- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Experiment turned into to reality when Kris Humphries set his feet on the left wing Tuesday night. Humphries is a stout 235 pounds, constructed for rebounding and force. Never had he been asked to roam the 3-point line as he did in the Washington Wizards’ preseason opener. So, early in the first quarter, he squared, released and missed. He shot two 3-pointers in the first half, more than he shot in five of his 10 seasons in the NBA. He missed both and rattled his coach.

“He scared the [expletive] out of me the first half,” Randy Wittman said.

Humphries and the Wizards are morphing. They are trying to discard the rigidity that populated their offensive games for so long. Wittman was long entrenched in the brutishness of basketball, preferring a halfcourt offensive game anchored in beef and featuring ball and player movement. This season, he has spread out the parts and asked them to work at a brisk pace that would have been inconceivable for a team he ran three years ago.

The caveats when assessing Tuesday night are many and hefty. The Philadelphia 76ers are a bad basketball team. They will be bad all season. They will be bad again next year. It was also the preseason opener, a one-game sample that does not count. But, the planting of a new process is pertinent, because the out-of-breath Wizards have begun their sea change.

Washington scored 129 points in the preseason opener. It was 15-for-26 from behind the 3-point line, making almost as many shots as it attempted per game last season. Point guard John Wall signaled to the bench in the third quarter that fatigue was telling him it was time to sit down. Afterward, Humphries, Drew Gooden and Marcin Gortat were all focused on being in better shape by the time the opener came. A leg-weary referee even grumbled to backup guard Garrett Temple.

“Are y’all going to play like this all season?” he asked.

Wittman has seen similar emphases before. He entered the NBA in 1983, when he departed Bob Knight’s motion offense at Indiana. As a pro, Wittman participated in a flowing era, one prioritizing transition baskets, even for teams with big players on the floor. His example was the Boston Celtics of the 1980s, operating with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish in the frontcourt.

In 1985, the Celtics led the league with an average of 114.8 points per game. No team averaged less than 100 points per game that season. Ten teams in the Eastern Conference were below the 100-point-per-game mark last season, including Wittman’s Wizards.

The Celtics climbed to that scoring mark almost strictly on pace and efficiency, eschewing the modern love of the 3-pointer. Last season, 47 players took as many or more 3-pointers than the 1984-85 Celtics did.

Wittman and his players are trying to become comfortable with the new offensive approach. The defense-first part of him is fretting. If the offense is going to be so fast-paced and spread out, the chances of being in the right place when retreating to defend are reduced. No longer is Wall — the reason the Wizards can try this offense — the only dribbler. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter will put the ball on the floor, at times even pushing it up. The thought crinkles Wittman’s face and causes lament about his top focus.

“Are we going to stay committed to being that dirty, dirty team defensively?” he wondered.

Freedom to have fun is easy to embrace, which makes latching on to the altered offensive concept simple for players. Wittman wants open players to shoot. He wants all players to go faster on offense; to read, react, score. Shoot 3-pointers. Drive into the paint. Get up the floor.

“Guards always want to push the ball,” Temple said. “Witt probably doesn’t want to hear this, but it feels like we’re playing kind of pickup with principles. That’s the natural part to it. You’re just playing basketball off feel of your teammates. [With] teammates that know what you want to do, it’s even easier. That’s why it’s kind of surprising that we’re able to pick that up first game. Usually, it takes a while to get that feeling. Who knows? Next game it might not be as natural, as simple.”

Humphries finished the preseason opener 2-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. His comfort grew in the second half. Wittman’s palpitations lessened. Informed after the game of Wittman’s blue assessment of his first-half shot selection, Humphries laughed.

“I don’t think Randy’s wife would have liked that language,” Humphries said. “I’ll have to talk to her about it when I see her next.”

He shot more 3-pointers at the end of practice Wednesday, making more than he missed. An assistant coach stepped toward him with his hand up, and Humphries moved from the top of the key to the wings, taking shots he never thought he would be asked to attempt. His process of moving back as the Wizards move forward remains ongoing. Both are chasing comfort in change.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide