John Wall has been the focal point of the Wizards franchise since they made him the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, and this season couldn’t be more crucial to his development or to that of the team itself. But I have to admit, I’m fascinated about the change in dynamic from Wizards coach Randy Wittman as he takes over full-time following last season’s interim caretaker role.
Wednesday offered the first real chance to see Wittman’s demeanor and approach to the upcoming season. At his core, he never appears to want the attention to be on him. But make no mistake, he is ambitious and has plenty to prove. He also can’t resist one-liners every once in a while. Asked if there were any cigarette smokers – a reference to the endless battle last season to change certain tendencies – Wittman responded:
“Ask me Tuesday night [after the first practices]. We still have some bad habits I’m sure we’re going to have to break.”
Here are some of the other highlights from his first preseason news conference.
“He knows the ins and outs of what to expect going through his rookie year. Even last year, a lockout year and things were jammed in and a lot of things happening. He knows what to expect. This is gotta be a big step for him in taking that next step, and he’s done a lot of those things this summer to try to make that happen, work ethic being a big part of it. It just doesn’t happen. You have to be willing to put time, effort, it doesn’t matter who it is.”
On last year’s rookies: Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack:
“You see individual development in terms of not only a guy’s skills but his confidence level. I think we saw that particularly with Jan. if you watched him in the summer league, there was no hesitation of shooting a 25-foot jump shot when left alone. That was something we didn’t see last year. There was a hesitation there. Same with Shelvin. Shelvin was thrown into the fire last year and had a lot of ups and downs. I thought I saw a confidence in him, ‘Now I’ve done this before.’ He’s got room to improve but having that for those guys this year was very beneficial. I think now they understand what they missed the year before in the lockout situation. It’s one thing to go down to the local Y and say I’m putting in a good workout and then putting in a good workout. That’s a big difference and I think we’ve seen that with those three guys in particular.”
On the Wizards style of play:
“It ain’t going to change. We’re going to be an up-tempo team with the ability to play inside out. I think all of our bigs have the ability to get up and down the floor. We don’t necessarily have in our bigs plodders, so to speak, so you need to wait for them to get back down the floor to be involved so we’re going to continue to take that. As long as we have John here we have to take advantage. You know, I’m a firm believer in fitting what I want to the talent I have instead of sometimes the other way around… I believe we don’t all have the talent that we want, but you’ve got to mold it to what you do have and put them in a situation that puts them at their strengths more than their weaknesses, and I think our strength is still our ability to get up and down the floor.
“Now defensively, we changed. We took great strides after the changes, not only with Nene coming in but the 10-days with Cartier [Martin]. And now with the trade that we made bringing in Emeka and Trevor [Ariza], that’s their makeup of helping us there. That’s got to take another step. There’s no question about it. Defensively we’ve got to make another move as we did toward then end of the year. It wasn’t by any happenstance the way we played at the end of the year. It didn’t just happen. It happened because of those things, because we became a more focused and determined defensive team which allowed us to increase our ability to get out into the open floor. 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 and so we have to have that understanding as a team. It’s not about running and gunning; it’s about the two coming together.
“If we make strides to be a better defensive team we’re going to be a better running team as well.”
On what Bradley Beal will contribute:
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I got the feel for him this summer. I’ve been impressed. Now summer league and NBA play are two different things, and we all know that. But he has put in the time and effort, he’s a diligent worker. Those solve a lot of problems. Now he’s going to have some ups and downs. Are they going to be early? Are they going to be mental? Are they going to be late? I can’t answer that question until we get into the flow, but he’s a very confident kid, one that I don’t think is going to be intimidated by being the third pick and now stepping in and being part of a nucleus of moving forward and trying to take that next step as a team.”
Is the shooting guard position open?
“I think those things are going to spell them things out. Obviously Jordan [Crawford] has been here, has got a little bit of an advantage right now because he’s accustomed. He knows me, he knows what the expectations are from coach to player. I had hands on with Bradley, but it’s not hands on. Hands on comes Tuesday and he’ll get to see that. I always think guys that know what to expect have a little bit of an advantage moving in.
“The guys that have been here, especially after I took over as the head coach, I think have an understanding of the dos and don’ts of what I want not only as an individual but as a team.”
On what to expect from the Wizards this season:
“I expect us to take another step. This is great. As I told you guys at the end of last year I tried to do what I could as well as I could in a tough situation. I didn’t want to be in it, I don’t want to be in it again, but I did want this job. After going through the last two and half months, making the changes that we made, seeing the progress that we did make as the season went on, I wanted to see that continue so I am very pleased to be here, and I’m looking forward to what we can do this year and moving forward.”
