The Washington Wizards are going in the wrong direction. A 2-7 record to start the season is not ideal, especially after the Wizards invested a max contract in John Wall, drafted in the top three, and traded for Marcin Gortat days into the regular season. Thanks to a strong end to the season, the Wizards parlayed that into a successful offseason, and a regular season with promise. Here we are, sitting with the Wizards at 2-7, which places them second-worst record in basketball, and tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference with Milwaukee. As we continue to creep into our first full month of basketball, can Washington get out of the slump? Where do we look for potential answers to their woes?
The first place we should start is the backcourt. The duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal has been less than spectacular to start the season. The defensive numbers are concerning (102.0 defensive rating to start the season, per NBA’s Media site) John Wall’s numbers are great, but he’s shooting just 38% on two-point attempts and 31% on three-point attempts. Beal on the other hand, has lived up to his abilities coming out of college, completing 44.6% of his three-point attempts. The issue with Beal is his two-point percentage, which is a lackluster 39.6%. Both Beal and Wall are settling for threes or, in Beal’s case, instead of attacking the rim, where Beal finishes at a 62.1% rate to Wall’s 51.1%.
To pile on to the efficiency woes, the Wizards’ bench is a land of lackluster offensive players and failed first-round draft picks. Martell Webster is a great reserve for Washington, as he was for Washington last season, but he’s played in two of Washington’s lineups, and both have negative net ratings. Still, Webster is doing his job as a three-point shooter ( 36.4% from three on four three-point attempts per game), and offers a long-limbed defender on the perimeter. Outside of Webster, the Wizards are using a combination of Al Harrington, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, and Eric Maynor. Outside of Booker’s rebounding and the Harrington occasionally stretching the floor with his three-point shooting (42.9% from three on three-point attempts per game), this group offers little to no production, and even with Otto Porter’s impending return, it’s tough to see him stabilizing a weak bench.
The backcourt is underperforming, the bench is offering very little production, but the Wizards have something in the frontcourt. With the various changes the roster can take when Otto Porter returns, Washington should have little to no problem with keeping their frontcourt combination of Marcin Gortat and Nene in tact, which is what’s best for the team. While neither of them protect the rim (NBA.com’s SportsVU data tracking has Nene allowing 57% shooting at the rim, and Gortat is right behind him with 56.7%), but they aren’t bad on defense, as both have a defensive efficiency of 96.2 to start the season. On the offensive end, Gortat and Nene are a solid tandem, but it only results in a 100.6 offensive efficiency so far this season. Gortat takes care of the offense on the left side, while Nene creates his offense on the right side. The duo creates a ton of success on the offensive end, and if the team improves their defense on the perimeter, the Wizards won’t have to worry about the lack of defense at the rim as much as they probably should at the moment.
With those negatives listed, the Wizards do have some positives to look at moving forward. The first is their defense. It’s not good, but it’s not bad either, currently at 17th in the league at a defensive efficiency of 100.6 this season. The second is shot selection. According to NBA.com’s shot tracking, the Wizards lead the league in corner threes, and with Webster and Beal on the roster, both of them should be getting those shots. As previously stated, Otto Porter has yet to play a game, and getting him back soon gives you another wing to alleviate some of the pressure off of Beal, Webster, and Trevor Ariza. As for the frontcourt, the Wizards could use another big man, but they don’t have the assets to move after trading their 2014 first-round pick to acquire Marcin Gortat.
At what point do we look at Randy Wittman as someone to blame? The Wizards can certainly be upgraded at the head coaching position. Being 24th in the league in offensive efficiency is something that shouldn’t happen, especially when you have shooters, two low-post scorers, and a point guard, capable of running an offense. Unlocking Washington’s offensive potential should help the roster. Maybe, any voice could be better than Wittman at this point. Two names that intrigue me for Washington? Former Nuggets coach George Karl. Karl is a calming presence, who can get the team to push the tempo (12th in the league in pace). The other is former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins is more of a militant coach, who expects his players to buy into his system.
The Wizards seem to be struggling, but it’s still early in the NBA season. Right now, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Orlando, Boston, and Toronto all lay claim to playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Once Porter comes back, Gortat feels more comfortable in the offense, and Beal and Wall find themselves on both side of the ball, the Wizards should rise in the East, but if they don’t, it will be just another disappointing season for the franchise.
And remember: With expectations come disappointment.