After another tough loss on Saturday night—a game where the Wizards fell behind the Detroit Pistons by as many as 22 points, before clawing back to lose by only nine—Washington’s players and staff dutifully trooped in front of the microphones.
Reporters’ questions were predictable. Do the players lack confidence? (The players’ answer: No.) Would a healthy John Wall make a difference? (Players’ answer: Yes.)
But they’re all variations on the same theme: What’s wrong with this team?
In their own words, here’s how Wizards staff and players last week explained this season’s painful struggles–and one TAI writer’s response.
“We’re just getting buried out there.” – Coach Randy Wittman
Heading into Wednesday night’s home loss to Cleveland, the Wizards had led at the end of the first quarter just three times this season—and trailed 22 times.
That inability to compete from the tip would seem to indict the Wizards’ talent level; the starting lineup is a hodge-podge of retreads, flawed young players, and Nene.
But having shed so many “knuckleheads,” and having already foolishly dealt Rashard Lewis’s mammoth contract, the team has few assets left to acquire any real difference-makers, at least for this season.
So beyond waiting on injured players to recover, adding D-league call-ups or fringe free agents—and barring a major trade—this team is what it is.
Meanwhile, it’s telling that those departed “knuckleheads” are impressing in more-limited roles on other teams. JaVale McGee is currently 12th in the league in PER, while Andray Blatche is 10th.
Both players likely needed a fresh start. Partly because, like so many other young players before them, they couldn’t reach their potential in D.C.
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in. You just have to keep working. You just have to keep shooting the ball.” – Bradley Beal
For the Wizards, “sometimes” is more like “fairly often.” The team has the lowest FG% in the league (40.4%), but the Wizards’ shooting ability looks even worse when consulting their “effective FG%” statistics, which is adjusted to account for three-point shooting. On eFG%, the Wizards are 44.3%—miles behind league leaders Miami (55.2%), San Antonio (53.4%), and the Thunder (52.7%).
And the team’s prized rookie (Beal has an eFG% of 40.4%) is one of the biggest culprits.
“I’m wavering just a bit on Bradley Beal,” ESPN’s Chad Ford said this week. “For a guy that looks like he can shoot, he sure doesn’t make many shots.”
“I understand the fans’ frustrations. We have to do better. We have to play better. You don’t have excuses with injuries, but the fact of the matter is that we have them.” – Team President Ernie Grunfeld
Grunfeld offered the above comments in an interview with NBA.com’s David Aldridge; he also suggested the team will wait to reevaluate its options until Washington “can get everybody together.” Presumably, that includes a healthy John Wall, the return of Trevor Booker, and a fully recovered Nene.
But while the Wizards seem “paralyzed” because of their injuries, according to Aldridge, other short-handed teams are charting a different course. Minus Derrick Rose–and with a totally revamped bench–the Chicago Bulls remain in contention for a division crown. With no Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers are hovering near .500. The Minnesota Timberwolves have gone 6-5 in games without Kevin Love. Even teams completely devoid of star power, like the 11-18 Phoenix Suns and the 12-16 Orlando Magic, are well ahead of 3-23 Washington in the standings.
“We just really want to win really bad, plain and simple.” – Martell Webster
No one doubts the desire. “This team is ready to win,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said in November, back when the Wizards were a mere 0-11. And hunger can go a long way in the Association. But moral victories can’t make up for weak shot-making skills, bad late-game execution, and a dearth of talent.