D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards vs Sixers, Game 40 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards vs Sixers, Game 40

Updated: January 20, 2014

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers

It’s our ruby anniversary! The Wizards aren’t quite at the halfway point of the season, but forty games in, they’re close enough to talk about what they will look like at the 50% mark with a straight face. The fates and uneven play of Washington’s best team since 2008 have conspired to construct a narrative revolving around math. Full disclosure: the most advanced math I’ve ever done was a “Modeling Biological Growth and Form” college course back in 2004. But if I understand correctly: the only way the Wizards finish the first half of the NBA season with a winning record is if they win the next two games (76ers, Celtics). Quantitative reasoning!

Joining me today is Tom Sunnergren (@tsunnergren), a contributor to ESPN Truehoop’s excellent Philadelphia 76ers blog, Hoop76. Let’s get it.

Teams: Wizards vs. 76ers
Time: 2:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Wizards favored by 10 points.

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Q #1: Ted Leonsis once claimed that the Wizards, after nabbing John Wall in the draft, would be temporarily bad by design. A marketing-savvy way of saying the team is administratively tanking.

I noticed that, in a 5-on-5 over at Hoop76, you said that you did not miss Philadelphia 76ers basketball during a three-day break between games (“not for a nanosecond”). The Wizards were bad by design, and then they were just bad, and now they’re decent. How long is a front office’s grace period? If you don’t miss Sixers basketball, what about folks who aren’t as interested in team-building?

@tsunnergren: I’m not sure there are any hard-fast rules, or even useful heuristics, when it comes to pinpointing the grace period afforded to a new front office. Rather than a length of time, I think the thing is this: do fans still believe things are getting better? Or, more saliently, do they believe they could? Psychologists say that people have two selves: the “now” self—the person who is sitting here now, reading this hastily constructed analogy—and the “possible” self—the person you could be, if everything breaks right, at some unspecified future date. Basketball fans are of a similar mind, and I think that as long as a front office keeps the plebes believing that their “possible” basketball team can compete in the future, they’ll be willing to overlook the failures—deliberate or otherwise—of the “now” team.

That said: The Sixers are still firmly in their grace period, but that doesn’t mean anybody wants to watch them. (Present company included.) Michael Carter-Williams is fun, and Thad Young is still very much Thad Young, but it’s boring and sort of painful to devote time and attentional resources to a basketball team that isn’t winning games; and especially boring and especially painful when you’re rooting for them to lose. Relatedly, the Sixers are last in the NBA in home attendance.

Q #2:  Michael Carter-Williams! Perhaps the best first-game debut ever by a rookie point guard. I have a special place in my heart for Carter-Williams, since one of the main questions about his game coming into the season was … does he have a jump shot? Then, it was … is his jump shot sustainable?

It’s a narrative that Wizards fans know all too well (sometime next year, because the Sixers will still be a losing a team, some pundit will proclaim MCW a shoot-first point guard, call him selfish, and question his intelligence), since John Wall heard the same relevant, but ponderous, criticisms. Wall has not transformed into a pure shooter by any means, but has steadily improved that aspect of his game like, well, like young players are supposed to do. Give me the #HotSportsTake on why Michael Carter-Williams will never be like Chris Paul.

@tsunnergren: Nobody hands you anything in this game. In the modern NBA, respect isn’t given—it has to be earned. Snatched away, furtively, like a stray dog helping itself to a hotplate that was left on a windowsill in some nameless cityscape. You have to take it. And, honestly, I don’t think Michael Carter-Williams has the tamales to swipe that hotplate. Honestly, I’m not sure he wants it badly enough.

Because, believe it or not, in the National Basketball Association, at the position of point guard, in order to grow, you have to defer. To receive, you first have to give. Before you help yourself, you first have to pass. And when’s the last time you saw “MCW”—sorry kids, where I come from, you have to play a full season before you can go by your initials—pass up an open look to give his teammate a better one? When’s the last time you saw him turn down any look?

Carter-Williams might become the second point guard since the merger to average 17/7/5, but I’ll tell you who he’ll never be: Chris Paul.

Q #3: The Sixers have three fairly obvious trade pieces in Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes. Philadelphia’s strategy would obviously be to receive draft picks, expiring contracts, and young, development-friendly players.

But is there any benefit to keeping a player like Thaddeus Young to stabilize the development and confidence of all of Philly’s currently, and prospectively, nascent NBA entities? Or is too cruel to ask a veteran of Young’s ability to “waste” a portion of his prime playing years on a bad team while a long-term vision he may or may not ever have the opportunity to enjoy comes to life?

