Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jan 16, 2018

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Any update on an extension? I'm very impressed with the Nats' quiet offseason. As disappointed as I was with letting Lind go, Rizzo has once again shown why he's the GM while I'm just the guy who reads about the GM and makes comments. It's also nice to see a local team address it's needs in free agency early and in a cost effective manner. Contrast that to recent offseasons for the other DC pro teams. Now, the Nats can just sit back and wait to see if a deal presents itself in the offseason, while having confidence that their existing team is good enough to have them sitting pretty to address any remaining needs by the trade deadline. Any chance Rizzo can run things for the Skins and Wizards too?

Rizzo, and the Nats in general, "run silent" on trades, signing and extensions. I've covered a lot of leaky teams. This isn't one of them.

About their GENERAL needs and goals they are quite open, because they don't see any reason to ignore what's obvious. For example, everybody knows that they would like to find another quality starting pitcher. But what is "quality?" The list is enormously long of "pretty-good"fifth starters -- so there is no rush on those decisions. Also, the additions at the edges of Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone as (remote) possibilities out of spring training give you length behind Fedde, Cole and (by mid-season) Ross. The question is: Will they fall into somebody better than a No. 4-5 starter? What makes the Nats so entertaining is that they are creative and flexible. When they say they have a Plan A, B and C, it's actually a longer list than that.

However, about their specific ways to address issues, they are mute. However, once they have shown interest in a player in the past, they tend to stay interested him in the future if they don't get him, the first time or if, like Howie Kendricks, he comes back on the market.

What's often missed about the Nats is that the major change in the team came at the last trade deadline when they got Doolittle, Madson and Kintzler. And gave up on Treinen who did quite well, after a rocky start, in Oakland.

The Nats went from a future built (imagined) around Treinen, Filipe Rivero and Glover to any entirely different one for '18, though Glover might work his way back up the chart if he stops being a such a hardhead about dealing with, and avoiding injuries.

So, the Nats will start '18 with a bullpen that should be good and may be very good rather than ??? Also, they have Eaton as an upgrade over Werth and Kendricks as a bench upgrade. Matt Adams was a good thumper in SDt. L. If Ryan Zimmerman were injured, Adams could play vs. every RHed pitcher.

In all, they don't HAVE to do anything. But you can bet that they would LIKE to do something. Rizzo will looking for value. Ted Lerner may, at some point, be listening to Scott Boras if one of his big free agents is having trouble getting what he wants and would prefer a one-year "pillow" contract. Something soft to land on. 

The way to bet? Add another catcher -- Realmuto in your dreams, but Alex Avila in reality. Add another back-end starting pitcher. What's possible? With Mike and Ted, almost anything if the free agenmt market is still jammed up by Feb. 5th.

Lets just assume that the Redskins get Curt er... Kirk to sign for what Kirk wants. Just who does he think he will be throwing to over the length of his contract? Today you yourself said, “What would Kirk do if he could throw to Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, not Jamison Crowder, or simply hand it to Le’Veon Bell or Mark Ingram, not Samaje Perine?” Where does he think the team will be able to afford the elite pass catchers & running backs not to mention an OL capable of protecting his "six?" Or how about the additional money to pay for "elite" pass rushers, LBs and/or DBs? If he is signed to the highest paid player in NFL history then Snyder may be finally forced to change the team name to the Washington Cousins! Or if they don't then he will leave town and sign with another team granting them the non Daniel Snyder discount for not disrespecting him. Speaking of disrespect how about the other 31 teams not signing him before the Redskins did in the 4th round?

By accident, you just named a lot of reasons Cousins isn't inclined to sign, or even negotiate, until after the Skins decide which tag to use on him in March. The Skins have been terrible at identifying and adding WRs for the last 25 years. It was always obvious that DJax and Garcon had a limited shelf life. When the Skins go after a long-term game-changer at WR, they get a Westbrook, who clogs up the position for years with "potential" and one good 1,000-yard season, but a bunch of 34-catch-510-yard seasons that drag you down. Now they have Doctson. I wish him well. But he just JUST like Westbrook to me.

