The Washington Wizards entered the season with pretty high expectations after having their best season in decades last year, and especially after giving out a max contract to Otto Porter they are a very expensive team that most people figure should be at least a dark horse contender. So far in the young season that has not really been the case, they currently sit at 11-10 with quite a few totally underwhelming losses. Even though 11-10 is far from a disaster (remember the start to last season?) especially considering that Markieff Morris was only just starting to really get back into full game shape when John Wall went down with injury, there is no denying that the Wizards have just not looked quite right so far this year.
First things first: Effort and Grit.
It is a dead horse for the most part at this point, but the reality is that this Wizards team has had a tendency to play with the sort of on/off switch of the very best teams. The problem is that the Wizards are not one of those teams. The Wizards are very talented, Wall and Beal are an excellent 1-2 punch, and with Morris, Porter, Gortat, and even Oubre it looks like, they have some rock solid contributors beyond their top two guys, but they do not have the same super-star power as the Cavs or Warriors do and the reality that if you are much lower on start power than that it is tough to get by with an on/off switch. Once again though, this is a point that is beat to death with this Wizards team so I won’t pile on it too much more.
Some good news:
The good news about the Wizard’s start is actually that the advanced numbers look quite a bit better than the record so far. Despite the current record, the Wizards advanced stats are better than the record shows. For starters they have retained their very good offense from last year, currently sporting the 7th best offensive efficiency in the NBA by scoring 106.5 points per possession, and while their defense is still a bit lacking its makr of allowing 103.7 points per 100 possessions and a 13th place finish is nothing terrible. Combine the two and the Wizards are sporting a net rating of +2.8 per 100 possessions, which is the 8th best in the NBA. For reference, the Detroit Pistons, currently sitting at 2nd in the Eastern Conference, are 11th in net rating and have a worse offense and defensive rating than the Wizards (by a small margin) and while there is other news around that, it is a good indication that the Wizards have definitely suffered from a bit of bad luck so far and it is likely that their record will better reflect their offensive and defensive effectiveness by the time the season is over.
Get everyone back healthy.
This is fairly straightforward, but last year the Wizards were carried by an awesome starting unit that fit together well and played together well. The chemistry and effectiveness made it one of the best high usage lineups in the entire NBA last year, but so far this year it hasn’t really gotten a chance to take off. So far this year, the starting lineup featuring Morris has a net rating of just +1.2, which is not particularly notable. Before Morris returned the starting lineup with Oubre was a monstrous +22.5, but Oubre has already begun to cool a bit from deep so that number was likely to come down at some point regardless.
The point though is that the Wizards starting lineup is not just good because it has good players, it is good because of how well those good players fit together. The proper starting lineup has not really had a chance to get going together again, Morris is still working himself into game shape and now Wall is hurt. By the time Wall returns Morris should be all the way in form (if he isn’t already) and then they can start to really get going again, as long as they can float themselves until their best player returns then they should be fine for the long term.
Within this idea, there is another good thing for the Wizards. The reality is that they are very unlikely to miss the playoffs this year barring total disaster, so the reality is that as long as they have it figured out by the end of the season they probably have enough talent to get into the playoffs even with some struggles to get rolling.
The bench finding anything:
Part of this is the constant struggle to try and convince Scott Brooks to stagger the minutes of his starters and stars a little bit, but I think that after so many years (if you include all his years in OKC) it is pretty clear that he doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in using anything other than a full on bench mob for stretches of games.
Ian Mahinmi has been especially disappointing. He was almost ensured to be overpaid the moment he signed his contract, but this is honestly getting to the point that it is almost embarrassing. The guy literally has more fouls than points so far this season, and this is from a guy who was expected to be a major contributor for the Wizards. He could still turn it around, but so far this year combined with last season being mostly lost to injury and he has been a total disaster so far.
Tim Frazier was expected to be a steadying change to the backup point guard spot which was particularly sore last year, but he is shooting below 30% from deep and below 40% from the field and turning the ball over at a high rate and his having the worst season he has had since he broke into regular playing time a couple of years ago.
Jodie Meeks, who was expected to be a great added scoring punch has also laid an absolute dud so far this year as the career sniper is shooting just 30.8% from deep and 38% from the field which is way below where it needs to be. The only bench addition that has actually worked out this year is probably Mike Scott who has actually been a nice spurt of athleticism and shooting off the bench.
The good news is that Meeks and Frazier are definitely capable of being much better than they have been so far. Meeks is a career 37.3% shooter from deep and has a career true shooting percentage of 56.6% which is also much higher than his current mark, and Frazier was really solid with the Pelicans the last couple of years. If they can both turn it around there is a chance that the bench mob ends up being not terrible, but perhaps the Wizards are doomed to have bad benches forever, and Ian Mahinmi is a certifiable disaster.
In the end, the Wizards need to just get right in order to turn it around. They need everyone to get healthy and back situated and a couple of guys who are underperforming to step up to their previous standards. And once again, all you have to do is think back to last year to remember that this start is far from the time to panic, just give it some more time and there is still every reason to believe that this Wizards team can be the team people wanted it to be.