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The "Culture Change" and Defense

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Post#1 The "Culture Change" and Defense
Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:46 pm by fishercob

Ted has used the phrase “culture change” countless times since he took control of the Wizards and began his rebuild. I think most people have taken this to mean a change in how the organization conducts business and interacts with its fans, as well as a change in the type of players who are valued. We want team-oriented guys who play for the name on the front of the jersey as opposed to the back. We want guys who play smart and always put forth maximum effort.

Ted has blogged a bit about playing style and referenced playing up-tempo entertaining basketball. He’s made some mentions of “tough defense,” whatever that means.

To that end, I think the biggest culture change the WIzards have embarked upon is the organizational, philosophical emphasis on defense -- and being really good at stopping people.
And let’s be clear -- if the Wizards become a consistently very good defensive team it will represent a huge stylistic shift. I think there’s going to be an adjustment period of the fans.

Consider some stats:

Since 1974-75 (the first year of the “Washington” Bullets) the Wizards/Bullets have averaged ranking in the 45th percentile for Defensive Rating. Just to clarify, this is a measure of rank compared to the rest of the league, not a measure of DRtg itself. I’ll leave that data entry and analysis to Nivek. In a 30 team team, 45th percentile comes out to a rank of about 16th -- so, basically average.

The Bullets were a really good defensive team for a better part of a decade and a half. Through the 87-88 season they averaged the 71st percentile or 8th in a 30 team league. Over that stretch the worst defensive season was 11th out of 22 in 79-80. They were #1 in 74-75, #2 the next season. Between 80-81 and 85-86, they ranked 5th, 5th, 2nd, 8th, 3rd, and 4th out of 23 teams.

But once all remnants of Wes, The Big E, Moses, and the Beef Brothers left town, the wheels fell off. From the 88-89 season through last year, the franchise has averaged being in the 28th percentile or about 22nd out of 30 teams -- 28th percentile over a quarter century! Since 98-99 we have averaged the 23rd percentile, or roughly 23rd out of 30 teams. The best defensive teams we have had since ‘88 have been the 91-92 team that ranked 12th out of 27 teams and finished 25-57, and the 96-97 and 97-98 teams that finished 13th and 14th out of 29 teams. 97-98 was the last time the Wizards ranked in the top half of the league in defensive rating.

So I don’t have nate’s numbers in front of me, but post Javale-Nene trade last year, the Wizards were a good defensive team. The sample size wasn’t huge, but by most measures it was fairly conclusive that the Wizards improved a lot defensively.

I believe the OkaRiza trade represents a concerted effort to become a very good -- potentially elite -- defensive team, and to build from there. Retaining Coach Wittman seems to jibe with that philosophy as well. Perhaps the front office looked at what they had and determined there was no plausible way to become elite offensively in the near future and decided to build from D. The Sixers rode a mediocre offense and an elite defense to Game 7 of the conference semi’s last year (which arguably provided the springboard to the Bynum acquisition). The Bulls won 62 games two years ago with the league’s best defense and 11th ranked offense -- a team built around an elite PG and bruising frontcourt depth. Wall may never be as good as Rose was two years ago, but maybe the Wall-Beal combo can prove as good as Rose and Luol Deng.

I remember when the Celtics won their title five years ago -- during the postgame festivities the fans, in appreciation, all started chanting “DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!” Here’s hoping our guys can wow DC fans with a new brand of defensive-focused basketball. It is likely our franchise’s best hope for long term success.
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Post#2 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:34 pm by badinage

Great post.

And I appreciate the attempt to look at what the team might be thinking/doing.

Not to say that all the handwringing about the Okafor/Ariza trade and Satoransky and what might have been in the second round, and how we ought to have bid high for Danny Green and Lou Williams, and how Minnesota of all teams is showing ingenuity in its signings of Shved and Kirilenko, and oh, jesus, there go the Nuggets being patient and creative and nabbing a key piece in Iguodala and surrendering nothing and why couldn't we? -- not to say that all that isn't valid and worth mentioning. Just that the fatalism and circular carping gets tiresome.

Thanks, fishercob.
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Post#3 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Mon Aug 20, 2012 10:40 pm by rockymac52

fishercob, I'm very glad you posted this. I didn't see this until now. I just posted two long responses in the predicting the Eastern Conference standings thread, and they were very similar to yours. There is no denying this team is built around defense now. I also agree that was a big part of why Wittman was brought back. And in the event that the post-trade and w/ Nene defensive efficiency stats turn out to have been a complete mirage, and we are bad (or even average, honestly) on defense this year, then we will cut him loose after the season and reevaluate. Very little harm done, all things considered. Definitely something we should be exploring, even if the sample size leading us to believe it was a good approach was relatively small. This could be our chance to become a playoff caliber team without a blockbuster deal or a miraculous steal in the draft. I, for one, am in support of the moves we've made recently, and I fully believe in our ability to be an elite defensive team, which will in turn result in a lot more wins than we've seen recently in DC.

