- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On paper, the Washington Wizards already are a much better team than they were last season. That’s not enough to impress coach Randy Wittman.

“Right now, I feel pretty good about it, but you don’t win any games on paper,” Wittman said at a news conference Wednesday at Verizon Center. “Nothing wins on paper. We’ve got to be able to transform that into a team concept and go on the floor and prove that this is a good mixture.”

Wittman now has a full offseason, a full training camp and a true regular season as the Wizards‘ coach after taking over for Flip Saunders in January. Wittman’s strategy sounds simple enough — go with what works. His plan is to emphasize his team’s strength, which is getting out in the open court and taking advantage of fast-break opportunities.

“It ain’t going to change,” Wittman said of his offensive philosophy. “We’re going to be an up-tempo team with the ability to play inside-out. As long as we have John [Wall] here, we have to take advantage. I’m a firm believer in fitting what I want to do to the talent I have instead of the other way around.”

The third year often is the breakout season for an NBA player. That has to be the case with Wall if the Wizards are to be better than next to last in the Eastern Conference.

“This is a big year for him, and it’s time to take the next step,” Wittman said. “It’s his third year. He knows the ins and outs of what to expect. He’s done a lot of things this summer to try to make that happen, work ethic being a big part of it.”

Wall spent much of his summer working on his shooting technique. He averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 assists last season, but was an abysmal 3 of 42 (7 percent) from 3-point range. Not content to wait for training camp, which begins Tuesday, Wall and several other players organized their own summer workouts.

“These guys contacted each other and talked about getting back here early and playing,” Wittman said. “We had a good turnout for about the last month. It was important they try to get to know each other a little bit, not only as people, but their games.”

While Wittman plans to stick with his run-and-gun style of offense, defense is another story. The change in the Wizards‘ defensive philosophy and execution that began with the acquisition of Nene was just the beginning.

The offseason addition of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, along with the development of Kevin Seraphin under Nene’s guidance, should give the Wizards the defensive consistency they’ve been lacking.

“Defensively, we became a more focused and determined team,” Wittman said. “Those two things go hand in hand. If you’re not stopping anybody, you’re not going to be able to get out in the open floor.”

Wittman also says he’s impressed with what he’s seen so far from Bradley Beal, the team’s top pick in June, and can’t wait for some hands-on work with him. He knows the shooting guard will have his ups and downs but is impressed with Beal’s maturity, confidence and work ethic.

But one of the biggest changes, Wittman believes, is in his own growth and development. Wittman spent nine seasons in the NBA as a player, and is entering his 13th season as a coach. He recalled his learning curve as a player, and thinks the same standards apply now that he’s patrolling the sideline.

“Every job is a little different in its own way, but coaching is coaching,” Wittman said. “I’m not going to invent a new offensive or defensive system that nobody’s ever seen and be branded the next genius, but I’ve learned a lot from the last time I had a full head coaching job to this one.”

Wittman initially was uncomfortable replacing Saunders at midseason, who he coached with in Minnesota. Now that he’s received a contract extension, the Wizards are his team.

“I wanted this job,” Wittman said. “We talk about growth as players, it’s also true as coaches. I think I’ve become a better coach through my experiences and from what we did last year. I am very pleased to be here.”

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