What’s Wrong with the Wizards? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

What’s Wrong with the Wizards?

Updated: December 27, 2012

Jan Vesely probably isn't the answer.

Jan Vesely probably isn’t the (only) answer.

For three straight years, they drafted high in the lottery, nabbing a trio of coveted players: A sure-fire star who’d dazzled college basketball in his one season as a freshman. Next, a terrific athlete with great energy and defensive presence. Finally, a scorer who made the game look easy.

Of course, there was no guarantee that these lottery tickets would pay off.

But that team—the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise—somehow hit the jackpot on all three.

The Washington Wizards, with their own collection of youngsters … haven’t.

Major Culprit: No Success with Player Development

It may not be fair to compare the Wizards to the Thunder. No one has Oklahoma City’s track record on player development.

But to be the best, you have to at least compete with the best. And it’s staggering that the Wizards seem to keep washing out, while the Thunder—picking at similarly high positions—keep maxing out on their players’ potential.

  • Most fans forget that Russell Westbrook (the Thunder’s #4 pick in 2008) was seen as a draft reach by many analysts. He’s now a perennial All-Star.
  • James Harden (the #3 pick in 2009) was projected as a “solid” player by ESPN’s John Hollinger—a compliment, to be sure, but Hollinger said the same thing about fellow 2009 draftees Austin Daye (3.6 ppg this year) and Jonny Flynn (now playing in Australia), while Harden’s developed into a star who averages 25.8 ppg, albeit for the Houston Rockets.
  • Outside of the lottery, Serge Ibaka (the #24 pick in 2008) struck Sports Illustrated as a “long-term project who might not play in the NBA for several years”; Ibaka led the league in blocks last season.

That list ignores the Thunder’s leader, Kevin Durant (the #2 pick in 2007), whom nearly every analyst correctly pegged as a future superstar. But Durant’s patchy rookie season—a PER of 15.8, playing on a team that went 20-62—wasn’t so different from the debut of the Wizards’ John Wall (the #1 pick in 2010), who had a PER of 15.8 on a team that went 26-56. And Wall, too, was highly touted entering the league.

“Think Derrick Rose meets Jason Kidd,” ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote in March 2010. Wall “has the chance to be an NBA superstar.”

But that possibility appears to be increasingly slim. Wall showed little progress in his second season, and the knee damage that will sideline him for at least a few more games is a foreboding injury for a player whose star is hooked to his athleticism.

Meanwhile, Wall’s would-be running mates have turned out like a bizarro version of the Thunder’s young talent.

  • Jan Vesely (the #6 pick in 2011) is averaging 2.4 ppg, arguably the worst free-throw shooter in the league, and at times “is just running around out there,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said earlier this year.
  • Drafted for his scoring ability, Bradley Beal (the #3 pick this season) is shooting 36% from the field and 28% from three; Wittman benched him at the end of Wednesday night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
  • And Kevin Seraphin (the #17 pick in 2010), a pleasant surprise in the spring, has painfully regressed; his PER of 10.5 is well down from the 15.8 he posted last season. Chris Singleton (the #18 pick in 2011) appears to have fallen out of the rotation.

Cracks Beginning to Show

Forget the positive pixels. With a 3-23 record, the knives are coming out.

Earlier this week, NBA.com’s David Aldridge took a snapshot of the team’s “dreadful” season, speaking to a few players off the record about the Wizards’ constant struggles. One player warned Aldridge that it was “like there’s a cancer” in the locker room and another telling the columnist that he “see[s] division, and no vision.”

Meanwhile, SB Nation’s Mike Prada says it’s clear that the Wizards are “spinning wheels with their young players again.” Riffing off a quote from Coach Wittman, Prada writes,

Once again, young players are not developing. Once again, the men in charge of trying to develop those young players are venting that they may think too much about themselves instead of the team as a whole.

Troubled Situation

But the problems don’t end with the Wizards’ young players.

The problem is the team’s lack of ability. The problem is the late-game execution.

The problem is that there are too many problems.

Take your pick.

It’s sad to pen yet another post about the Wizards’ ongoing struggles. But until the team figures out a way to demonstrate progress, the story will be about the team’s inability to win, and whether there’s something rotten at the core.

Because it’s the only story left to write about a team that’s lost 23 of its 26 games this year, and is on the way to yet another horrifying season.

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Dan Diamond
Contributor at TAI

  • The decisions been made looks as if the Washington Brass cannot evaluate talent, when the are drafting, why would they cut a dveloping point guard far a washup veteran.

  • Chris

    I’m not sure I understand how a franchise can take the long view of rebuilding and player development when it is being run by two men with overwhelming incentive to win now. Both Randy Wittman and, to a lesser degree, Ernie Grunfeld must worry about the fallout of another losing season. Both have done enough in their time in the NBA to warrant extreme skepticism about their ability to build and sustain any amount of success, and it therefore behooves them to make moves that lead to a win today and a win tomorrow, often to the detriment of the team’s long-term interest in developing players on whom they’ve invested high draft picks and their chance for long term success.

    How else to explain the minutes being given to Emeka Okafor, a player with virtually no upside? He is a proven NBA veteran, yes, and a better player today than Vesely, but only one of those players should factor at all in Washington’s future plans. And yet, they’re playing the other guy.

    How to explain the recent unabashed reliance upon Jordan Crawford as the centerpiece of the offense, when he cannot realistically be seen as a long term focal point of their attack? Instead of developing an offense designed to get Washington’s young players comfortable contributing on the offensive end, the Wizards have made a knee-jerk, fear-based decision to turn the offense over to a guy who will score points without remotely helping the team towards having a respectable, functional NBA offense.

    Painful as it may be in the short-term, the Wizards need to run Beal and Singleton and Vesely and Seraphin out there for big minutes every night. In a best case scenario, those players develop a cohesive rhythm together on the court and form some sort of nucleus. In a worst case scenario, they fail to develop as players and at least the Wizards can figure out what they really have. But taking half-measures designed to help the team win today when it is so clearly pointless to focus on the present only hampers the team’s need to make real progress in establishing their future.

    • AL15

      Absolutely agree with this post. If the Wizards are going to rebuild, commit to it fully and develop the players who will be the future of the franchise. Unfortunately, like Chris correctly pointed out this will not happen as long as the Coach and GM are incentivised to win now and sacrifice player development to do so.