First, I don't think there is any contract offer that, at this point, would get Cousins to say, "Oh, great, I'll sign that and be a Skin for year." He's waited this long to test the market. And he is GOING to Test The Market. That, in turn, is going to mangle the Skins ability to make decisions -- including at QB -- over the spring and early summer. It was kind of sad to hear Jay Gruden say that he didn't want to go through the one-year play-on-the-tag situation again. But unless the Skins decide to "go another way" BEFORE Cousins makes any decision, they are going to be the ones in the paralyzed position, waiting for Cousins, while Cousins is the one sifting through offers.

The Skins are in a very unpleasant box.

I wrote six weeks ago what I thought the Skins should try to do. But things are so far down the road that I doubt that any reunion-with-Kirk plan will work. BUT I still think the Skins need to get their "mindset" right about what they are. This year, they were 7-9 and were outscored by 46 points. That was WITH Cousins. That was the 10th "best" point differential in the NFC and 17th best in the NFL. This is the same team they have been for the last 16 years (106-149-1). The main reason they were somewhat better the last three years (24-13-1) is.....Cousins. That's it. That's all. The Skins, even in their own minds, frame everything as "The last three years, we were helping Kirk be as good as he was. Give US the credit." I think it's more likely that, the last three years, it was Kirk who was helping the Skins up to .500 and marginal contention as a possible playoff team.

In the last five years, the Skins are 31-48-1. In the five years before that they were 33-47. In the five years before that they were 35-45. This progression is BACKWARDS. The longer Snyder owns the team, as has a Yes Man beside him (now Allen, before that Cerrato), the more they slide. If anyone wants to take 27-50 for the NEXT 5 years, if Cousins ISN'T back, that might not be an unwise pick. 

Here's what I wrote about proper Skins Context back on Dec. 1. It still holds.

....

"When your entire vision of your universe is utterly distorted, you make horrid decisions. For example, you worry that if you sign Cousins, one of the dozen best quarterbacks in the NFL and maybe one of the six or eight best, to a long-term, Stafford-like contract that costs $130 million, you will not have enough salary cap room left to “contend for a title.”

This is insanity. You sign Cousins, if you still can, because you haven’t had a quarterback who ranked as highly in passing yardage and quarterback rating over a three-year period . . . ever. You don’t make nonsensical projections about how that impacts your Super Bowl chances.

YOU HAVE NO SUPER BOWL CHANCES.

Not until you are a whole lot better. Cousins is essential to “better,” even if that is a five-year period when you are “only” 40-40 or 45-35. You break your back to sign him, do your best to cope with the cap and draft like hell. And hope."

The Wizards are wasting the prime years of one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Yesterday's game featured no shows from Otto Porter (8 pts on 3-8 shooting), Ian Mahinmi (3 fouls, 2 reb, 0 pts), Jodie Meeks (DNP), and Jason Smith (DNP). Otto is making $24.7 million this year on the first year of his max extension. Ian is in year 2 of a 4/$64 million contract. Jason Smith is making $5 million to entertain the crowd in between timeouts. Meeks now finds himself out of the rotation in the first year of his 2/$7 million. And that doesn't even include whatever the Wizards are paying Tim Frazier, the now exiled backup PG who can't shoot or play defense. That's incredible mismanagement from Ernie Grunfeld. Ted Leonsis has shown he is willing to pay for a contender. Do you have any insight into whether he is considering replacing his longtime GM? Or is he satisfied with having a team that's at least good enough to make the playoffs, if not win a round?

My first rule in analyzing teams is: Don't miss the obvious.

Jerry Brewer nailed a key point about the Wiz this year. They were VERY healthy last year (just like the Skins GREAT luck with injuries in '16). But the Wiz are getting banged up -- Morris early in the season and Porter playing through two injuries recently.

Here's Jerry in this morning's column on that subject : "The Wizards’ starting five missed a combined 17 games a season ago. Through 44 games, the unit has already had 23 absences. And that’s with Beal and Marcin Gortat playing every game. Wall (11 games missed), Markieff Morris (eight) and Otto Porter Jr. (four) have been out more than usual, and if you factor in the games that they’ve labored through or been out of sync while playing their way into a rhythm, most of the season has been a grind."

......

The player who has fallen off the most is Otto Porter. He was playing like one of the top 30 players in the league early in the season for 20+ games with his numbers up (after getting the max contract) in almost every area. For weeks, coinciding with injuries and games missed entirely, he's been an anchor. Now, it looks like Wall and Beal have some words for their Third Star.

