott said with a chuckle, shaking his head. “You get it sooner, or you don’t and someone else gets your minutes.”