Wiz Kids Rise Up the Chain of Command: The Article
Over the weekend, ESPN TrueHoop published a piece about the Wizards, authored by me (@ConorDDirks), that chronicled the half-exciting, half-frustrating journey which has made up this season of Washington basketball. Ostensibly about the precarious triumvirate between expectations, reality and potential, the piece also serves as an at-times uncomfortable reminder of some of the more notorious failures of the last six years—and some of the emotional luggage those failures have wrought, both on the fanbase and the team itself. The team’s relentless focus on simply making the playoffs, and its later confounding insistence on being in the middle, or lower half, of the Eastern Conference playoff pack, despite what some, including this writer, consider a starting five superior to any team in the Eastern Conference outside of Indiana and Miami, was unfairly conservative.
On a surface level, the TrueHoop piece perhaps could be read as a bit discordant with Washington’s subsequent playoff win. But the win is in line with the sentiment: The Wizards were better than their 44 wins. If the team had lived up to its potential in the regular season, you may not have had to suffer through the indignity of seeing a veritable ranch of cattleheads on the predictions board.
Might the Wizards have won more games had Bradley Beal (nine games missed) and Nene (29 games missed total, 21 consecutive games missed due to most recent injury) never been injured? Jeff Stotts, of Nate Silver’s datablog, FiveThirtyEight, purports to debunk that line of thinking, noting that Washington’s record without Nene was slightly better than their record with him:
“A never-absent Nene doesn’t help Washington much, since in reality the Wizards went 12-9 during the 21 games he wasn’t on the court.”
I’m not wholly convinced that this “data” is significant. It is more interesting to me that the Wizards didn’t win more games at full strength than it is that they managed to keep winning without the services of Nene, their stabilizing force. Per NBA.com/stats, the Wizards were plus-3.7 per 48 minutes in the 1,560 regular season minutes Nene played versus minus-0.3 in the 2,451 minutes he didn’t, which tells a different, more comprehensive, story than simply judging Nene’s impact based on a reductive win/loss formula.
So, without further bluster, go read the piece on ESPN TrueHoop. While the Wizards enjoy their series of deserved moments in the sun, it’s important to remember why they look so goddamn pale at the outset. Those who have been watching this team from the beginning of the season may very well be surprised by the outcome of Game 1, but not because the Wizards seemed incapable of such. On the contrary, this is a good team that has another chance to become a more consistent winner before the curtains close on the 2013-14 season.