New Wizards coach Brooks has plan to keep Wall and Beal healthy

Washington Wizards new head coach Scott Brooks answers questions during a news conference announcing his hiring at the Verizon Center in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2016.
Washington Wizards new head coach Scott Brooks answers questions during a news conference announcing his hiring at the Verizon Center in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. AP

For a few days last October, during his year off from coaching after six-plus seasons as the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks was a guest of five-time NBA champion Coach Gregg Popovich at Spurs training camp. Brooks, who was hired to replace Randy Wittman as coach of the Wizards in April, plans to bring some of what he observed during that visit to D.C.

“I know as I was growing as a coach, I understood the wear and tear on the bodies were important to really manage,” Brooks said on the latest episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix. “We had such a young, dynamic team that our practices were so much fun and intense and very competitive. But as I grew as a coach, I understood that we have to be really efficient in what we do and figure out what’s really important and cut our practices down. The analytics tell you that. The thing I didn’t focus on was minutes per game; I focused on minutes per practice. If you could play a guy 36 minutes and cutting it down a minute but still practicing him for two-and-a-half hours and still having an hour-and-20-minute shoot-arounds, that minute is really nothing. I focused not on really cutting the minutes down; I focused on cutting the practice and shoot-arounds down. I learned that in seeing some of the training camps I was fortunate enough to [attend]. Coach [Popovich] let me come for three or four days, and I saw how he did it. There’s a lot of similarities with our practice plans and how we did things, but I really pinpointed that. His was really efficient. They weren’t long, they were to the point, they were very competitive and they moved on quickly.”

Much of the Wizards’ success under Brooks will depend on the health of Washington’s talented back court. John Wall, the former University of Kentucky star who underwent surgery on both knees in May, tied for fifth in the NBA in minutes per game (36.2) last season. Bradley Beal, who has battled injuries throughout his four-year pro career and was limited to a career-low 55 games last year, signed a max deal this offseason.

“He said this is the best he’s felt in any of the offseasons he’s [had],” Brooks said of Beal, speaking to Mannix at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas earlier this month. “You know he’s 23 years old and he’s going into his fifth year? It’s just really pretty incredible. Your body as a young player, you have to go through a lot. It’s a shock to the system. Every young player has to go through that. You have to be able to manage their workload. Going forward, the staff that we have together, we understand that. The analytics on the medical side is important. The workloads, the things that we have to try to prevent injuries from happening is going to be very important for myself. That’s one of the things that I wanted to improve on this summer, and I think that we have a good game plan moving forward.”

Brooks has gotten to know Wall a little bit over the last two months and said he sees some similarities between Wall and Russell Westbrook, his point guard in Oklahoma City.

“He loves the game,” Brooks said of Wall. “For instance, we had a draft workout about three weeks ago in D.C. and we brought in six players. I knew not one player out of the six players, and I was with John. He not only knew where they were from; he knew their stats, he knew their tendencies, he knew their background, he knew their high school and their AAU, he knew them all. I’m looking at him and like, ‘You need to get a life. Don’t you do anything other than watch basketball throughout the day?’ But he loves the game. Three things I’ve noticed: He loves the game, he has a big-time skill set and he’s very competitive. If you have that along with good character, there’s a reason why he’s a three-time all-star at such a young age. But he definitely has a big upside, and I’m looking forward to maximizing that.”

Brooks, who has a proven track record of developing young players, including Westbrook, doesn’t intend to dwell on the fact that he has several young pupils with the Wizards.

“One of the things I’ve learned is, when you’re dealing with young players, you can’t always talk about them being young,” he said. “You have to treat them as NBA players. We have a bunch of young players on our team now. Kelly Oubre’s only 20. Otto Porter’s 23. Bradley Beal’s only 23. John Wall is 25. But I’ve already told them and I’m going to continue to tell them: We’re Washington Wizards, and I don’t care how old you are. The competitive spirit that you have to display night in and night out is going to get you playing [as a] team and it’s going to get our team to the level we need to get to.”