Yes, the Washington Wizards don’t have elite defensive personnel. Yes, the Wizards are young and inexperienced. Yes, it is a rebuilding season. All of these are true. However, the Washington Wizards’ defensive effort in their first regular season game against the Indiana Pacers was completely unacceptable.
And head coach Wes Unseld Jr. is to blame.
The Indiana Pacers are a good offensive team. Led by budding superstar Tyrese Haliburton, they space the floor, shoot a lot of threes, and like to run in transition with their dynamic, athletic players. They are not easy to guard by any means. Yet, giving up 128.8 points per 100 possessions to a non-elite team is embarrassing, regardless of your defensive personnel.
Unseld Jr. didn’t make things easier for his team. He started Deni Avdija over Bilal Coulibaly and Corey Kispert. That is understandable for defensive reasons. What is not understandable, however, is the decision to have him not guard Tyrese Haliburton. What is the point of having your best perimeter defender out there if he is not going to guard the opposing team’s best offensive player?
If Avdija is not going to be employed as a point-of-attack defender, there is no point in having him out there as he is an offensive liability.
And it’s not like the Wizards have alternatives in the starting lineup to defend Haliburton. Tyus Jones was the primary assignment on him for the majority of the game. As expected, he got absolutely cooked one pick-and-roll after another. That is not Jones’ fault. It is the head coach’s responsibility to put their players in the best position to succeed.
The head-scratching decisions didn’t end there. When Bilal Coulibaly came off the bench, he also didn’t guard Haliburton or Indiana’s other playmaker Andrew Nembhard. He spent his time chasing shooters Buddy Hield and Aaron Nesmith out on the perimeter, which is not the best use of his strengths.
Nembhard and Haliburton got to their spots with little to no resistance all game. Haliburton finished with 20 points and 11 assists on 9/16 shooting, while Nembhard finished with 12 points and 10 assists on 6/9 shooting.
The defensive assignments were an even bigger mistake due to Daniel Gafford’s foul problem. Danilo Gallinari had to play extended minutes at center, and he obviously struggled defensively against Indiana’s floor-spacing bigs. That’s why it was even more important to have more resistance out on the perimeter. The Wizards did a horrible job keeping the Pacers out of the paint, allowing easy drive-and-kick opportunities.
Not only do Bilal Coulibaly and Deni Avdija need to play more minutes, but they also need to be utilized to the best of their strengths. Unless Unseld Jr. starts doing a better job doing that, it will be a struggle for the Wizards all season.