On what Wittman has learned from his previous coaching experiences:
“Every job is a little different in its own way, coaching is coaching. I ain’t going to invent a new offensive or defensive system that nobody has ever seen that I’m going to be branded the next genius, but it is different. You learn. I’ve learned a lot from the last time I had a full head coaching job to this one. That part of the growth. We talk about growth as players, also as coaches. I think I’ve become a better coach through my experiences as what we did last year.”
On being cautious with Nene:
“We’re doing what I think is right. Would I like Nene to be there Tuesday, going full speed? Yeah. I mean, sure. But we’ve got to be smart, too. He had a big summer that I think he needs some time to let this settle. The way that he’s been responding since he’s been back here has been great, in terms of his treatment and how he feels. I don’t foresee this being a long thing. I foresee that he’s going to be back in this thing pretty quickly.”
On the team’s win-loss record improving from last season:
“That’s the next step this team has to take. There is no question. Our record has got to be better. We’ve got to be a consistent team. From a standpoint, the more consistent you become, the more you win. The ups and downs and peaks and valleys that every team goes through, we’ve got to limit how many of those there are, and that helps you become a better team. We’ve got to become a better team, and that’s a progress I think we’re reaching… right now we haven’t had that understanding of that consistency of winning and so that’s got to be something that this team develops. Everybody has got to step up in that category. I’ve got to step up, as well as the players, to make that happen.”
On Wall’s jumper, whether he’s worked with one or more specialists:
“He hasn’t worked with a lot of guys. We had him with a guy this year, this summer, that was one message and one message alone, and I think that’s the key. A lot of times, whether it’s through your agency or your family or your friends, you hear a lot of different messages. I think what we did with John in particular, from a shooting standpoint, was it was one message, and it will continue to be one message as we get him here now on an everyday basis as the season begins. That’s how you develop consistency, over and over, repetition, that’s how not trying to do two different things… He’s still going to go through some tough shooting nights, no question about it. but the key is trying to get him better and more consistent. If we can do that, it’s going to help elevate his game as well.”
On the importance of the third year in a player’s career:
“I just can only go on personal experience, you know. I just know from year one to year two was a big jump for me, from a rookie and then, all of a sudden that third year was, you know, lights out, let’s go, there’s no surprises anymore. I know what I have to do to be a good player in this league now. And these guys know that. John knows that. John, I have all the confidence in the world that he’s ready to take that next step. I really do. Listening and talking to him all summer long and the work that he put in and I think he’s ready for it. Now it’s got to be a situation, we’re all in this together. We have that understanding as a team that this is a step we need to go in.”
On who starts at the power forward and center positions and Kevin Seraphin’s development:
“We saw great progress in Kevin last year. I was really happy for him because he had to wait… He was able to go out the second half the year and play with confidence. That’s the biggest thing that you have to have. You have to have confidence at this level, or you’re going to struggle… I thought he had the ability for France in the Olympics, had great eight weeks there with his national team, that I think is going to be beneficial for him. He’s come in here since that time, looks great. Now he’s got to take another step, too, in his development and his ability to do what he did last year, and do it on a consistent basis and make the things that he needs to work on a little bit better.
“Obviously with Emeka and Nene we’ve got guys that have been around the block, have been to the playoffs, have been on good teams, understands what it takes to do those things. Nene has the ability to play multiple positions. He can play the four, he can play the five. We have a team, I think, with the additions that we’ve added, that is versatile, that can play a lot of different spots, which makes it nice for me. I’m a big proponent of that. When you put a team together, the more versatile you become with players playing multiple positions I think only gives yourself an opportunity to have more and more minutes.”
On the change in the team’s culture:
“I like our mixture of players with this team. I think we have some good blue collar guys that aren’t going to turn away when things get tough. Even with our young guys that we have, I see that grit, and that’s my job to try to get these guys to understand: there’s going to be a point in time in a game, in a season that it’s tough. This is tough. Are we going to give in? You give in, then the slide comes. There’s where the inconsistency comes, not winning in a consistent manner. Time’s going to tell with this team, and I haven’t had the group together that we have right now. Come Tuesday I’m going to begin to feel how that mixture is. Right now I feel pretty good about it. But like I said, you don’t win any games on paper. That’s all we’re looking at right now, you guys are writing it down, and I’m reading it, and it looks good on paper. Nothin’ wins on paper. We’ve got to be able to now transform that into a team concept and go on the floor and prove that this is a good mixture.”