Tonight the Bulls host the Wizards in what stands to be their last home game against a sub-.500 team until February 21st. Though the schedule is getting much tougher and this past weekend marked the end of the Bulls' 6-game winning streak, there is some good news in the form of Joakim Noah's rumored return from injury. Hoiberg pledges to keep Bobby Portis in the rotation, so expect the questionable Niko-as-SF lineup to remain indefinitely.
Rather than talking more about the Bulls, I'd like to focus on tonight's opponent: the Wizards. This year the Wizards have become a small-ball team. Most of their lineups consist of just one conventional big man accompanied by one or two point guards and multiple wings. As a result, they are playing much faster than in prior years and have traded conservative defense, rebounding, and post ups for steals, 3s, and transition opportunities.
With Bradley Beal and Nene injured, the offense runs almost entirely through John Wall, a lightning-quick point guard who excels at pushing the pace and finding open teammates out of the pick-and-roll. The Wizards shift from defense to offense faster than anyone; they lead the league with nearly 20% of their possessions coming in transition. The Wizards run not only after steals but also after defensive rebounds and even made baskets.
In their half-court offense, the Wizards rely heavily on the pick-and-roll. They run it as much as any team, using Wall as the ball handler and most often Gortat setting the pick. Even though Wall is averaging a career-high 20 points per game, he remains very much a pass-first point guard. He looks for Gortat streaking to the rim or a shooter behind the arc, sometimes in a pick-and-pop variation. Dudley in particular is a tremendous catch-and-shoot threat, rating in the 95th percentile with 1.17 points per possession on jumpers.
The key is defending the Wizards' pick-and-roll is playing Wall to pass. Cut off his path to the basket but keep close to the screener and stay home on the shooters, particularly Dudley. Here are a couple examples:
Defensively the Wizards overplay the passing lanes to generate steals, particularly on post entry feeds.
The Bulls must be careful not to make lazy entry passes to Pau or Taj. If they do, the Wizards will be able to get out in transition off the steal, and even the Bulls' vaunted transition defense will be in trouble.
Going small has its disadvantages for the Wizards defensively, as their lack of length limits their ability to protect the rim.
That bodes well for Jimmy and Derrick wreaking havoc in the paint, and that Pau-to-Jimmy lob may be successful yet again.
The small lineup also allows offensive rebounds and put backs, so if Jo is back and healthy, expect him to make his mark creating extra possessions on the offensive glass.
The Wizards are also sometimes slow to react on defense and do not rotate to open shooters well, so high-percentage 3s should be available if the Bulls are active with their ball movement and player movement.
On baseline out-of-bounds plays, the Wizards rely on their lone big man in the lineup, Gortat, to screen for cutters and shooters in search of a quick score. Below is their favorite such play, in which Gortat sets up at the free throw line and sets multiple screens, first for a cutter to the rim and then for a shooter heading behind the arc on the strong side.
On sideline out-of-bounds plays and in the clutch, they try to get the ball in Wall’s hands as quickly as possible and give him space to break down the defense off the dribble. Wall looks to score more in clutch situations, but hopefully a Bulls' victory will be well in hand by the final minutes so I'm not going to bother posting a clip.