The Washington Wizards had a lot going for them entering 2015-16. The team acted as too many analysts’ tres chic pick to act as a dark horse contender in the East. Coach Randy Wittman was proving to be one of the few NBA coaches to change his spots on the fly, encouraging pace and space and smallish lineups after years of doing it The Right Way. John Wall and Bradley Beal were the backcourt beasts of the East, Otto Porter was going to be just fine, Nene was a luxury coming off the pine – we can (kind of?) tolerate Kris Humphries now!
[Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Sign up for a league today]
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
We’re over a month in, however, and the Wiz are stuck at 7-9. The team shot to bits any goodwill that could have emanated from the group’s win over the defending Eastern champion Cavaliers on Tuesday by falling, at home mind you, to the woeful Los Angeles Lakers. The squad boasts the NBA’s third-worst offense, and not even John Wall can find safety at home:
I just saw John Wall's mom crying after the game. I can't believe how fans boo him here. #wizards
— Erin Hawksworth (@ABC7Erin) December 3, 2015
Wall contributed 34 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the loss, with two steals and five turnovers, just one night after dropping 35 (with ten assists) on LeBron and Co. With that in place, the Wizards point man has been roundly criticized by local observers for not penetrating as much as he should in the half-court. He’s still roughly shooting around the same percentage of shots in the paint as he has in years past, but many of those looks have come in transition.
Meanwhile, those five miscues (part of Washington’s 23 in total on Wednesday night) are par for his and his team’s particular course. Wall coughs the ball up on nearly a fifth of the possessions he uses up, closer to Reggie Evans Territory than, say, Chris Paul Land. Jared Dudley, that three-and-D forward straight out of central casting, asked basically to stand in the three-point corner and give great quotes, is turning the ball over nearly as much percentage-wise, and the team as a whole ranks second-to last in the league in miscues – and these are percentage stats, not amped up by the team’s third-quickest pace.
Center Marcin Gortat was well in favor of the heightened pace entering 2015-16, pointing out that the combination of faster play and a smaller lineup (sending center/forward Nene to the bench to start games) would allow him more room to operate either down low or on the screen and roll plays he thrives on. Following a four game slide to finish November, however, Gortat admitted that he was dreading coming into the locker room, as the Wizards flailed away.
“It’s not easy but we got to cut the negativity we have coming from players, coaches, staff, media,” Gortat said. “We just got to cut that. It’s not even fun coming here anymore. There’s so much negativity. I understand we’re losing games but, damn, we just got to cut that right now, man. It’s not fun at all.”
The negativity, Gortat then explained, stems from loftier preseason expectations.
“Everybody felt we were going to go high, we were going to go to the conference finals, stuff like that,” Gortat said. “But we didn’t make any particular trades or signings in the offseason so it’s not like we’re supposed to be a three times much better team this year.
“We lost Paul Pierce, a guy who was a great leader and an experienced player. And we signed three players that they deliver good stuff to the table for us but at the end of the day, they are not all-stars. So expectations are high and we are not up there.”
(Marcin, according to reports, left the team early on Thursday to return to his native Poland to care for his ailing mother. Our thoughts are with him and his family.)
The center’s absence, along with Nene’s lingering calf injury and Drew Gooden’s back issues, leaves Washington no choice but to go incredibly small. This worked wonders against Cleveland on Tuesday, as Dudley spent significant time at center alongside Otto Porter and a three-guard lineup, but this sort of stuff isn’t sustainable. Even the Golden State Warriors, who often feature The Greatest Lineup Ever, know that you have to parse these things out in measured doses.
Again, with the two big men plus Drew Gooden out, these Wizards can’t help but go small. The team’s upcoming slate of games feature contests against the Suns (who boast two prominent 7-footers), the Mavericks (exhibiting center Zaza Pachulia, the offseason’s most underrated pickup), the Heat (working with the blocks per game leader in Hassan Whiteside) and Houston Rockets (fielding Dwight Howard after a scheduled rest day), but why the hell not?
It might encourage Wall to get to the rim more often. It might give Porter Jr. more room to work. It might give the team more chances at grabbing a few offensive boards, as the bigs scramble to box the little Wizards guys out. It might give Washington that needed, “we just took three of four and nearly got a sweep”-bump that it needs to turn the frown upside down.
Anything to forget that the team just lost to the Lakers, at home.
- - - - - - -