@tsunnergren: I think of the three veterans, Thad Young is the most plausible 2014-15 Philadelphia 76er—which isn’t to say he’s likely to return. While Evan Turner is, improved scoring efficiency aside, still pretty terrible (he’s sporting a career-low 0.031 ws/48 on the season), and Spencer Hawes figures to get largish offers in free agency that aren’t necessarily in keeping with his career 47 percent field goal percentage and sub-average defense—rendering him expendable—Thad Young is a very good basketball player, who’s got youth on his side, and is on a super reasonable deal. He may well stick around, and the Sixers would benefit from his presence. But here’s the thing: He’s got significant trade value, is playing well enough that he’s thwarting Hinkie’s Tank Dreams, and, by the time his next (presumably more lucrative) contract begins he’ll be 28 years old. Given the extent to which his game hinges on athleticism and schoolyard energy, he could be in decline at that point. So he’s gone, too.

Over/Unders! with @tsunnergren:

Over/under 24.5 wins for the Philadelphia 76ers this season?

Under. While the Sixers are on pace for 26 wins, they have the second-worst scoring differential in basketball and are yet to unload the above-mentioned veteran trio. Things are gonna get worse. Much worse? Perhaps.

Over/under 74.5 eye-brow raising head nods while looking around at everyone around him after MCW highlights by Sam Hinkie this season?

Over. MCW has been absolutely freaky, to the surprise of everyone. Sam Hinkie included.

Over/under 0.5 games played by Nerlens Noel this season?

Over. He’s reportedly going to be cleared to play in the next month and a half, at which point I think the Sixers trot him out there. They’ll be in the thick of a heated race to the bottom with the Bucks, Celtics, and others at that point, but Noel doesn’t project as being so impactful that Hinkie would be tempted to hold him back. There’s also this: If he sits out the entirety of the season and doesn’t make his pro debut until October/November 2014, he’ll have missed approximately 21 months of basketball games. That’s a long time for a 19-year-old to sit. Too long, I think Hinkie and Co. will ultimately conclude.

Over/under 1.5 trades made by the Philadelphia 76ers before the deadline?

Over. Take the over.

Philosophical Question! with @tsunnergren:

Is he faithless that says farewell when the road darkens?

@tsunnergren: Maybe, but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.

Q #4: (3Q = (x)76/JW2)?

@ConorDDirks: I created an equation. The Wizards have constructed a trend. In the third quarter, at home, the Wizards have a team plus/minus of minus-35. Randy Wittman has, in his desperation, suggested Red Bulls (but the taurine, Randy, think of the kids!) or coffee (which is apparently something people used to drink during sports) in the locker room at halftime. The awful numbers only confirm what the eyes have seen, and although the trend is fairly recent, the data already reflects how embedded the problem is on a game-to-game basis. Here’s Wittman, in his own words:

“You come in at halftime up eight and within the first five minutes we were down one, we lose that lead and get the first timeout call, that’s tough. Somehow, again we have to get a better focus of coming out. Especially when you have a lead like that. Just try to go out and get your first four or six points and all of a sudden you’re at 14, and as the opponent you’re thinking, ‘Wow,’ instead of it being the other way around where they make their first two or three shots, now it’s a two-point game. Now they’re up leading again. But we have to move on from this one.”

Well, I’m lost. Let’s plug it into my equation. A 14 here, a 6 there … ah yes! The answer comes out to “he’s talking about the Pistons game.” But what he’s also talking about is the confidence level of an opponent: halftime provides, in most cases, a momentum vacuum. In an alternate universe, where the Wizards played consistently in the third quarter and people thought snakes were beautiful but feared butterflies, the Wizards come out of halftime strong, build an eight-point lead to a fifteen-point lead, and the Pistons lose confidence. “Confidence” is more than just a buzz word for Jan Vesely to explain why he hasn’t lived up to expectations, it’s also a deranged concept which encourages concentration which leads to made baskets which increases confidence. So if the only way to get confidence is to have confidence, how does one acquire it in the first place? Through confidence. I think my equation is broken now.

When the Pistons came back on the court on Saturday night, they played well for the first few minutes, trimmed the lead, and the Wizards got that “faraway look” described by Randy Wittman after the win over the Heat. That look is dread. And it slays confidence like I slay dragons while I’m sleeping. There are two ways to avoid dread. One is to build such a large lead that even a twenty-point advantage in the third quarter won’t matter. The second, more sustainable option, is to thrive in the momentum vacuum by mining the team’s pre-established identity. Dynamic guard play, post passing, and corner 3-pointers. Happy ruby anniversary, Wizards! Time to reflect on Martin Luther King’s incredible civil rights accomplishments and watch some basketball.



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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.