The risk with Porter is that, even after gaining almost 30 pounds since his rookie year, he's still slender. Is he able to play very well when he's hobbled or, being unselfish by nature, will he go into a shell and play Team Ball  instead? Porter is a player who will always try to go and play. But, in my book, he's also a player who needs to be closer to 100 percent to be effective than some more gifted players like Wall and Beal. That's a tough situation for a coach to handle when all three are playing on enormous >$100M contracts.

My feeling is that the Wiz only have one thing to kick themselves about -- losing to lousy teams. They should be too good for that now. I've watched the top 3, 4 or 5 teams in the NBA every year my whole life as they just refuse to lose to bad teams. I first noticed it with the Celtics LONG ago, then the Bird Celtics and Magic Lakers and in recent years (actually almost 20 years) the Spurs. And a lot of it is willpower and grit, especially on team defense and rebounding in the 4Q. Maybe, probably, the Wiz just don't have the talent of a top 3-4-5 team to rip games away from bad teams who get ahead of them. But they should be better than they are at winning games against teams below .450, or especially .400.

Otherwise, it wouldn't hurt they to realize that they HAVE been injured. They are about to face a brutal schedule -- 11 of 14 on the road, starting with five straight on the road. How does a GOOD tem cope with that. First, look at the games against bad teams that you really NEED to win whether they are on the road or not. In thia 14-game span, that would be Charlotte (17-25), Dallas (15-29), Atlanta (12-31), Orlando (12-31), Bulls (17-27).

There are also teams near .500 that the Wiz should think they can split with on the road: 76ers (20-20), Indy (24-20), Det (22-20), Knicks (20-24).

Go 4-1 against the bad teams, go 2-2 against the respectable teams and this Rough Stretch could really be a period of education on How to Manage A Long Season.

But, knowing the Wiz, inn this 14-game span, I'm afraid they'll point toward Big Games against the Cavs, Raptors, Boston and OKC (twice) to Show How Good We Are Now. Let those games take care of themselves. As soon as they see LeBron or the Celts warming up, they'll get psyched to play them. Make sure you are 90 pecent as intense against the "bums."

Message: You aren't good enough yet to overlook ANYBODY.

Tom - Love the chats. What was your reaction to the recent Gallup Poll on what are the favorite spectator sports in the US? The results were: Football 37% / Basketball 11% / Baseball 9% / Soccer 7% / Hockey 4% / Auto racing 2% / tennis 2% with several sports measuring 1%. 15% answered they had no favorite sport, up from 8% in 2000.

That was a fascinating poll. But, if I remember the story correctly, this was a "nationwide poll" but they only contacted ~1,080 people.

Wow, it must be nice to be THAT smart! Are they THAT accurate? They sure aren't when it comes to political polls.

I thought Soccer actually tied MLB in that poll. Sorry if I'm wrong.

Also, in this poll it appears that "football" means both the NFL and EVERY college team in all those 50,000 to 105,000-seat stadiums all over the country. Basketball means NBA and every college team, including March Madness. Soccer, presumably, appeals appeals to fans like my son who watch  European soccer a lot but doesn't follow U.S. pro soccer. But with baseball there are probably only three people on earth who would consider minor-league baseball or college baseball their "favorite sport" out of EVERY sport.

So, I suspect if you'd done the poll listing NFL, College FB, NBA, college BB, MLB, minor league baseball, college baseball, U.S. Soccer, World Soccer, NHL, etc., there'd be some changes. You might find that the order reflected actual game-attendance more closely and might be: NFL, College Football, MLB, NBA, College Basketball, US Soccer/NHL, World Soccer, Auto Racing, etc. 

That methodology aside, my first observation, especially after three exceptional NFL playoff games last weekend (one of them historically amazing), is that anybody who thinks the NFL is going to shrivel in popularity (due to CTE, violence, slow games, replay, stadium experience) and be on the way to second-class status in the next 10 or 15 years is probably nuts.

On the one hand, we have Moral Considerations. On the other hand, we have Case Keenam to Stefon Diggs -- by way of rookie DB Marcus Williams -- for a 61-yard touchdown pass and victory with no time left on the clock. When Diggs, from Good Counsel and U of Maryland, crossed goal line, the restaurant-bar where my wife and were having dinner EXPLODED. No one was talking about "what constitutes a 'catch'" or "did the receiver survive contact with Planet Earth."

