Opening Statements: Wizards vs Nuggets, Game 44 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Nuggets, Game 44

Updated: January 28, 2016

Teams: Wizards vs Nuggets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 6 points.

True: The Washington Wizards are not a good basketball team.

False: The Wizards will fire Randy Wittman.

Better than only 11 other NBA teams, the Wiz are definitely below average and have fallen off the cliff of expectations. The calls for Wittman’s head are neither unfair nor something new this season. Many knowledgeable NBA fans, including some writers at this site, would have fired Wittman at least 100 games ago. If not, they would never have given him a three-year contract extension in the summer of 2014.

Forget that he cried in front of his players, in support his his players, after an 0-12 start to the 2013-14 season. Forget Wittman’s leadership in the “dramatic turnaround for the franchise—in both culture and on-court success,” as The Washington Post put it. Wittman’s value, in its purest form, is getting players to buy into a defensive mindset. The Wizards no longer have that mindset, or, counterpoint: the 2015-16 roster is ill-equipped to fit his stylistic prepossessions.

The commentary from inside the locker room and the numbers (both traditional and advanced stats) suggest that both things are true. Marcin Gortat, for example, has beefed publicly with Wittman this season. Even newcomer Jared Dudley has conceded that the Wizards don’t handle adversity well and can’t close out games. And the data—good and plenty at this point—indicates the Wizards are almost historically bad at defending the 3-point line. Perhaps because only three, maybe four, Wiz players are plus defenders.(1) This means 10 are not.

I’m under the informed impression that a good head coach would do more with a great point guard in his, or her, conference. And yet the results we see, the record we get, is a string of home losses followed by a couple victories over lottery-bound teams and, on a good week, a surprise win against a team above .500. I’m not crazy to think that a higher quality head coach would regularly get more out of his, or her, players. Otto Porter, third overall pick, wasn’t even considered for the Rising Stars Challenge in first two seasons. This year’s rookie, the raw but obviously (more) talented Kelly Oubre, is headed down that same path…

…Meanwhile, yonder side of the Mississippi River, first-year big man Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is averaging more assists per 36 minutes (3.3) than—get this—every Washington player except for John Wall (9.9) and Ramon Sessions (5.0). That’s right, a rookie center is dishing dimes like soon-to-be-max contracted Bradley Beal and better than every other member of the Wizards gang. And, uh, playing more than 19 minutes per game(2) under Nuggets head coach and every-fan favorite, Mike Malone.

There’s more here. “Nikola Jokic,” Malone said early in training camp, “he’s a young kid and I’m not saying he’s ready, but he does things every practice that make you say, ‘Wow, this kid has a chance to be a (heck of a) player.”

A month later, Jokic, a second-round pick in 2014, was starting in the Western Conference. “I did not expect Nikola Jokic to be our starting center 14 games into the season. But he has earned it,” Malone said in November. “He’s a guy who was wearing a pink uniform and playing in the Adriatic League last year. Now he is in the NBA, starting and doing great things.”

Back to Wittman, to compare. In October of 2013, Wittman was asked his opinion of then-rookie Otto Porter, who’d featured in the Las Vegas Summer League before injuring his hip flexor in practice. “I don’t know who he is and have not had a chance to coach him yet,” the head coach told the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan.


Malone, at least in part, has been able to resuscitate Danilo Gallinari, who looks like the stretch 4 of Ted Leonsis’ dreams. The 6-foot-10 forward with handles is averaging 19.2 points per game (35.6% from 3), 5.7 boards, and 2.5 assists. Fourth-year swingman Will Barton looks better than a real-life NBA player—he actually looks dangerous. Second-year big Jusuf “The Bosnian Beast” Nurkic is crafty as heck and full of potential. And the Nuggets (17-29), by no means better than the Wizards talent-wise, beat the Golden State Warriors, man.

Is Wittman the reason that Kevin Seraphin looked more like a black hole every season? I don’t know. Is Wittman the reason that Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely went from gotta-have prospects to NBA busts? I don’t know.

I do know that while Wittman hasn’t broken the Wizards, he hasn’t made them significantly better, either. At least not for the long haul. And maybe firing him wouldn’t make a difference this year, with no clear replacement among the Wizards assistant coaching staff, considered “one of the weakest coaching staffs in the league,” according to’s Brian Windhorst and insiders around the league. But if firing the head coach (again, Wittman will not be fired) means that there’s even a small chance of the Wizards trusting each other more, playing with purpose, and even sniffing their true potential, then paying Witt go to away would be worth it. Perhaps not for the ownership group—$3 milion per year is a steal of a deal for a head coach—but for the talent on the roster. For Steve Freakin’ Buckhantz.

I’ll watch the Wizards take on the Nuggets tonight at 7 p.m. And I will watch them win, probably. Not because Denver is 3-7 on the second night of a back-to-back(3) and certainly not because Randy Wittman “rallied the troops.” They’ll win even though they’re bad because the other team is less good.

And if they lose?

Nothing will change in Wizard World. Another dream deferred.

TAI Extras.

Key Legislature: Wizards 117 at Nuggets 115 (OT)
Wall and Lawson’s Duel Ends Out of Breath 
by Kyle Weidie in January 2015

DC Council 45: Wizards at Nuggets
‘Thank You, Kenneth’ 
by Conor Dirks

Key Legislature: Wizards 119 vs Nuggets 89
Washington Mines a Mother Lode 
by JCT (that’s me) in December 2014

D.C. Council 18: Wizards vs Nuggets
Wall & Co. Vaporize the Nugs
 by Adam McGinnis

  1. Based on Defensive FG%, those players are Nene, Gortat, Wall, and Dudley (barely)—in that order. Based on Defensive Box Plus/Minus, those players are Nene, Gortat, Porter, and Wall.
  2. That’s twice what Porter averaged as a rookie (8.6 minutes per game) and more than Oubre is averaging this season (13.4).
  3. Fun Fact: So are the Wizards!
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.