The Wizards are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break, and have been playing inspired basketball as of late. However, losing the second best player on the team in Nene will certainly provide a difficult challenge. Starting tomorrow night, the Wizards’ next four games are as follows: the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Utah Jazz. These are four very winnable games, with the exception of the Raptors who always seem to give the Wizards fits. It will be important to establish an identity without Nene and keep up the recent strong play. In terms of the Wizards’ best five man lineups, only half of them feature Nene, which is good news. The Wizards have several options here, as long as Wittman is willing to get creative.
Option 1: Replace Nene with a More Traditional PF
Nene’s passing and explosiveness will be missed, but Kevin Seraphin has been impressive as of late, and with Trevor Booker, you know you are getting a player who will out hustle everyone on the court and simply get rebounds. A starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Seraphin/Booker, and Gortat would be the most logical approach, and the path I foresee Wittman taking. However, Seraphin takes too many ill advised shots and Booker is limited offensively, so I would like to see some experimenting with other lineups. With that being said, I like Booker to be the stronger option with the starters, as Seraphin can get more shot attempts with the second unit.
Option 2: Replace Nene with a ‘stretch 4′ in Al Harrington
Now that Harrington is finally healthy, he can be the stretch 4 that Wizards fans have been clamoring for over the years. With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Harrington, and Gortat, this could be a tremendous offensive unit. All except Gortat are capable of knocking down 3’s, and this lineup still has the size to match up reasonably well and secure rebounds. The main problem is keeping Harrington healthy and ensuring that the defense doesn’t suffer too much. If Harrington starts, Seraphin and Booker can be the backup frontcourt, with Booker spelling Harrington early and often, and Seraphin backing up Gortat. Gortat is only averaging 32 minutes a night and should be playing more minutes with Seraphin as his primary backup.
Option 3: Small Ball
Another potential idea is the Wizards playing small ball and taking it to teams featuring big hulking power forwards. With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Webster, Ariza, and Gortat, with Andre Miller able to relieve either Wall, Beal, or Webster, you have a quick lineup with good shooters and ball handlers. This could also be an incredibly efficient offensive unit. However, the central problem would be Ariza’s post defense against larger power forwards. The Wizards could employ a zone, or let the savvy defensive minded Ariza try his hand at post defense. On the flip side, larger power forwards will not be able to keep up with Ariza on his quick cuts to the basket, and would be slow at defending Ariza’s dangerous corner 3’s. Another potential problem would be that Wittman would have to increase Wall’s minutes and stagger them according to Miller’s minutes to ensure that either Wall or Miller are on the court as primary ball handlers.
I think option 2 is the best choice because of the potential offensive explosion. Harrington’s range is dangerous and if he can be effective in a role with about 25 minutes per night the Wizards will be tough to stop. Everyone else will continue to play their natural positions, and if Harrington can provide adequate defense, there won’t be too much of a drop off without Nene. If the Harrington experiment doesn’t work out, I think a small ball risk reward strategy can be effective. Given the Wizards’ plethora of three point shooters and with the addition of Andre Miller as a primary ball handler, this lineup can really stretch the floor and put pressure on defenses, as long as the interior defense doesn’t suffer too much.