Also, within 10 minutes, the place emptied out. Clearly, many dinners had chosen an establishment with five big-screen TVs so they could have dessert as the second game was ending.

I taped the game, as always. And I sat with my back to the near-by TV so I'd pay attention to our meals and my wife. But, to give her full credit, with about 2:30 left she said, "I suppose you DO have to watch this, right?" (IOW, actually ENJOY it in real time, as opposed to going home and studying it.) And she endured the life stories of several key players, including Brees' dignity in leading the Saints comeback despite the obvious fact that Drew now has a Rag Arm and can't hit deep routes, or even deep outs, properly.

Before I forget, I wanted to make one point about The Play. In the post-game thought Jimmy Johnson nailed the "missed tackle" by Marcus Williams: Marcus knew he arrived too soon. If he hit Diggs, it's pass interference (not a tackle) & the game can't end on penalty, so Vikes would get to try ~52-yd FG to win. He ducked/dodged to avoid interference. WRONG but understandable.

One of the wonderful/semi-horrifying things about sports is that in the moments of greatest pressure, tension and consequence, many people, even seasoned athletes, are not able to control their racing hearts and brains enough to play the game at the same (proper) speed as normal. Even if they don't feel it -- even if they think, "the game isn't getting too fast for me" -- they don't really know for sure if that self-evaluation is correct. What's going on in that nasty subconscious mind? 

Williams got to where he wanted, and needed to be -- but just a split-second too soon. Just like Bill Buckner, with a comparably simply play, got where he needed to be to field a routine ground ball but just picked his glove up an instant too soon. Or forgot to keep his glove at dirt-level and field the hop while raising his glove.

No matter how you look at it, Williams made an awful play. At the instant the ball was thrown, he had time, and the angle, to let Diggs attempt a catch and still have a ~90 percent chance to tackle him and keep him in bounds so the clock would expire. Or he could have gone up to "attack the ball" in flight and (probably) not have gotten interference. But when he got there "too soon," he only had bad choices left -- in 1/10th of a second. The nightmare compounded because, after watching replay a few times, I'm absolutely sure that the OTHER Saints DB could have arrived in time to tackle Diggs as he stumbled, turned toward the goal line and actually put his hand on the ground to keep his balance. The other Saint was, at one point, only 5-to-6 feet away and running full speed at Diggs who was still in the air. But Williams accidentally leg-whipped his own teammates and erased him.

Hey, Boz! Virtual GM questions here: With the salary cap in the NFL, can Washington really afford Cousins? Would it be smarter to use the money on other players? Considering the teams still standing, none have blown the bank on a QB (the Patriots included). Finally, if that would be the smart play, are we guaranteed to see Kirk in burgundy and gold for the remainder of his career?

I hear this all the time: If you pay Cousins you can't have a good team around him.

I think it's slightly true, but mostly nonsense.

ANY Top 20 QB makes a ton of money. No other player in the NFL is remotely close to a top QB in value. So, come on, if you pay Cousins $27M-a-year (Stafford) how much will it really distort your payroll over a five-year period, especially since EVERY YEAR there will be more and more QBs who sign huge contracts and surpass Cousins?

Also, the salary cap will presumably go up every year, so Cousins salary as a percentage of your total roster will gradually decrease.

Here are the Top 20 QB average salaries for '17-'18 according to a CNBC article. 

The average salary of the Top 12 QBs is $23.22M.

I doubt that Cousins is a Top5 QB. I think he's somewhere 6th-through-10th. But that will move up as others above him retire in the next five years. On the other hand, nobody can convince me, after the stat column I wrote on Saturday, that Cousins isn't in the Top 12 QBs. The offensive personnel around him this year was, at times, due to injuries, a farce. 

Ask yourself, if you are a Washington fan, "Do I want my team to have a Top 12 QB?"

OF COURSE you do.

Then it is going to cost you more for '18-'22 than the current '17-'18 average salaries because the Cost of QBs only goes UP.

In this hypothetical world, you're not going to get this Top 12 QB for $23.22M. It's going to be more like an average of $25M-a-year for five years. And that is assuming you are not trying to land a QB with unique bargaining leverage like....duh...Kirk Cousins. 

