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Wizards embrace journey to build chemistry of a contender
John Wall and Bradley Beal are entering their seventh season as a backcourt duo. Asked to be leaders from a young age, Wall and Beal are now the undeniable leaders of the 2018-19 Washington Wizards.
Wall has been at training camp at 8:30am, three and a half hours before practice time. That doesn’t include the hot yoga, cycling classes, and other workout sessions he’s been waking up even earlier to do. Beal has been on the court getting up shots two hours before practice as well. The Wizards’ leaders are taking ownership of their roles with the team, and showing the younger guys what it takes to be All-Stars in this league.
Both Wall and Beal have also said this is the deepest team they have been a part of, which ranges back eight seasons for Wall. Otto Porter Jr., the third-longest tenured player on the team, agrees that the team has not had depth like this during his time in Washington. Keef Morris and Dwight Howard, the other members of the projected starting five, have expressed high expectations for this team.
"Me and Brad have been in the league for a lot of years,” Wall said on Monday. “We understand that this is our team. We just have to get everybody on the same page. We’ve got a great bench; we’ve got a lot of depth now. We just got to go out there and play. On paper, we look great, but that doesn’t mean anything until you go out there and prove it on the court.
“We’ve had talent in the past couple of years, but this is the most talent that we’ve had as a whole bunch together,” Wall continued.
“This is the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Beal added.
At the end of the day, however, the team knows that looking good on paper means nothing. The team needs to build chemistry during training camp and leading up to its October 18 opener against the Heat. Tendencies need to be learned, sweet spots need to be identified, and the team has plenty of bonding in store.
Building up that chemistry is without a doubt the most crucial part of this year’s training camp. The Wizards had a team dinner on Monday night and have bonded at the new MedStar Wizards Performance Center all week, but it’s going to take more than a week to build up the team they envision.
That’s why head coach Scott Brooks has treated the 23 days leading up to the opener as one long training camp. Starting on Tuesday, Brooks told the team that they’re worried about getting ready ahead of the home opener, not the end of training camp. With minor injuries to Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers, Brooks reaffirmed that there’s no rush; there will be plenty of time to get the team playing together.
Adding in Howard has been a widely-discussed topic throughout the league. Yes, Howard has played for four teams in four seasons. However, he has not played with a point guard like Wall and will play in a system he can thrive in. The Wizards are planning on switching one through four on defense, allowing Howard to flourish and protect the paint. He’s also going to be a weapon in the pick-and-roll with Wall, Beal, Rivers, Tomas Satoransky, and others.
Even though Howard has not been able to work on court with the likes of Wall, Beal, and others, he studied film this summer to learn their tendencies and where they like the ball.
“We didn’t really get an opportunity to get on the court, but one thing that I have done is really watch the film and learn the tendencies of my teammates: where they like the ball, where they like to get screened at, just things that will really help them get to their sweet spots,” Howard explained at Media Day.
Still, Howard talked with the rest of the starters during the offseason about what it’s going to take for this team to be great. Putting the team first, despite many of the players’ individual success, was at the forefront of those discussions.
“Our conversations have been about winning and how we can win together and how all of us have to really put our egos aside to accomplish what we want as a team,” Howard said. “I think all of us have had great individual careers, but as a whole, we have to understand that it’s all about winning as a team.”
Another newcomer, Jeff Green, knows what it takes to get to the NBA Finals. As a member of the Cavaliers last season, Green experienced first-hand the grind and the journey of getting all of the way to June. Green, a Maryland native, will be expected to play a leadership role and be a key piece off the bench. He’s already spoken about what the team needs to do to reach their ultimate goal, and he may be one of those glue guys the Wizards have been missing in past years.
“We have all of the pieces,” Green explained on Thursday’s episode of Off The Bench. “I don’t like to think about the future and what can be, because it looks great on paper. What we have to do as a team is to commit ourselves to the journey, through the marathon that we’re about to endure. We have to commit ourselves to the team and understand that it’s bigger than the individual accolades. We have to understand that it’s a team effort to get to the Finals.
“We have to be committed to the team first, and if we do that, I think we have a great, great shot at finishing the season in June.”
Brooks will be the engineer of all of this chemistry building. Often regarded as one of the league’s top coaches to play for, Brooks is just the man for the task. Brooks coached Green in Oklahoma City, and Green believes in his former and current coach to help the team succeed.
“He’s played the game, he knows what it takes,” Green said of Brooks. “He’s played with greats – in Houston. He understands how to win. He’s going to put us in great position to succeed individually, but he understands it takes a team to be together on the same page defensively and offensively, to sacrifice, to win. I think he’s going to be great at getting his point across and what he have to do, and we just have to listen.”
“We want to focus on being a good basketball team,” Brooks said heading into camp. “A team that plays hard and plays for one another. A team that our fans can respect and come out every night to enjoy watching us play.”
Now, the process begins of putting all of this together. The NBA season is a journey, with training camp, preseason, 82 regular season games, and hopefully more in the postseason. The internal expectations are much higher than those on the outside. Nobody is picking the Wizards to be a threat in the East, but that’s only going to give the team more motivation. Last season did not go as planned with Wall missing half of the year. The team is ready to get back to the way they were playing in 2016-17, but this time with a much deeper team on paper.
“We have a great opportunity to really do something special,” Beal said. “We’re at the point where we have to be done talking about it, we have to go out and do it. We have all of the pieces. Everybody’s healthy. There’s actually no excuse for us to go out and get the job done and try to get to the Finals. We know it’s not going to be easy. I love our team, I love the moves we’ve made. I feel like there’s a challenge at every position and I feel like we’re all going to get better and we’re all going to compete within the locker room. And I think that’s just going to carry out onto the floor against other teams.”