And I also really like your Bulls comparison. I was beginning to think about that in the past week or so as well. For a while everyone was all about us following the "OKC model". But the reality is the OKC model is just blowing it up and starting from ground zero, having good scouting and/or getting lucky in the draft to land star players with your lottery picks, and being patient enough to avoid investing in simply above average or average players and thus eliminating your future salary cap flexibility. All great things in practice. And for the most part, we've done pretty much everything we could in our control to do just that. But the OKC model doesn't actually blueprint a method of succeeding as an NBA team, as far as basketball goes. The OKC model is a good business and asset accumulation and retention model. It is not a basketball model, even if they happen to play very good basketball. Their success as a basketball team is in many ways unrelated to the "OKC model".

Meanwhile, the Bulls have much more of a basketball model, if you will. A basic strategy. A team-oriented approach that leads to competitive games night in and night out. To put it simply, there's a substantial focus on defense throughout the organization. The basic makeup of the two of our teams are beginning to line up, if you ask me. There are definitely many nuances that make them very different, but their basic structure is pretty similar. Like you said, bruising frontcourt depth, built around not just good defensive players, but TEAM-ORIENTED defense, and oh yeah, an elite PG. Clearly some things are still a work on progress on our end, but we're not far off in many ways, and you can certainly envision how some things could fall in place in the coming years.

I like the way the Bulls play basketball, and I think it's a phenomenal recipe for success. It's a shame we missed out on Thibodeau a few years back. He's a basketball genius, as far as I can tell. Hopefully we can replicate some of the success he's had with the Bulls and other team's he's helped out with in the past. I am also really looking forward to seeing how the Bulls do this year without Rose, and possibly Deng. I'm not convinced that the elite PG part of the Bulls' recipe is even completely necessary for them to succeed. I think they're definitely better with Rose than without, and I think he elevates them to championship contender status, but without him, I still think they can survive as one of the better teams in the East, just because of their team-wide focus on defense. Hopefully that's the case, because I think the Wizards are primed to do something eerily similar in that regard :)
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Post#4 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:07 am by hands11

fishercob wrote:Ted has used the phrase “culture change” countless times since he took control of the Wizards and began his rebuild. I think most people have taken this to mean a change in how the organization conducts business and interacts with its fans, as well as a change in the type of players who are valued. We want team-oriented guys who play for the name on the front of the jersey as opposed to the back. We want guys who play smart and always put forth maximum effort.

Ted has blogged a bit about playing style and referenced playing up-tempo entertaining basketball. He’s made some mentions of “tough defense,” whatever that means.

To that end, I think the biggest culture change the WIzards have embarked upon is the organizational, philosophical emphasis on defense -- and being really good at stopping people.
And let’s be clear -- if the Wizards become a consistently very good defensive team it will represent a huge stylistic shift. I think there’s going to be an adjustment period of the fans.

Consider some stats:

Since 1974-75 (the first year of the “Washington” Bullets) the Wizards/Bullets have averaged ranking in the 45th percentile for Defensive Rating. Just to clarify, this is a measure of rank compared to the rest of the league, not a measure of DRtg itself. I’ll leave that data entry and analysis to Nivek. In a 30 team team, 45th percentile comes out to a rank of about 16th -- so, basically average.

The Bullets were a really good defensive team for a better part of a decade and a half. Through the 87-88 season they averaged the 71st percentile or 8th in a 30 team league. Over that stretch the worst defensive season was 11th out of 22 in 79-80. They were #1 in 74-75, #2 the next season. Between 80-81 and 85-86, they ranked 5th, 5th, 2nd, 8th, 3rd, and 4th out of 23 teams.

But once all remnants of Wes, The Big E, Moses, and the Beef Brothers left town, the wheels fell off. From the 88-89 season through last year, the franchise has averaged being in the 28th percentile or about 22nd out of 30 teams -- 28th percentile over a quarter century! Since 98-99 we have averaged the 23rd percentile, or roughly 23rd out of 30 teams. The best defensive teams we have had since ‘88 have been the 91-92 team that ranked 12th out of 27 teams and finished 25-57, and the 96-97 and 97-98 teams that finished 13th and 14th out of 29 teams. 97-98 was the last time the Wizards ranked in the top half of the league in defensive rating.