Face Facts: If you sign Cousins for $27-to-$28M-a-year, then that is only $2-to-3-million-a-year MORE than the average salary of a Top 12 QB over the next five years which will be more than the current $23.22M and probably close to $25M-a-year.

Think about it. All these folks who say, "You can't pay that much for one player" just haven't done the numbers. They'd prefer to yack-yack-yack.

What does that $2-to-3-million extra to Cousins -- assuming he'd sign it -- COST you? Maybe one "pretty-good" free agent player. If that.

For reference, what did WR Terrelle Pryor cost the Skins this year after having had just one good season -- barely 1,000 yards in '16 with the awful Browns who had nobody else to throw to and targeted him constantly even though his catch percentage was lousy. Pryor cost $8-million guaranteed for one year but the Skins structured the deal so it was "only" a $6-million salary hit in '17. Zach Brown's 1-year deal was for $2.3M.

So, what the Don't Pay Kirk crowd is saying is that you can't build a quality team around a QB who makes TWO-or-THREE million a year more than the average Top 12 QB in an NFL world where a free agent like Terrelle (1,007 yards) Pryor makes $8M/$6M and Zack Brown makes $2.3M.

Cousins MAYBE costs you one good non-skill player or half of a good-but-far-from-great player at a skill position.

The Steelers spend 60 percent of their cap space on five players, two of them O-linemen. They're good-to-excellent every year.

The next time somebody at the water cooler says, "Let Cousins go. The heck with it. We couldn't have afforded to keep him and still have a good team," then you can answer, "What the devil do you think a really good QB costs? This is a bogus Cover Story. You can say 'the Skins alienated Cousins, or even offended his high-minded sensibilities with the way they treat everybody, so now he'll only return if forced,' or you can say that 'they just under-rated him every step of the way and totally blew it," but what you CAN'T say is 'They can't afford him and still have a much better team that the 5-11 to 8-8 junk they've been feeding us for 25 years.'" 

Why, or why, are the Pirates gutting the core of their team, by dealing away Andrew McCutchen & Gerrit Cole? Are they trying to follow in the cleat-steps of the Marlins?

They think their window as a playoff-contending team has closed, so rebuild by trading quality veterans for prospects.

This is a standard baseball decision in a market the size of Pittsburgh. It's a cold cruel world. But this is NOT like the crimes-against-baseball-humanity perpetrated repeatedly in Miami over the years, especially the Please, Build Us The Ugliest New Stadium In The World and, for Our Part, We Promise To Put A Good Team in It. 

As a gentleman of a certain age, my history with football runs deeper than I'd care to admit. years, I found myself enjoying it less and less as the product has decayed with refs, replays, and ridiculousness and as a result of my growing moral disdain. Color me surprise this past Sun! I thought the Jags/Steelers game was one of the most fun games I've seen in a long, long time - great plays on both sides, and the hankies stay in pockets. Then, the Vikings/Saints game (which was horrible in the 1st half) became a classic. I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching football... should I be ashamed of myself?

You and me both, brother.

And I enjoyed every minute of the Saturday games, too.

Ah, life is a moral minefield and most of us are wearing snow shoes.

Boz, Your remark last week about selling the fake was timely. There was a play in the Alabama-Georgia game that night where Alabama blitzed a DB who had lined up over the slot back on the offense's left side. It was a play action fake where the RB was lined up to the right of Fromm, the Georgia QB. The RB faked on off-tackle run to the offense's right. Fromm faked the hand-off to the offense's left, holding the ball out with his right hand. In other words, to the side where the RB wasn't and the DB was, showing the ball to the DB thus making it obvious to the DB it was not a run. Needless to say, the DB did not buy the fake and got the sack. It proved your point that if you don't sell the fake right, the defense won't believe it.

Preaching to the choir.

You can bet Foles, Keenum and Bortles will be carrying out every fake next week. The less talent you have, the more you need to do the little things. Keenum and Bortles REALLY need to use play-action to be effective because they aren't gifted pure passers. Sometimes Bortles even missed when receivers are WIDE open. They are good scramblers/runners when needed. Foles needs play-action, too, because he's the opposite type -- pocket passer who can't/shouldn't run.

