Ugly is an understatement. It borders on the surreal, whatever is going on with these 0-9 Washington Wizards. In the last five-plus seasons alone, we’re up to 131 wins, 272 losses, 73 players, four head coaches, two owners, and one team president of basketball operations, Ernie Grunfeld. All the problems seem different, but they add up to one big mess.
This play from Monday’s Pacers game, as described by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee, is quite unique in itself, and captures the essence of this year’s issues:
The struggles of the starters were summed up in one play in the third quarter, when Crawford drove into the lane and flipped an air ball. Okafor jumped to get the putback, but shot an air ball over the rim. Price missed a three-pointer and then Okafor had his shot blocked by Hibbert. Fans started booing.
The Wizards lucked into so many chances on this particular possession, but blew every single one of them. Sadly not so much guns-a-blazin’ (well, aside from Jordan Crawford’s crazy scoop shot air ball), but because they didn’t load enough bullets in the chamber. “Wizards” is still a bad name for a pro basketball team in the nation’s capital, after all.
But not all is so ugly. NBA games have plenty of possessions, and the Wizards can’t fail on all of them. They tend to play in bursts of confidence that compete with bouts of deer frozen in the headlights. For instance, against Indiana in the third quarter, an Emeka Okafor free throw kept the Wizards hovering at a 10 point deficit, 59-49, at the 8:28 mark. Then Indiana went on a 10-0 run over the next three-plus minutes to go up 20 points. Then the Wizards went on an 18-2 run in the final five minutes of the third to end the period down just four points, 71-67.
When Washington does make field goals (they only make 33.3 per game, second lowest in the NBA), 64.3 percent of them are assisted. This is fourth best in the NBA, after the Boston Celtics (66.6%), Chicago Bulls (65.8%), and the San Antonio Spurs (65.1%) — three very well-coached teams. Last season, only 52.3 percent of Washington’s made field goals were assisted (ranking 27th in the NBA). Similar story in 2010-11 when only 52.2 percent of Wizards FGMs were assisted. This improvement is the most positive aspect to the season thus far.
There could be a variety of reasons why the Wizards are netting more assists on made buckets this time around. They have no go-to scorers, everyone has to pass the ball. To an extent, yes, but when have the Wizards ever, in the past four-plus seasons, had any go-to scorers (besides Nick Young, who was only worth half-a-pence in the “go-to” department, being the offensive black hole that he was)? The Wizards don’t have John Wall, and thus are playing at a slower pace, and thus have less unassisted fast-break points. The percentage of the Wizards’ total points scored on fast breaks going from 16.9 percent in 2010-11 to 19.2 percent last season to 15.7 percent this season only goes so far in explaining the absence of Wall’s run.
Ridding the roster of several selfish players, a Randy Wittman-coached team runs an offense that seeks to win with a disparity of talent. But the Wizards have no scoring superstars. Kevin Durant ain’t walking through that door. Washington does not have enough talent to get by as an NBA team right now, even with Bradley Beal and John Wall — a poor man’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook, if you will. Of course, now that Harden is in Houston, is there an “OKC Model” to follow anymore? Trading away a 23-year old, 6th Man of the Year, All-Star caliber guard because you fear you won’t be able to pay him isn’t exactly an ideal model.
The presence of John Wall and Nene (who could return to the court tonight in Atlanta) will help — certainly neither will be draining the team of assisted baskets any time soon. But without a superstar added to the mix, the Wizards will continue to be on the outside of NBA relevancy looking in, while the possibility of eventually losing a second-tier star like Wall looms. Not all is ugly with the Wizards, but I didn’t exactly say they were chock full of promise, either.
The Not So Ugly:
Shaun Livingston, on a post up, finds Bradley Beal for a corner 3-pointer.
A play for Beal… Double screen action gets the rookie a 3-pointer.