So I don’t have nate’s numbers in front of me, but post Javale-Nene trade last year, the Wizards were a good defensive team. The sample size wasn’t huge, but by most measures it was fairly conclusive that the Wizards improved a lot defensively.

I believe the OkaRiza trade represents a concerted effort to become a very good -- potentially elite -- defensive team, and to build from there. Retaining Coach Wittman seems to jibe with that philosophy as well. Perhaps the front office looked at what they had and determined there was no plausible way to become elite offensively in the near future and decided to build from D. The Sixers rode a mediocre offense and an elite defense to Game 7 of the conference semi’s last year (which arguably provided the springboard to the Bynum acquisition). The Bulls won 62 games two years ago with the league’s best defense and 11th ranked offense -- a team built around an elite PG and bruising frontcourt depth. Wall may never be as good as Rose was two years ago, but maybe the Wall-Beal combo can prove as good as Rose and Luol Deng.

I remember when the Celtics won their title five years ago -- during the postgame festivities the fans, in appreciation, all started chanting “DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!” Here’s hoping our guys can wow DC fans with a new brand of defensive-focused basketball. It is likely our franchise’s best hope for long term success.


Great post. And that is something some of us have been harping for a long time. I know I have done many posts about what I expect from a starter. Starter should always be at least good defensively. Ideally that are two way players who play above average defense and have some offense or above average offense. Great players can do both at a high level. But if you are a one way player and that one way is offense and poor defense, then you are not a starter in my book. That was why the Gil AJ team was never going anyway.

I'm excited to see this team this year because I believe they will have that foundation in defense. From there you can grow your team to the next level but with D as the core, you will be in most game. Great defense takes scorers out of their rhythm.

And not only do i think they will be good defensively, I think they have post scoring in Nene, KS, and Okafor. Thats two bases covered. That is why they drafted Beal. What they needed to add was a pure shooter. Wall and Crawford can drive so if Beal can shoot from outside and Wall improves his jumper, that is going to have a big effect on the team. Now if Martin and Trevor A can help out with that outside shooter, things could come together and this team could surprise people.

Baseline, I think they should show a lot of improvement and be good. If things come together, it will get real interesting. They could be the big surprise because they have changed a lot but there is no real record to judge them by. I think I've posted this kind of thing before in other threads :D

We will just have to wait and see. I think most will have a fun time watching them this year.
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Post#5 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:18 am by nate33

Our defensive efficiency over the final 25 games of the season (all post-McGee trade games) would rank us as the 7th best defense in the league. Nene missed 14 of those 25 games. In the 11 games that he played, we were the best defense in the league. (Insert appropriate caveats about sample size and late-season wins here.)

If you ignore the late-season wins against Miami, Miami and an injury-depleted Chicago team, our defense still ranks 12th post trade, with Nene playing only 9 of the 22 games.
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Post#6 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:44 am by fishercob

rockymac52 wrote:I like the way the Bulls play basketball, and I think it's a phenomenal recipe for success. It's a shame we missed out on Thibodeau a few years back. He's a basketball genius, as far as I can tell. Hopefully we can replicate some of the success he's had with the Bulls and other team's he's helped out with in the past. I am also really looking forward to seeing how the Bulls do this year without Rose, and possibly Deng. I'm not convinced that the elite PG part of the Bulls' recipe is even completely necessary for them to succeed. I think they're definitely better with Rose than without, and I think he elevates them to championship contender status, but without him, I still think they can survive as one of the better teams in the East, just because of their team-wide focus on defense. Hopefully that's the case, because I think the Wizards are primed to do something eerily similar in that regard :)


What astounds me is that Rose played just 39 games last year and the Bulls finished 5th in offensive rating. That defies logic to me, at least at first glance. I'd really want to understand that more.

I think .500 is a reasonable target. I think we'll finish between 15th and 5th in defense, maybe in the 8-12 range. On offense, I think our upside for this season is about average and guess we'll land between 15 and 25, maybe 18-22.

15th in defense and 25 in offense would make us a bad team. 5th in D and 15th in O would make us quite good. I expect to land in the middle and be decent.

This sort of model shows Vesely's importance and upside. We all saw over the last 20 games or so how disruptive he was. dobrojim talked about it a lot. If Vesely can become an elite defender -- a key cog in an elite defense -- and just a competent offensive glue guy, he is extremely valuable.
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Post#7 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 8:52 am by queridiculo

I'm at the point where I really don't want to talk about the guy anymore, but the post trade stats seem to paint a pretty clear picture of how much negative impact McGee, and to a certain extent Nick Young had on team defense.
..let's keep in mind that while the Wizards were trading for Okafor and Ariza, giving away a draft pick and cap room, bypassing the free agent market and rejecting a trade for Harden, Leonsis was publicly congratulating himself for being smart. - Nivek
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Post#8 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:15 am by verbal8

I think it may also fit with the the home-grown talent vs. free agents. If Okafor and Ariza were brought in so that Seraphin and Singleton can develop and take over their spots, then the move looks a little better to me.

