Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards - Game Three

Randy Wittman goes from losingest coach of all time to… still losingest coach of all time, but also one of the postseason’s winningest


WASHINGTON – Fourteen years ago, Andre Miller was a rookie playing for first-year head coach Randy Wittman’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Miller saw Wittman repeatedly get frustrated with a difficult roster, the coach frequently flashing what would become known as #WittmanFace.

But, sometimes, Wittman’s unhappiness went further.

“Temper tantrum,” Miller said.

Any signs of that in Washington, where Wittman now coaches the Wizards and Miller is again his backup point guard?

“No,” Miller said. “He gets frustrated, but he does a good job of mixing positive criticism with correcting things that need to be done the right way. So, it’s a good blend.”

Wittman and the Wizards have proven to be a good blend, but is Wittman a good coach? And more importantly, should the Wizards retain him this offseason when his contract expires?

By not only taking taking Washington to the playoffs – the franchise’s primary goal – but beating the Bulls in the first round, Wittman has probably ensured he’ll get a new deal. But whether or not he should is a different question.

Nobody has coached as many games and has as bad a record as Wittman, who holds a career record of 191-329 (.367) with Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington. Until this season, his BEST record was 32-50 with those 1999-00 Cavaliers.

On the other hand, maybe Wittman has turned a corner. He has spent most of this postseason – his first – as the coach with the all-time best playoff winning percentage. Even falling to 5-4 with three straight losses to the Pacers entering tonight’s Game 5, Wittman still ranks fourth third among active coaches in postseason winning percentage.*

*Behind only Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Mike Brown

Wittman also led the Wizards to a 44-38 regular-season record – a 15-game improvement from last season.

Usually, that type of improvement warrants Coach of the Year consideration. But Wittman didn’t get a single vote.

Nobody has coached a team with such a big turnaround that finished with a winning record and not received a Coach of the Year vote in at least the last 14 years. It’s probably been longer, but I can’t find full voting further back. This is essentially unprecedented recently.

If nobody else has noticed Wittman’s coaching improvement, his players have.

“He’s a lot more assertive,” Miller said. “He knows what he wants to get done. I think he knew those things when we was in Cleveland, but it’s just a different atmosphere.

Wittman probably deserves credit for that different atmosphere. His best skill might be the consistency of his approach. Even last season, when the Wizards started 4-28 and seemed on the verge of total collapse, they still went 25-25 the rest of the way.

“His vibe is positive,” Miller said. “He has a good mixture of coaching and player relationships. He’s definitely prepared. You can see him studying film all the time and just assertive in what he wants to get done.”

It’s rare a coach has support of all his players, and even those who do don’t have total total support from each player. But Wittman at least has the support of John Wall, Washington’s unquestioned leader.

Wall spent a year and a half playing for Flip Saunders, who was assisted by Wittman before he took over midway through the 2011-12 season.

“All of us as a team respects everything he does,” Wall said of Wittman.

By preaching defense and pace, Wittman has guided the Wizards further than they’ve been in the last nine years. How much of that is Wall’s growth, and how much of that is Wittman? Maybe the answer is inseparable.

“Now, we basically run the same plays we had since my rookie year, but we’re focused as a defensive team,” Wall said. “I think he’s trusting me more with the ball and trusting the team in running it.”

Wittman is slow to take credit, though.

Asked whether this season has been personally satisfying, Wittman talked about all the tough times his players have faced. Pressed further about his satisfaction in light of his tough times, Wittman perhaps revealed why he’s achieving better results than ever.

“Sure,” Wittman said. “We’re all in one, one in all. So, we feel the same things.”

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.

Paul George reiterates “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot”

Paul George

In the Pacers first exhibition game of the season Saturday against the Pelicans, Paul George started at the power forward spot and looked healthy — that should be the big takeaway. He also showed off his offensive game in the first quarter, eventually finishing the night with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He forced some shots in the second half and had some defensive challenges, but it was a solid outing for a first preseason game.

George did not see it that way, and that will end up being the big takeaway.

He complained about playing power forward during training camp and given the chance after this one game he did it again, as reported by Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said after the Pacers’ 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a game in which he started matched up against 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

“I don’t know if this is my position. We’ll sit and watch tape and I’m sure I’ll talk with coach (Frank Vogel). I’ll talk with Larry (Bird) as well to get both their inputs on how the first game went but…I’m still not comfortable with it regardless of the situation. It’s still something I have to adjust to or maybe not. Or maybe it’s something we can go away from.”

George sees himself as a wing, where he has played his entire career. He doesn’t like defending traditional fours, as a scorer he doesn’t like expending all that energy defending pick-and-rolls and banging with bigger bodies. He’s been clear about that.

He still needs to be open to the idea. How much time George gets at the four on any given night should depend on the matchup — and Anthony Davis is about as rough a matchup as he is going to see. Davis scored 18 points in 15 minutes, and the Pelicans controlled the paint against the small-ball Pacers. George had a hard time defending Davis — welcome to a rather large club, PG. That said, George scored 12 points in the first quarter mostly with Davis on him, he pulled the big out in space and got what he wanted.

Back to the matchups point, George will struggle defensively against the best fours in the game (most of whom are in the West). But what about the nights in the East when George would be matched up on Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn, Jared Sullinger (or David Lee, or whoever) from Boston, or Aaron Gordon with the Magic, or Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks when they play small? There are a lot of lineups the Pacers will see where George at the four makes sense.

The Pacers are transitioning from a plodding and defensive-minded squad to a more up-tempo style, and that’s going to take time— a lot more than one preseason game. However, if George is throwing cold water on the plan after this one effort, it might take a lot longer and be a lot bumpier to make that transition than we pictured.