A note: I keep harping on Point Differential in the NFL to measure team strength because any 1-2-3 games in a season can give you such a false sense of who's good and how good. Turnovers have huge impact on a few games and distort analysis. But if you look at 16 games, yopu don't feel as helpless.

For example, everything that happened last weekend made good sense when view through the Point Differential prism.

The Eagles were +162 (tied with NE for No. 1 in NFL), but they didn't have Wentz. How on earth could they beat the Falcons with Matt Ryan whop went to the Super Bowl last year? Well, the Falcons were a mediocre +38 points this year. 

With home field advantage in Philly and a 124-point gap in Pt Diff why shouldn't Philly be able to win, even with Foles.

Who could have foreseen that the Pats would blow out the Titans by 21 points? Well, Tennessee's point differential in '17 was MINUS 22 points. Of course they got smoked on the road in NE.

Could Jacksonville play the Steelers tough? Well, the Jags were +149 to the Steelers +98. There are lots of other factors, but Jags-Steelers, especially after Jax's Week 1 win, should have been seen as a tough close game.

Should the Vikes and Saints have been a close battles? Their PDs were +130 (Minn) and 122. Very close teams in talent.

How about this coming weekend?

Uh oh, I'm not so good on the future.

But the narrow PD gap between the Pats and Jags -- 162-to-149 --feels like a close, rugged game and the Pats better be ready for the No. 2 defense in the NFL in both points allowed and yards allowed. Also, this is a battle between the No. 1 Takeaway team, in Jax (33) and the stingiest Giveaway team in the Pats (11). The Jags need pressure up the middle against Brady to force a couple of turnovers. As everybody says, he's the Greatest, but he doesn't like pressure straight up the middle. Nobody does. But it seems like the only thing that ever bothers him AT ALL in the playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest anomaly of the '17 season is how the Pats could be the 5th BEST team in the NFL in points allowed, but an awful 29th in yards allowed (5,856 yds allowed vs 4,578 allowed by Jags) and only 25th in takeaways with 18. What happened? The Pats offense NEVER turned the ball over (11) and NEVER gave its foes a short field against its bend-don't-break defense. 

This is NOT a Pats juggernaut team. They can win if they play a very good game. If they are just mediocre, or make mistakes, the Jags have the power in both their lines to make this a real battle. But, no, I still can't see Bortles over Brady.

As for Minn-at-Eagles, this week there isn't much difference in point differential -- Philly 162 to 130. Subtract what you want for the absence of Wentz. The Vikes have a much better defense than Atlanta, so another fun week for Foles is unlikely. The Eagless D is tough and they force turnovers. But Keenum's strong suit has been avoiding killer m istakes. He knows his limits. It's a feel-good cliche, but I'd slightly prefer the Vikes to get to the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

That's it for this week. If I say "Pats vs Vikes" in the Supe, that means, as always, that I'll be half-right. Thanks for all the questions. Maybe by next week we'll see some of the hot-stove-league log jam break up with some free agent signings.

In the spirit of winter, and the Olympics coming up, here's a fun story on American curlers you might enjoy.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dc-sports-bog/wp/2018/01/16/american-curlers-have-heard-your-jokes-about-the-sport-their-response-try-it/?utm_term=.83e7ae83d020

Cheers, until next Monday at 11 a.m., my last chat before some winter vacation.

The Washington Bullets had, at the same point as this year's Wizards, lost a home game and was currently 24-20 and were in the midst of a five game losing streak. Either shortly before or after, Charles Johnson came off of a helicopter and fortified a bench that with Mitch Kupchak, Larry Wright, and Greg Ballard helped the Bullets win the championship despite a mediocre 44-38 record. Those guys may not have had Lebron James, Demar Derozan, Kyrie Irving, and Giannis Antetokounmpo to worry about but they did have to get by John Drew, George Gervin, Dr. J, Doug Collins, and George McGinnis to get out of the East. As much as I hope I am wrong, I do not think the Wizards are currently a top four team in the East having lost to Milwaukee two times at home within a period of weeks. Are there any free agents that can help get the team to play better?

Nice history lesson!

CJ was a good symbol of, perhaps, the most balanced champion in NBA history. Foes never did figure out who to cover. In the regular season, the Bullets had ELEVEN players who, per 36 minutes, averaged between 13.3 pts (Tom Henderson) to 21.8 points (Kupchak). Grevey, Chanier and Dandridge all averaged more per 36 minutes than HOFer Elvin Hayes (17.7)!