I also think the "core" may be responsible for creating an elite defensive team. While the "hired guns" will be added when the Wizards are truly a contender and need some offensive role players.

I personally would probably have gone the route of adding some young cheap role players like Jody Meeks, and hoping they can develop with the core. However I don't think that really makes a huge difference in the long term vision.
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Post#9 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:34 am by LyricalRico

fishercob wrote:I think .500 is a reasonable target. I think we'll finish between 15th and 5th in defense, maybe in the 8-12 range. On offense, I think our upside for this season is about average and guess we'll land between 15 and 25, maybe 18-22.

15th in defense and 25 in offense would make us a bad team. 5th in D and 15th in O would make us quite good. I expect to land in the middle and be decent.


:nod:

I definitely agree. And going from 2nd worst to at-or-near .500, along with a run at the 8th seed, would be a huge step for this team. If we're able to that, and do it with defense, it would lay a good foundation for us to build on.
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Post#10 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:08 am by Nivek

badinage wrote:Great post.

And I appreciate the attempt to look at what the team might be thinking/doing.

Not to say that all the handwringing about the Okafor/Ariza trade and Satoransky and what might have been in the second round, and how we ought to have bid high for Danny Green and Lou Williams, and how Minnesota of all teams is showing ingenuity in its signings of Shved and Kirilenko, and oh, jesus, there go the Nuggets being patient and creative and nabbing a key piece in Iguodala and surrendering nothing and why couldn't we? -- not to say that all that isn't valid and worth mentioning. Just that the fatalism and circular carping gets tiresome.

Thanks, fishercob.


So, your response to a post that's not about complaining is to complain about the complaining.

Got it.


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Post#11 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:31 am by DCZards

Nivek wrote:
So, your response to a post that's not about complaining is to complain about the complaining.

Got it.


I think badinage's post is right on target, including his point that the "circular carping gets tiresome." I don't think that one short sentence at the end turn his post into a complaint about the complaining.
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Post#12 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:19 pm by Nivek

badinage's point -- that circular carping gets tiresome -- is valid, but off-topic considering that NO ONE HAD COMPLAINED ABOUT ANYTHING IN THIS THREAD. At least until he complained. I thought that kinda amusing. And, kinda repetitive considering similar points have been made in other threads where they were actually relevant to the topic being discussed.

As for fish's post -- I liked it too. I hope the team ends up being excellent defensively. There are limitations on offense, but perhaps if guys are unselfish enough they can be "good enough" on offense.

I'm a bit less optimistic than nate about the team's defensive performance at the end of last season. The schedule they played the last 25 games of the season was weaker than average offensively -- average 103.4 pts per 100 possessions. They allowed 102, which is a little better than average. Throw out that last Miami game where the Heat didn't play anyone, and they allowed 103 pts per 100 possessions, which is average for the schedule they played (103.3 if you throw out that final Heat game).

That's WAY better than what they did in the preceding 41 games, and I'll take average as a step forward. And maybe they can take a step to top 10 defensively with Okafor and Ariza and good health (for a change). So, there's reason to hope they can get to the playoffs in the next season or two.
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Post#13 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 12:41 pm by rockymac52

I also am beginning to think we can be at least decent on offense this year. I have less facts to back this up, but I feel like we have a pretty solid collection of guys who are very efficient offensively. No one really wants to try and do too much offensively (except for Crawford and possibly Ariza - although he's played efficient offense as a role player in the past as well). We have a lot of guys who don't demand the ball on offense, but when you give it to them in the right position, they'll score at a great clip. Maybe we'll have more of a team mentality on offense as well, really working the ball around to find the best shot. I'm going to try and look into this more later to put more factual evidence towards what I'm saying.
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Post#14 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:26 pm by Nivek

Nene has been efficient. Okafor as well, albeit to a lesser extent. Both guys have been below average in usage, though that could change in Washington. Booker was above average last season, but low usage. Cartier Martin was above average, but a) low usage, and b) projects to receive relatively few minutes.

Of the rotation guys, Wall's efficiency has been awful. Ditto for Crawford. Vesely got better, but again...very low usage. Seraphin had decent efficiency once he got going, but he'll be sharing minutes with Nene and Okafor.

