The Washington Wizards are off to a disappointing 7-9 start, so we figured it was time to have a roundtable discussion about some of their issues.
Jason Patt: It looked like Randy Wittman turned the corner last postseason, as the Wizards played a much better brand of basketball after an up-and-down regular season. The new style was expected to be fully implemented this season, but things aren’t going well so far. What’s gone wrong?
Kelly Scaletta: I think this demonstrates a couple of problems. One is placing too much emphasis on playoff performance. I know people like to say that’s “when it matters” so that’s what “really counts” and so on. But that’s logically bogus. You’re playing against the same team — at most four of them — multiple times. And, you’re playing a limited number of games. So there’s just so much opportunity for small sample size error that it’s silly.
My point being that maybe, just possibly, perhaps people we’re putting a smidge too much emphasis on how amazing the Wizards were playing Otto Porter in the playoffs last year.
The other thing is – -and I think a lot of teams are finding this out — the whole “space and pace” thing is a lot harder when you don’t have Stephen Curry running the show. John Wall isn’t exactly the kind of guy who’s going to stretch the court. Curry is impossible to duplicate, even if he makes what he does look insanely easy.
So I guess the answer is that there’s not much “wrong” so much as just a regression to the mean. The expectations were wrong. This is going to take time.
Carlos Diaz: There are multiple reasons why the Wizards are off to this bad start, but I think the main ones are John Wall’s uncharacteristic play and their lack of personnel that fit their new style. The new read-and-react offense is good in theory, but the team lacks the components to make it work. They don’t have many shooters or playmakers. Otto Porter lives off of scoring opportunities created by Wall, while Bradley Beal is still developing into a creator. Beal doesn’t have the vision to find guys out of the pick-and-roll, and although this may be his best year, still settles for too many long twos. It might be time give up on the idea of Beal being a secondary playmaker.
It’s reminiscent of last year, where most plays would just die if anyone outside of Wall would initiate them. There’s no real space to operate. It also doesn’t help that Wall and Marcin Gortat are nowhere near where they were expected to be. Wall is turning it over at a career rate and taking too many threes, while Gortat is adjusting to playing defense without Nene. Jared Dudley is still working his way back, and Alan Anderson just got cleared to practice. That should help in time, but it’s not immediately clear if this situation can be fixed. As Kelly said, if it can be resolved, it’s going to take time.
Jason: A theme of early this season has been that many teams are trying to play more uptempo ball, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to play better offense. The Wizards are an example of this. The Bulls are another. You need the right personnel to play it effectively, and while they did it in the playoffs, that was a small sample against a mediocre Raptors team and a fading Hawks squad. Also, Paul Pierce was HUGE for them.
Now with regards to Wall, Kelly wrote about him earlier today, and the conclusion was interesting. Wall has indeed regressed a bit, but not by THAT much because he wasn’t THAT good last year or in previous years. So where does John Wall figure in the point-guard spectrum? And how much better should we expect him to be?
Carlos: There will always be a ceiling on what John Wall can contribute because he can’t be depended on to put up big scoring numbers on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong, watching Wall in the open court is exhilarating, but he will always be looking for the pass. That will always put him behind point guards like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. Paul looks for the pass more often than not too, but can kill you from the right elbow with his mid-range shots; the same cannot be said of Wall. Wall can get to the basket, but he’s looking for the shooter instead of the foul.
It may be a little blasphemous, but Wall and his supporting cast seem to have a symbiotic relationship. They need him to score, but he can only be as good as they are. I’m not sure if he significantly lifts their performance over a long period of time. Based on this season alone, he may not be the best point guard in the East anymore. That title may belong to skinny Kyle Lowry now.
Kelly: Jimmy Butler’s the best point guard in the East. Haven’t you heard that’s his position? I kid, I kid!
Yeah, it’s hard to understand anything in a post-Curry world. All definitions of “ceilings” are getting reworked because we don’t even know what good and bad mean anymore. Carlos is right that Wall is a pass-first PG. That’s ironic in that it’s a label most wouldn’t put on him. He’s wrongly viewed as a score-first PG. And there was a time when all the rage was a PG who could get to the rim and kick it out to his shooters, but in an age of rim protectors and court stretching, it’s just hard to know the value of a drive-and-kick PG anymore.
I’m with Carlos on this. It all depends on his teammates. He would need just the right guys around him who can play, crazy as it sounds, “off the Wall.”
I’ll show myself out.
No, but really. It’s true.
Jason: That’s interesting that you say he’s viewed as a “score-first” PG. I feel like he’s always been seen as more of a “pure” PG because of his facilitating and ability to find open shooters. Maybe I’m wrong.
Kelly: I don’t know. That’s why perception of perception conversations are always so hard.
Anyway, suffice to say, he’s a “pure” point guard, but where that was once considered a “good thing,” it’s becoming a limitation.
