Wizards

Is Scott Brooks’ Chair the NBA’s Hottest?

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Prior to the season, the Vegas sports books had Scott Brooks as the odds-on favorite to be the first head coach fired. Brooks is currently a lame duck, in the final year of a five-year, $35 million contract he signed back in 2016.

Slow-Start Wizards Starting to Figure Things Out?

I alluded to some of his issues in my previous article here, but after Wednesday night’s loss to Philadelphia, it’s worth not only revisiting, but emphasizing just how bad he has been. His personnel decisions, and lack of justification for said choices when questioned by the press after games, are concerning for anyone trying to get a read on the long-term direction of this team. I mentioned the failure to ride Raul Neto or Isaac Bonga’s hot hands & solid defense against Orlando earlier in the season, and the three-point-guard lineup is now infamous for anyone regularly watching Wizards games.

But my concerns go beyond the simplistic, obvious lapses in judgment mentioned above. Not enough has been said about the dichotomy of vision between what the front office is building, and how Brooks’ lineups contradict that plan. It’s a clear example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Tommy Sheppard Zigs, Scott Brooks Zags

Last week, GM Tommy Sheppard picked up the team options on Troy Brown, Jr. and Rui Hachimura, and declined the team options on Jerome Robinson and Moe Wagner. A few days after that news came out, it was Robinson who saw the lion’s share of substitute minutes against Minnesota, while Brown Jr. spent most of the game on the bench. Robinson again saw minutes the next games against Brooklyn & Philly, while Brown Jr. didn’t even see the court.

So what’s the deal? Is Brown Jr. a part of the long-term plan? If Brooks isn’t going to give him minutes, then why bother picking up his option? Conversely, if you are going to play Robinson, then why did you decline his? These decisions blur the picture of whatever the Wizards’ vision for the future is. There is a part of me that speculates the only reason Robinson is getting minutes now is to showcase his value as an expiring contract & potential trade candidate.

But that argument fails to hold water when you remember the Wizards are 2-6, and making the playoffs this year is a must – can the Wizards really afford to play someone just to boost their trade value when they desperately need to win games? I doubt that’s the case, and even if it is, that is still a mistake.

Brown Jr. showed major progress in the bubble in Orlando, where he averaged 15.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. It is hard to accept that he has regressed so far from that performance that he is now out of the rotation entirely, because that’s the only way to justify his absence from the lineup. My last article detailed that Brown Jr. appears to be on the Satoransky path to a trade, but not seeing the floor at all is a whole new level of confusion.

Square Peg In A Round Hole

Eight games into the season, the Wizards are 2-6 after giving up a jaw-dropping 141 points to Philly on Wednesday. So much of that W-L record can be attributed to Brooks’ head-scratching lineup decisions. In addition to the unclear plan for what to do with Brown Jr. & Robinson, Brooks has a penchant for failing to put his players in positions to succeed and maximizing their skill-sets. His mismanagement of Westbrook is the best example of this cardinal sin.

Westbrook continues to get extended minutes with the bench, alongside Ish Smith & Neto, and often Robin Lopez. But as we saw in Houston last year, Westbrook thrives surrounded by space and shooting. He was second in the league last year in points in the paint per game (15.0) behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the reason he was able to get to the basket with ease was the Rockets’ affinity for small-ball lineups that provided open driving lanes for him to hit.

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Since joining the Wizards, he ranks 122nd in the league in this category averaging only 5.3 PITP per game. Yes, those of us have watched Westbrook over the past few years have seen the slow starts to the season before he finds his sea legs and really hits his stride come January and February. But that is an alarming drop-off in production!

And what makes it such a frustrating statistic is that the Wizards have the personnel to empower Westbrook to attack the rim. Hachimura (50%), Thomas Bryant (45%) and Deni Avdija (45.8%) are all shooting very well from behind the arc. Davis Bertans, who was paid to be the team’s best 3PT shooter, is off to a slow start, but between those three guys & Bertans — who will eventually catch rhythm once he is in better playing shape — Washington has the frontcourt rotation options to give Westbrook room to work.

Stop Leaving Your Best Defenders On the Bench

Here is a look at some of the Wizards’ minute distributions against Philadelphia:

This minute count is tough to explain away if you’re Brooks. These guys are young and supposedly all a part of the Wizards’ future –especially Sheppard’s only first round picks as GM in Avdija and Hachimura — and yet, not one of them even saw the floor in the fourth quarter against Philly when they were undersized and unable to get stops. Instead, Brooks started the final 12 minutes with the dreaded three-point-guard lineup (Smith/Neto/Westbrook) while Beal caught some rest after putting up 57 points in three quarters (sheesh!).

Once he & Bryant came in after a timeout, that was it. Brooks decided to close a tight game against the leader in the conference standings, with Smith/Beal/Westbrook/Bertans/Bryant.

The same Brooks who in a press conference yesterday, echoed Westbrook’s sentiment that “Hachimura is the only guy on this team who can guard 1-5.” If that’s the case, then why can’t he get on the floor to finish a close game? What about Bonga, who leads the team in defensive rating (100.0)? Why not Avdija who has proven to be the team’s best help defender and leads the team in overall net rating (10.5)? Their absence on the court in the witching hour of Wednesday night’s game was felt, hard.

Ultimately, if this team continues to flounder, it will be harder to justify keeping Brooks on as DC’s head coach. If he continues to manage rotations the way he has been, being friendly with Westbrook will not be enough to keep his job.

The Wizards are set to face the Celtics, Heat, Suns & Jazz in their next four games. If they don’t start to show significant progress against these teams — all of whom will be playoff bound — then Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis will have to really consider if it’s worth allowing Brooks to finish out his contract.

Closing Statement

I’m just gonna leave this poll here, which I tweeted while the Sixers were in the midst of putting up 49 pts in the second quarter:

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About Danny Fanaroff

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