Best bets for a "good enough" or "decent" offense are major improvement from Wall and/or Crawford, and/or Beal being really good as a rookie.
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Post#15 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:55 pm by nate33

Nivek wrote:Nene has been efficient. Okafor as well, albeit to a lesser extent. Both guys have been below average in usage, though that could change in Washington. Booker was above average last season, but low usage. Cartier Martin was above average, but a) low usage, and b) projects to receive relatively few minutes.

Of the rotation guys, Wall's efficiency has been awful. Ditto for Crawford. Vesely got better, but again...very low usage. Seraphin had decent efficiency once he got going, but he'll be sharing minutes with Nene and Okafor.

Best bets for a "good enough" or "decent" offense are major improvement from Wall and/or Crawford, and/or Beal being really good as a rookie.

Nene has been very efficient at moderate usage in the past. And he was very efficient on pretty high usage (for a big man) in his short stint here last year. I think Nene is our best hope to improve the offense. In games that Nene played in last year, the Wizards ranked 12th in offensive efficiency (caveat, sample size, etc. etc.)

It'll also help that our starting lineup no longer has a self-check like Chris Singleton. Also Jan Vesely will play fewer minutes. And when he does play, he figures to be improved on offense relative to last year. Hopefully, opposing teams won't be able to simply ignore him.
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Post#16 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 2:25 pm by Nivek

I agree that Nene is likely best hope -- in that the threat of him can maybe create some openings for other folks.

The challenge though is that most of the guys have been inefficient.

Code: Select all
POS     PLAYER  USG     ORTG
PG      Wall    24.9    100
SG      Beal    20.0    104
SF      Ariza   18.4    100
PF      Nene    23.1    116
C       Okafor  16.7    109
PG      Mack    16.9    99
SG      Crwfrd  28.1    97
SF      Sngletn 11.5    97
PF      Vesely  12.7    104
C       Srphn   18.2    105
PG      Price   17.7    100
F       Booker  15.6    109


Most of these numbers are from last season. I used a weighted 3-year average for Okafor because his efficiency was presumably diminished because of injury last season. For Beal, I did a rough estimate based on rookie seasons of freshman SGs who had a similar rating in YODA.

I think we can reasonably expect the Wizards to get efficient offense from PF and C. That could help their efficiency at SF, SG and PG. Unless there's some significant improvement, they're going to have a tough time at those spots. Which could then affect the efficiency of those bigs. When I have some time, I might be able to do some estimates of what the team efficiency could be based on what guys have done so far in their career.
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Post#17 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:08 pm by nate33

No doubt about it. The Wizards figure to be pretty lousy on offense this year.

They ranked 23rd in ORtg in the post-trade games last year. They'd rank a bit worse if you factor our strength of schedule during those games, so let's assume a starting point around 26th. But then, figure that Nene will be healthy for more than 40% of the games, that should move us up some. Okafor taking some of Vesely's minutes should boost us a bit more. And improvement out of Wall should boost us some more still. (It's tough to say how much a Beal/Crawford backcourt will be an improvement from a Crawford/Mason backcourt. As a rule, I generally don't count on rookies to make much of an impact.) I'm hoping for an offensive rating in the 20th-23rd range.

If our defense ranks in the 8-10 range, we should be a roughly average team. Playing in the East, an average team should be a playoff team, or real close to it.
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Post#18 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:11 pm by fishercob

Those numbers do not make me think that Okafor was a superfluous addition, as some suggested -- and that's without the defensive upgrades he will bring. I get that he's expensive and the opportunity cost and all of that. I'm just saying he'll help with the on-court production and hopefully bridge the gap until out young bigs are ready for bigger roles.

I am expecting a precipitous drop in Crawford's usage. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but barring a massive spike in efficiency, if he keeps jacking I may become homicidal.
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Post#19 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:15 pm by nate33

fishercob wrote:Those numbers do not make me think that Okafor was a superfluous addition, as some suggested.

Well, he's taking minutes from Booker and Seraphin. If you average out their respective ORtg and USG, they'd look pretty much the same as Okafor. Also, don't forget that Okafor's addition resulted in the departure of James Singleton. Singleton had an ORtg of 122 and a USG of 15.6 (though it's unlikely that he'd maintain that for a full season).
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Post#20 Re: The "Culture Change" and Defens
Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:16 pm by miller31time

fishercob wrote:I am expecting a precipitous drop in Crawford's usage. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but barring a massive spike in efficiency, if he keeps jacking I may become homicidal.


With Beal's presence and Wittman's short leash for stupidity, I would expect a quick substitution for Crawford if the inefficient shot jacking keeps up (which I believe will continue -- I mean, does he seem like the kind of kid that's going to completely change the way he plays in 1 season?)
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