Wizards

Wizards Need to Hit Snooze on Doomsday Clock

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The Washington Wizards have lost three games in the last four days, each by more than 15 points. It is easy to take the team’s 3-11 record at face value and demand they take action towards rebuilding, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Extenuating Circumstances

Six key players have been out of the lineup as they deal with COVID-19 protocols. Russell Westbrook is still nursing a quad injury, and Thomas Bryant is out for the season. Alex Len, Jordan Bell, Cassius Winston & Anthony Gill played real rotational minutes despite limited experience. The nine-to-ten players that did play had little practice time after being away for nearly two weeks.

With all those issues, how can anyone reasonably expect chemistry or a flowing offense?

Part of what makes Washington so frustrating to watch is that in the last game (Jan. 11) before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wizards blew out the Suns, 128-107. The defense looked promising, and the rotation appeared close to complete, with nine guys playing 20 minutes. Of that group, Mo Wagner, Davis Bertans, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Ish Smith were missing from the lineup this week.

That’s half the rotation! Other teams playing at a roster deficit due to COVID-19 can afford to be more patient than the Wizards.

It would be one issue if the group that handled the Suns lost significantly three times in a row, but that’s not the case. The Wizards are counting on fringe bench players and G-Leaguers to get them through this slate, and that isn’t realistic.

Fortunately, Hachimura, Bertans and Wagner will return Friday night against the Hawks.

The Ghost of 0-5

This run of games would be a lot more palatable if it weren’t for the 0-5 start to the season. With every loss, the mountain the Wizards have to climb to reach .500 overall grows more daunting, and playoff chances fade. Even with the team’s COVID-19 and injury context, it’s challenging to lose three straight after two weeks of inactivity. Unlike the 6-12 Miami Heat, who also battled COVID-19-related absences and a slew of injuries, the Wizards don’t have a recent Finals appearance to point to and say, “everything will be fine once we get back to the way things were before.”

Missing core pieces has exacerbated Brooks’ struggles. The offense remains stagnant and void of any rhythm, and the defensive effort and personnel pairings are still suspect. Still, there are legitimate role players that can contribute. Raul Neto, Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga and Garrison Mathews could be used better than they have been this week.

Robinson had 16 points against the Spurs on Sunday night and was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Bradley Beal. How does Scott Brooks reward him? By starting Gill in his place on Tuesday night against the Rockets. It will be impossible for Jerome Robinson or any of the Wizards young guys to establish a rhythm if there is no consistency in the way Brooks deploys them.

Mathews is the best spot-up shooter the Wizards had available this week, but Brooks refuses to make him a consistent part of the offense even when the team is shorthanded. It is inexcusable that he only had three shot attempts against the Houston Rockets. Consider that Houston continued to play small and encouraged the Wizards to shoot and play in transition. The team shot 5-26 from deep that night, and Mathews could have helped that percentage if Brooks fed him more.

Lastly, Brooks is mishandling Westbrook’s injury recovery. On January 11th, Washington announced that Russ would be out 3-4 weeks with a quad injury.

Why is he back in the lineup getting 20+ mpg two weeks later? He isn’t getting to the rim and has lost explosiveness and the ability to attack his defender off the dribble. Teams are letting him settle for long jump shots early in the shot clock, just as they did last year in the Rockets’ playoffs.

He isn’t anywhere near 100%, and he shouldn’t have been out there in those two games. This is déjà vu from years of John Wall playing despite nagging leg injuries. Brooks is not helping anyone by playing Westbrook when he isn’t ready to compete.

The Elephant In The Room Is A Hologram

On the surface, Bradley Beal has every reason to want to leave. If he asked out tomorrow, nobody would blame him. He is dropping over 35 PPG on insane efficiency, and yet the team is 3-11 and probably not going to make the playoffs.

So why does he continue to reinforce his loyalty in post-game press conferences and commitment to winning in DC?

Instead of pointing the finger at Brooks, Westbrook, the bench or the guys out with COVID-19, Beal continues to shoulder the blame. This is not the rhetoric of a disgruntled superstar who wants to be traded i.e. Paul George, Jimmy Butler or Anthony Davis. Beal is a loyal leader who is frustrated with losing but equally wary of the circumstances.

Is it likely that Beal is on the team to start next season? No. But the demands to trade him right now are premature. The trade deadline is two months away, and Beal’s value is not going down anytime soon. If the group of guys out with COVID-19 return and the team continues to struggle, then Tommy Sheppard can start fielding offers and consider trading Beal and kickstarting the rebuild.

Still Hope In The Capitol

Every year there are teams that struggle early and pull it together later in the season. Conversely, there are always teams that are hot out of the gate only to regress back to the mean. It happens in every sport. Why not the Wizards? What if Avdija, Hachimura, Bertans, Wagner & Smith come back and the team starts playing like it did against the Suns? Or Westbrook recovers and returns to form?

This team is still only a few games removed from play-in seeding and four games back from the sixth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. The last time the Wizards started a season 3-9 — also troubled by injuries and absences — the team won 46 games. Granted, that was a much stronger iteration of the Wizards roster, but the point remains; there’s a lot of basketball left to be played, and there is no harm in waiting a few more weeks to see if the situation improves once the COVID-19 outbreak is over.

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About Danny Fanaroff

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