Should the Wizards Explore Small-Ball Lineups Next Season?

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 6: Bradley Beal #3 high fives Markieff Morris #5 of the Washington Wizards during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 6, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 6: Bradley Beal #3 high fives Markieff Morris #5 of the Washington Wizards during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 6, 2017 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards starting five was among the NBA’s best last season. However, with the NBA in the midst of the ‘Death Lineup’ or small-ball era, would it be wise for the Wizards to explore more small-ball lineups for this upcoming season?

Last season, the Washington Wizards had one of their best years to date and it included a 49-33 record, their first Southeast Division championship in 38 years and they were part of a thrilling seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics. By all regards, the Wizards had a successful season, but they will need to find ways of improvement to compete in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.

One would hope the additions of Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks, and Mike Scott can help improve a bench unit that was one of the worst in the league last season. However, expecting the bench to make a complete 180° would be a bad bet to take, so what exactly could the Wizards do to switch things up or give them the edge?

More from Wiz of Awes

Well, in a league that is seeing more and more small-ball lineups, head coach Scott Brooks should start to consider utilizing his own small-ball lineup more often next season. In December, Brooks ran out his own version of small-ball with a lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre Jr-Porter-Gortat in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets. As a result, the Wizards found something and came away with the win and it was because of their small-ball lineup.

After the game, Brooks commented on this lineup and pointed out that Kelly Oubre Jr. was benefiting well playing along with the starters.

Following from Candace Buckner of The Washington Post.

"“It’s definitely something I’ve been considering and trying to manipulate the game [so] that we can get to that lineup,” Brooks said. “I think Kelly has made great strides in being able to guard consistently at multiple positions, and that helps when you have four guys that can switch and guard each other’s man. It can be disruptive for the other team’s offense. I thought that [Thursday’s game] was a good indicator.”"

According to, the lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre Jr-Porter-Gortat accounted for 200 minutes together which was good for second behind the starting lineup last season. Along with their minutes, the small-ball lineup put up an offensive rating of 117.6, had an effective field-goal percentage of 59.9 percent, pace of 101.38 and held opponents to 44.8 percent shooting from the floor.

Although the Wizards give up a lot of height by sitting Markieff Morris, the ability of players like Otto Porter and Oubre Jr, who both have long wingspans, to frustrate opposing bigs with their length and push the pace gives them an edge. While this is a lineup that seems to work, could the Wizards go one step further?

More from Wiz of Awes

As many of you know, the small-ball lineups throughout the league don’t normally feature traditional centers. Players like Draymond Green, Kelly Olynyk, Kristaps Porzingis and others take their turn spacing the floor even more. With that said, I propose the lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre Jr-Porter-Morris get some more run next season.

Subsequently, the Wizards would have all the perks of their original small-ball lineup, but adding Morris into the mix gives them another three-point shooter and a player that can guard stretch bigs on the perimeter. Although we received a small sample size (52 minutes in the regular season), the lineup had the highest pace of any lineup that played more than 50 minutes together with 109.25 and held opponents to 39.4 percent shooting from the floor.

I’ll refer back to two games last season in which this lineup was on the floor in the fourth quarter and helped Washington come away with a victory. In the first game, the Wizards took on the New York Knicks. The small-ball lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre Jr-Porter-Morris closed the game out on a defensive stand.

Every player on the floor can be seen properly rotating, showing help defense, switching and the result was a game-sealing steal. This shows the versatility and difficulty in which this group can be to score against late in games.

The next game, the Wizards took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first game against each other since their overtime thriller. In a similar scenario to their last matchup, the two teams remained close well into the fourth quarter. However, the Cavs had no answer for the Wizards’ small-ball lineup.

In this first video, the Wizards went with a simple 5-man out motion offense with every player staggered to the right side of the floor. As a result, Wall was able to take advantage of a one on one matchup and get to the rim with ease.

Teams can either put their guard on an island against Wall or choose to send a help defender and most likely get beat by a John Wall assist. A perfect example of this comes from a simple pick and roll ran by Washington. Kevin Love decides to help on Wall after the Morris pick, Wall drove on both defenders and found Morris for the alley-oop.

Clearly a small sample size, however, the film suggests that this lineup can be extremely hard to deal with during stretches of the game.

This seamlessly leads me to my next point, the potential success of this unit will only come if they’re given a chance. I understand the Wizards’ starting lineup was among the leagues best last year and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

However, the Wizards clearly struggled throughout the Boston series because traditional bigs like Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi struggled to guard Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk on the perimeter. So much so that Olynyk erupted for 26 points in-game seven. Make no mistake, this is no slight towards Washington’s bigs, but they were simply not able to hang with Boston’s mobile big men.

Ironically enough, Brooks not only played the lineup of Wall-Beal-Oubre Jr-Porter-Morris three total minutes that series, but the hybrid small-ball unit he’s more comfortable with only saw the floor a total of 25 minutes.

More from Wiz of Awes

Yes, rotations become much smaller in the playoffs and to Brooks’ credit, the series went seven games. However, the ‘what if’ factor when looking back on that series lies within every Wizards fan out there. For me, the ‘what if’ is obviously, what if the Wizards went small-ball more often?

Unfortunately, the answer to my question doesn’t exist. Instead, I hopefully would like to start the conversation of more small-ball lineups in the future for the Wizards. Yes, the sample is small. Yes, I could be completely wrong. But in the NBA you either pave your own lane like the Warriors, quickly adapt to new trends or tread water and watch teams pass you by.

Next: Wizards Sign Donald Sloan to 1-Year Deal

For the Washington Wizards, a top three spot is theirs for the taking in a weak Eastern Conference. So what will it be? With ample National TV exposure for next season, the Wizards will be center stage and small-ball just might be the key to success in the District.