Wizards' Collins in defensive frame of mind

Coach stresses pressure on ball, uptempo game

Pro Basketball

October 03, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins has devoted a good part of the first few days of this year's training camp toward teaching his players that playing defense is important.

Collins is also working on getting through to the group that the sky is blue, grass is green, and to make sure not to throw a red shirt into the washer with the underwear.

OK, so maybe things aren't quite that basic, but the coach wants to be sure that the Wizards, who were a decent, but not spectacular, defensive team last season, play defense well enough this year to make the offense better.

"If you can get 20 points off easy baskets and get to the foul line 25 times, and you're getting half your offense off transition and free throws, you're going to be in good shape," Collins said.

A quick glance at the numbers from last year might lead one to think that Collins doth protest too much. After all, Washington finished 11th in the NBA in points allowed, giving up only 94.2 points a game, a figure that was lower than that of five playoff teams (Utah, Minnesota, Indiana, Sacramento and Dallas).

But a closer look suggests something else. Teams shot 45.2 percent from the field against the Wizards, which tied them for 19th. The team's forwards and centers did a decent job defending, but Washington's perimeter defense was often found wanting.

So, in the offseason, the team traded guards Courtney Alexander and Richard Hamilton, neither of whom will soon be contenders for the Defensive Player of the Year award, and brought in bigger, stronger perimeter players, like Larry Hughes, Jerry Stackhouse and Bryon Russell.

Beyond their size, Collins is particularly relying on the new trio to rebound more. In a defensive drill Monday, Collins said Stackhouse, Hughes and Russell combined for 11 rebounds.

By contrast, point guard Chris Whitney, who is five inches shorter than the 6-foot-5 Alexander and gives up seven inches to the 6-7 Hamilton, nearly outrebounded them both combined (3.8 to 4.2 for Hamilton and Alexander).

In addition, Collins is insisting on more pressure on the ball, to attempt to force turnovers that can be converted into easy baskets, thus relieving pressure on the halfcourt offense.

"Doug has stressed defense in terms of putting ball pressure, trying to take the game to the other team," said Michael Jordan. "It creates an uptempo type of game. With the type of players we have, obviously that can really aid us in getting more points and being able to stop teams in the fourth quarter."

The team is already seeing success with that approach, as Hughes and backup point guard Tyronn Lue have disrupted the opposition with their on-the-ball pressure in early drills.

"Being able to stop people is a big part of winning," said Hughes. "If you can get stops on defense, and create easy baskets, it will create havoc. With the size that we have out there, it's going to be tough to get through that, and then we have big guys behind us. We have something that we can build on and that we can win with."

Technically, the Wizards aren't likely to do much differently on defense than any other club. Even with new rules that permit teams to play zones, there aren't many new defensive schemes under the sun.

What Collins is really attempting to instill within the Wizards is a hunger to hound and contest the opposition, with a hope that they will see the merits and that the increased desire will turn into wins.

"If you want to be a great defensive team, you really have to communicate, and it's hard work," said Collins. "There has to be trust built that once you help, someone's going to help you."

NOTES: Jordan has not been seen much in practice by the media, who are permitted only to see the last 30 minutes of the morning practice and none of the evening sessions. He said yesterday that his right knee, which was operated on in the offseason, "feels good" and that he is going to "take it real slow and gradually work my way up." ... Forwards Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas have played sporadically this week, each hampered by ailing hamstrings. Rookie Rod Grizzard, a second-round pick, missed yesterday's morning session with recurring knee problems. ... The Wizards re-signed second-year forward Bobby Simmons, who was dealt last month to Detroit with Hamilton for Stackhouse, then cut last week by the Pistons.

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