Building the Ideal Playoff Rotation for the Washington Wizards

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Building the Ideal Playoff Rotation for the Washington Wizards
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Washington Wizards have a nice mix of veteran talent and young energy necessary to win a playoff series, but head coach Randy Wittman will need to construct the right rotations with that personnel.

The Washington Wizards are deeper now than they have been in the last five years, which can make it difficult to build a concrete rotation for the playoffs. 

But, being this deep does allow the Wizards to have some flexibility in who they play and when. 

Although there are some questions surrounding who the Wizards might play in the frontcourt come playoff time, let's try to predict what the rotations might look like when the postseason starts. 

Keep in mind, these rotations are all assuming that Nene Hilario is able to come back healthy. Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears is reporting that Nene should return from his sprained MCL in the first week of April. 

 

Fernando Medina/Getty Images
John Wall and Bradley Beal are the two top scoring options for the Wizards and will be playing together in almost every minute of the postseason.

The Starters

Lineup: PG John Wall, SG Bradley Beal, SF Trevor Ariza, PF Nene, C Marcin Gortat

Shouldn't be any surprises here. Prior to Nene's injury and the signing of Drew Gooden, this was the lineup that the Wizards went with and got them to (and eventually above) the .500 mark for the first time in John Wall's career. 

When this lineup is completely intact, the Wizards have out-scored their opponents by a total of 102 points, according to 82games.com, and have won almost 70 percent of their games. 

This Wizards team has adopted the mindset and attitude of Wall, and he deserves to be playing more minutes than anyone else on this team. 

He, Beal and Ariza will be getting the most minutes on the teams in the playoffs. Beal is the second scoring option on the team behind Wall, and Ariza is having a career year. When he gets hot, Ariza can singlehandedly outscore an opponent by sinking threes. 

If Nene does come back in the first week of April, he'll only have about three weeks' worth of games to get his legs (literally and figuratively) under him, so we could see a minutes restriction for him in the playoffs. 

Head coach Randy Wittman did the same thing earlier this year with Beal when he came back from an injury. However, Nene isn't nearly as young as Beal, so he could go into the playoffs with an all-or-nothing attitude and play as many minutes as he can. 

There'll also be Gooden on the bench, who has filled in remarkably well as a big man since Nene went down. But in the playoffs, teams need to have a solid identity, as Amin Vafa of Bullets Forever pointed out. 

Talking about the Wizards, Vafa said they need to find their identity in these last regular-season games. 

How do we know which team we're going to get on a nightly basis? How do we know what this team will become in the future? For that, the Wizards need to firmly establish an identity. Whatever that identity is needs to be reflected from the bottom up and the top down. Are they defensive juggernauts? Are they unstoppable on the break? Are they a team of streaky shooters that prey on a weak conference?

The answer is clear: we don't know the identity of this team.

In order to find that identity, Wittman needs to go with these five guys. It's the most effective starting lineup, and the Wizards are a much better team with Nene in the lineup than they are with him on the bench. 

Any tinkering with this starting lineup could result in some chemistry issues. At this point in the season, it's best to go with what you know and what your players know, and the leaders of this team are all in this starting five. 

 

Ned Dishman/Getty Images
Drew Gooden headlines the veterans available for the Wizards off the bench.

The Bench

Lineup: SF/SG Martell Webster, PF/C Drew Gooden, PG Andre Miller, PF Trevor Booker

Sorry, Al Harrington, your services are better used as a leader and a coach on the bench. Harrington, frankly, hasn't performed well enough to break into the playoff rotations, so I'm giving the nod instead to Booker and Gooden to fill in at power forward and center. 

Harrington is averaging just six points per game and 2.2 rebounds, compared to Booker's 6.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. 

Between Webster, Ariza and Beal, the Wizards already have guys that can stretch the floor and shoot threes, and the minutes are better left distributed to Booker and Gooden

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Gooden has been huge for the team since he came to Washington following Nene's injury, leading the team in player efficiency rating, which is a per-minute rating that measures how effective a player is. 

The nine-man rotation is rounded out by backup point guard Andre Miller, who probably won't play more than 12 minutes per game (he's averaging 14.3 minutes right now), but he brings experience to the team and allows Wall to have a break. 

The combined experience of Nene, Gooden and Miller is something invaluable to the Wizards in the playoffs, as Ariza pointed out to Jason Reid of The Washington Post

You really don’t hear a lot about it, but we have guys who have been through so many different situations in this league over a long time. When you have guys who overcame stuff and learned how to win, it means a lot. You can kind of [draw on that] when you need to.

Usually, teams go with an eight- or nine-man rotation in the playoffs, and the Wizards should feel confident in their nice mix of experience and youthful energy. 

 

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster give the Wizards multiple deep threats. Playing a small-ball lineup could be a counter to bigger teams in the playoffs such as the Chicago Bulls.

Small-Ball Lineup

Lineup: PG John Wall, SG Bradley Beal, SF Martell Webster, PF Trevor Ariza, C Marcin Gortat

This probably won't be rolled out that often, but as the standings are now, the Wizards would be facing the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. 

With Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson down low, the Wizards could turn to this small-ball lineup to try to counter the Bulls. 

No one on Chicago's roster right now is averaging more than 14.1 points, and the Wizards are tied for second in the league in three-point percentage, while the Bulls are 25th. 

This lineup has only seen 50 minutes of play time this season, but when on the court, everyone besides Gortat can spread out around the perimeter with Gortat in the paint.

Noah can guard on the perimeter very well, but Gortat would have to attract some attention near the hoop.

The Wizards are 9-4 this year when using this lineup, according to 82games.com, and it has outscored opponents by a total of 23 points. Again, this lineup wouldn't get major time, but it's definitely a possibility that fans could see this rotation for seven minutes or so a game if the matchup is right. 

 

John Wall can lead the team in the final moments of the game, elevating the play of his teammates and boasting the ability to score on his own.

Crunch Time

Lineup: PG John Wall, SG Bradley Beal, SF Martell Webster, PF Nene, C Drew Gooden

"The Wall" and Beal picks are pretty obvious to play when it really matters, but the Wizards may want to consider shaking things up from the starting lineup by inserting Webster over Ariza and Gooden over Gortat

Gooden has been playing in the fourth quarter over Gortat when he started to heat up after joining Washington. 

In the fourth quarter of games, Gooden has made more baskets this year than any other quarter, and his field-goal percentage is 61 percent. He's is going to step up big when it counts, as he's shown already this year.

Gooden was instrumental in the Wizards' come-from-behind win over the Brooklyn Nets a few weeks back, and he provides the playoff experience (he's played in 44 playoff games). He needs to be in during the last minutes of the game. 

For Webster, it's a similar story. Webster steps his game up in the fourth quarter, raising his shooting percentage to 44.5 percent in the fourth quarter of games this year and making 45.6 percent of his threes. 

Comparatively, Ariza's shooting percentage falls to 35.9 percent and 27.8 from three in the fourth quarter. 

Webster has also shown the ability to swing the momentum of games by making four-point plays. 

Starting out with Gortat and Ariza will give the Wizards the ability to start games strong, but this is the rotation that can take them down the stretch and play out the tough last minutes of any game, especially against a gritty team like the Bulls. 

 

Note: All stats are as of March 27 prior to the conclusion of the NBA games of that night and are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

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