Opening Statements: Wizards at Nuggets, Game 45 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Nuggets, Game 45

Updated: January 25, 2015

[Ed. Note: This is the first TAI contribution from Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur), Washingtonian, Gonzaga High and Morehouse alum, and follower of the Washington Wizards.]

Washington Wizards vs. Denver Nuggets

The Wizards and the Nuggets will both try to avoid matching their longest losing streaks for the season of three and six games respectively. The Nuggets are a franchise at a crossroad, not good enough to maintain relevancy in the deep Western Conference, but also not bad enough to stay in contention for a Top 5 draft pick. The Wizards, on the other hand, have the luxury of being one of the top tier teams in the Eastern Conference, but need to get focused for a very difficult stretch of games before the All-Star break.

These next two games against the Nuggets and Lakers are critical must-wins to assure at least a .500 record on their current four-game road trip—they’re also the only two non-playoff teams the Wizards will face until Brooklyn in D.C. on February 7. The Nuggets are not going to roll over for anyone, and with their floor general Ty Lawson returning to action from his recent DUI arrest, this should be a competitive game for the Wizards. Denver is coming into Sunday night’s game with the 12th ranked offense in the NBA, averaging 101.6 points per game, and should be a formidable test for a struggling Wizards defense which has been outscored in the second half in each of their nine last losses and in 14 of 19 games overall.

One of the Wizards’ major problems over this stretch has been the inconsistent play from their wing bench players. Rasual Butler has cooled down in the month of January, watching his points per game drop to 7.7 (39.2 FG%) after a healthy 11.6 points per game (47.6%) in the month of December. Coach Randy Wittman keeps trying to incorporate Martell Webster into the rotation at the expense of Otto Porter’s growth and development. Wittman has also tried to infuse a little more youth into the second unit by shifting his substitution pattern and allowing Bradley Beal to run with the bench mob in the second and fourth quarters. Beal, however, has struggled this season as a secondary ball-handler having increased his turnovers from 1.8 per 36 minutes last season to 2.1 per 36 this season.

Like Paul Pierce said back in December: “We have to build ourselves on great habits.” Sunday’s night’s game against the Nuggets needs to serve as a building block for getting back on track and finishing strong.

Stopping by TAI today is Justin Faudree (@SmoothsHoops), contributor to the ESPN TrueHoop blog Roundball Mining Co. Let’s get Rocky Mountain…

Teams: Wizards at Nuggets
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
Television: CSN/NBATV
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 3 points

#1) With the Nuggets being on the outside looking in of the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff hunt and currently on a five-game losing streak, how different will this current roster look after the February 20 trade deadline?

@SmoothsHoopsThat’s really impossible to judge because no one knows what the franchise’s plans are moving forward. Everything is very much a mystery. Does ownership and management still feel the team is good enough to contend? Would that make a coaching change more likely than a roster rebuild? What players would be available should a full rebuild be their chosen path? Do they think any player is untouchable? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions because I don’t see a coherent vision or plan. There have been rumblings the team is floating Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo in discussions. If they’re willing to part with Lawson, it would appear no one is off the table.

I would say Lawson and Afflalo are most likely to be playing for another team by February 20. The second tier would include Wilson Chandler and/or Danilo Gallinari and Darrell Arthur. The third tier might be Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson. The Nuggets are kind of stuck with no good way out. Lawson is good, but most playoff teams already feature point guards as good or better. Their assets are difficult to pin down. Who might want what Denver is offering? I don’t know.

#2) DMV native Ty Lawson has been in the news for the wrong reasons this past week, but is slated to return Sunday against the Wizards.

Does this type of negative story, combined with his active Twitter personality (anointed the Social Media MVP by Bill Simmons in his latest trade value column), detract from the impact that Lawson is having on the court as the leader of the Nuggets and the de facto face of the franchise?

@SmoothsHoopsIn my opinion, no. Lawson is still Denver’s best player. Regardless of what happens with him off the court, he will always be their best player. And while he may be the current face of the franchise, he is most likely not its leader. I believe Danilo Gallinari’s steady resolve occupies that role—even while he’s been injured. The negative publicity of this story is nothing new for the Nuggets. There’s been negativity surrounding this team since Masai Ujiri walked and George Karl was fired. Nothing can detract from what is already a difficult situation.

#3) One hundred and thirty games into his coaching career, Brian Shaw has a win-loss record of 54-71 and has had a bottom 5 ranked defense as far as points per game allowed in both years of his tenure. Do the Nuggets fans attribute this to a rebuilding effort or are there growing concerns about Shaw’s effectiveness as an NBA head coach?

@SmoothsHoopsI believe Nuggets fans are concerned about both of those things. Sure, Brian Shaw might not be the best coach. But how good is his roster? Is the roster good enough to be coachable? Should they really be winning more games? It’s impossible to differentiate where the problems begin and end. My guess is it’s a little of both. The roster needs a serious influx of talent (as can be seen by what may or may not be returned in potential trades) and the coaching may not be up to snuff if and when the rebuild is complete. But like I said above, no one knows what’s going on with the Nuggets. There is no easy fix. Where would you even begin?

#4) Rookie center Jusuf Nurkic has been quite impressive in 31 games of action this year and a PER of 17.1, ranking him second amongst all rookies. Do the Nuggets think they have found a hidden gem with this mid-first round pick?

@SmoothsHoopsYes, I think they believe to have found a hidden gem. They likely wouldn’t have traded Timofey Mozgov if they thought otherwise. And no one can blame them. Nurkic has been the team’s most (only?) pleasant surprise this season.

#5) One of the weakness’ that I see for the Wizards is the lack of depth on the wing. The Nuggets are a talented roster with multiple assets to trade (Afflalo, Chandler, Galo, Foye.) Would there be any interest in former No. 3 overall pick Otto Porter to complete any such transaction?

@SmoothsHoopsWhen pondering any such trade scenario, it’s best to look at the contract of the player returning. Seeing how Otto is owed $15.1 million over the next three years, I find it very hard for Denver’s front office to rationalize such a trade—unless a third or fourth team was involved to cushion the blow of some of Denver’s larger contracts. According to the ESPN Trade Machine, a Chandler-for-Porter straight-up swap would not work, as it takes the Wizards over the luxury tax. The Nuggets are in no place to be adding salary. However, they did just that in trading Nate Robinson for Jameer Nelson. So what do I know? Anything with Denver would be difficult to accomplish. The best answer is there are no easy answers.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.