In the playoff, similar: They player nine men a LOT. Eight of them scored at 11.0 to 20.0 (Grevey) pts-per-36-min.

That team had four decent assist men, but no great one. It was hard to know who would initiate late-game plays, who was the distributor. You never knew who was going to punch you in the gut next with a good shot or pass -- and sometimes it didn't seem like the Wizards knew either, until it happened. CJ was typical, in that he was unlikely. He had the worst shooting percentage on the team, just over .400, in regular season and playoffs, but when he was on the court, he jacked up up more often, per minute played, than anybody. It was like "Why is THIS guy shooting. Oooooh, he just made a long one."

That team was, to me, defined by its FOUR excellent rebounders -- something that would never define an NBA champion NOW. Unseld, Hayes, Greg Ballard and Kupchak, in that order, were all very good and even Joe Pace off the deep, deep bench played better than he ever did at any other time (I seem to remember) when he actually got to play.

That team had an energy all over the floor, possibly because Dick Motta split playing time so intelligently, that the current Wiz -- relative to the standards of the two eras -- don't match. Those Bullets hit the boards, and hit the floor, a lot better than these Wiz. Dandrige, Hayes, Grevey and Chenier were all slick shooters, but in completely different style from different places. Baseline jumpers, low post fadeaways, bombs that would be treys now and mid-range jumpers respectively. 

Interesting: You forget EVERYTHING about the styles of a third-of-a-century's teams from 1980 to 2013, but you remember EVERYTHING about how a champion played together. On medicore teams, you remember individuals -- the Mahorn and Rulands, the Arenases and late-career Moses or King -- but on a team that reaches the Fiknals, what you remember is how much more the team was than just the sum of its parts.

Currently, just in case they would like to know, the Wiz are significantly less than the sum of their parts. And it kills them constantly against bad teams and late in close games.

Try to imagine the game flow, or the pattern of shots, or the source of extra energy or the Basic Identity of this team. Aside from having two very talented guards, does it really even have an identity? It's a fun team. But is it really a knitted-together committed tough team? 

Thanks for that question.   

Shoutout to Diggs, the former Terp.

And Good Counsel HS.

Are you more appalled at the missed tackle, or delighted by the surprise walk-off touchdown?

First, here's Barry's fine piece on Diggs.

Is there any memorable "great play" in any sport which is so much EQUAL parts 1) a great clutch play by one man and 2) an almost unimaginable, yet sort-or-understandable-in-retrospect blunder by another?

Maybe the interception at the goal line on the final play of the Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl was almost equal parts an amazing anticipatory defensive play and an incredibly bad play call by Seattle.

If you have candidates for 50-50 hero-goat moments, maybe send 'em in next week and I'll try to revisit some of your thoughts. Thanks again.

Never thought I'd see three of four NFL playoff quarterbacks vying for a Super Bowl either backups or journeymen... and actually rooting for them to beat old man Brady if the Patriots go to the Super Bowl (again). Wondering if it's that much harder in football, don't think it's noticed as much in other sports but interested in your take....

If you go back through the Final Four QBs of this century, you'll find that Journeyman QBs are definitely the exception, not the rule. But from Joe Kapp to Billy Kilmer to Trent Dilfer to Case Keenum, everybody loves the scorned QB who maxes out his moment and carries the day.

If the Vikes go to the Super Bowl, there HAS to be a Kapp-Keenum meeting, if possible. 

How helpful is it to the Nats to get Howie Kendrick back on their bench? What else do the Nats need to do this offseason? What else should they do ?

Kendrick is mostly an OFer these days, but he can fill in at second or third for spot duty, which helps. I doubt that you'd want him at either position for a month. Though he was a regular second baseman (112 games) as recently as '15.

And I do know that his name is Kendrick, not (Kyle) Hendricks. Though you sure wouldn't know from my first answer today.

I studied math and statistics in college. The amount of sampling needed for a nationwide poll for popular sports is surprisingly smaller than you would expect.

Thanks. I'm aware that sample sizes don't have to be terribly large, especially if the methodology comes from a respected organization like Gallup. I didn't know that a number like ~1,000 might be enough for a nationwide poll. Appreciated.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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