Carlos: Not sure how that perception got popular, especially since the most popular John Wall play is him finding a three-point shooter in one of the corners.
Jason: Yeah, it was two years ago that there was so much hubbub about Trevor Ariza’s shooting based off Wall’s passing. I feel like Ariza should pay Wall some of his salary for making him look so good, because Ariza has taken a pretty big step back offensively in Houston.
But let’s move on, shall we? In addition to Kelly writing about Wall, Carlos wrote about Otto Porter today. He, like the Wizards as a whole, flourished (overachieved?) in the postseason last year, and he had high expectations coming into this season. So far, not good. Is it reasonable to expect him to take a big step forward at this point? Or is he basically is what he is?
Carlos: To me, Porter is what he is. His best-case scenario might be as a future 3-and-D guy, but so far he’s displayed neither the 3 or D this season. He’s capable of spotting up and attacking a close out, but I’m not sold on him as a secondary ball handler or playmaker. He may look better if he moonlighted as a small-ball power forward occasionally. He could leverage his speed and length for more scoring opportunities , but I’m not sure if his slighter build could handle the beating of going against typical bigs.
He kind of reminds me of Harrison Barnes, or as Twitter affectionately refers to him, “Harry B.” They contribute on occasion, but I can easily forget that they are on the court. Barnes at least does well as a small-ball PF, but I’m not sure if Porter could handle that role extensively based on his production thus far.
Kelly: I was not all that sold on Porter as a stretch 4 to begin with. To borrow from Carlos’s article, I’d say my opinion of him as always been “meh.”
I think there’s room for him to grow, but it’s obviously not going to be overnight. He’s going to need time to develop his jumper, which has never been great, and which is why I was really skeptical about the enthusiasm coming into this year.
Jason: Porter has quite a ways to go to be even as effective as Barnes. Harry B has always been a solid shooter and was really darn good last season in his role, although maybe Porter would look the same way playing in that system with those players. I can see the similarity in terms of them not being able to consistently create offense for themselves, but Barnes has shown more potential of it.
Carlos: Barnes has definitely been more productive. The expectations that were heaped on Porter reminded me of Barnes’s situation a few years ago following Golden State’s 2013 playoffs. Like Porter, Barnes had an impressive postseason but faltered when more responsibility was placed on him the following season. Barnes had to endure a lot of criticism, and hopefully Porter can avoid that, but the outlook seems bleak.
Jason: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Harry B was cash during that initial postseason run a few years back, and then it was…meh…before he really picked it up last year, and he was great this year before the injury. The Wizards can only hope for the same from Porter, and maybe he’ll start hitting some of those gosh-darned open threes.
Shifting the conversation into the frontcourt, the Wizards need some type of upgrade there, right? Even if Porter can play an effective stretch 4 at times, seems like a frontcourt of Gortat, Nene, Humphries and Gooden as the primary bigs just won’t cut it.
Kelly: Seems like in today’s NBA, you really need a big who is both athletic and long. None of those guys fit that description. And the thing is, everything is different now than it was five years ago. Or even two years ago.
I do think there’s still some trade value on this roster. But, as it’s constructed, I don’t see them as more than second-round material. Moving Gortat or Nene might help, but to whom and for whom are pretty massive questions.
Jason: Oh, I just realized that Ryan Hollins and DeJuan Blair are the healthy bigs for the Wizards in today’s game. Things are going great.
Carlos: Even though Jared Dudley is getting back into game shape, he’s played well for them. I think most lineups with Dudley have a positive net rating, so that will help, but they’re in desperate need of bigs. Ryan Hollins is not going to save the day.
I can’t see how they move Gortat’s contract. Nene is in his last year and that would usually be a desirable asset, but the league is about to have the biggest salary cap ever so it’s not the commodity it once was.
What’s Emeka Okafor up to these days?
Jason: *pours one out for Emeka Okafor*
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Wizards made a move at some point, but as mentioned, not really sure what kind of deal they can make that would be a game-changer. I expect them to turn things around, but they don’t appear to be a real threat to the Cavaliers unless their star backcourt REALLY takes off and Porter breaks out. Even then, not sure that frontcourt is good enough.
Here’s a question to finish this up: Is Randy Wittman gone without a deep playoff run?
Kelly: I think he’s fine if he just gets to the second round again, but if the Wizards don’t make the playoffs or only the first round, I don’t see him surviving.
Carlos: The Wizards’ front office has had multiple opportunities to get rid of Wittman and stuck with him regardless of criticism. I don’t see them doing it, especially since he’s playing the way they want to him play. They acquired players that they thought would help the team transition to a new offense. I’m not sure Wittman is to blame for the situation. Unless the players start making noise about Wittman or the situation starts deteriorating rapidly, it’s likely that he’ll be back next year.
Jason: I feel like another playoff series win PROBABLY gets him another year, but a first-round loss might mean he’s a goner, and missing the playoffs would almost certainly mean he’s done.