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The Wizards are a Conundrum

The Washington Wizards were supposed to be an up-and-coming team this season after a nice little postseason run last year. And at the start of the year, the Wizards looked the part, despite an early injury to Bradley Beal. Washington started the season with a sterling 31-15 record and appeared to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Now, I have no idea what to think of the Wizards.

Since that 31-15 start, Washington has gone 9-16, a stretch that included a six-game losing streak in February. A streak that featured back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers. Sure, there were a few injuries mixed in (Beal with another leg problem, for one), but losing back-to-back games to those two teams isn’t a good look.

The Wizards appeared to find themselves earlier in March, winning five straight games against mostly Western Conference opponents. That included victories over the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, who have been playing much better since the All-Star break.

But right as it seemed like Washington was back on track, then came a disastrous three-game swing in California that featured a 14-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, a 23-point loss to the Sacramento Kings and a 31-point annihilation against the Golden State Warriors. All that momentum from the five-game winning streak is shot, and now the doubts begin to creep back in.

The loss to the Warriors was a microcosm of the team’s play over the last few months. The Wizards competed well for one half, but then proceeded to make one field goal in the third quarter en route to an eight-point quarter. Much credit obviously goes to Golden State’s elite defense, but it’s incredible that a team with as much talent as Washington could lay such an egg offensively in a competitive game.

Wizards head coach Randy Wittman pointed out that this type of meltdown has been a trend, according to Ben Standing of CSN Washington:

“It’s a troubling trend that we’ve had for the last 20, 25 games,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We play one good half and just the exact opposite, awful, one half to the other. ”

The coach continued. “I said something to our coaches on the bench about two-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter. I was like, ‘We’re playing in mud.’ Walking up and down … We stopped playing instead of playing through it. That’s troubling.”

The offensive issues have been a problem for a while, even though Wittman doesn’t really want to admit it. Even when Washington was winning at a high rate earlier in the year, the offense was average. Now it’s just downright bad. The Wizards have an offensive rating of 98.8 since moving to 31-15 on Jan. 27, a mark that’s fifth-worst in the league over that span, per NBA.com.

Much has been made of Wittman’s outdated offensive philosophies, and it shows up in the numbers. Washington is fourth in the league in mid-range shot attempts per game this season, behind only the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Timberwolves, per NBA.com. The Knicks and Wolves are two of the worst offensive teams in the league, and the Lakers aren’t all that good either.

The Wizards’ reliance on mid-range jumpers wasn’t a big problem earlier in the year, because they were making them at a solid rate. But over the last 25 games, Washington has taken the sixth-most mid-range attempts per game while making only 37.3 percent of those shots, the sixth-worst mark in the league, per NBA.com.

The emphasis on mid-range shots manifests itself when looking at the shot charts for Beal and John Wall. Beal, who’s shooting 41.9 percent from three on the year, is taking more mid-range shots than three-pointers despite shooting a mediocre 34.8 percent from mid-range, per NBA.com. Wall, a superb athlete who should be able to get into the paint with ease, shoots more from mid-range than the paint.  There’s certainly a place for mid-range shots, especially when they’re open, but we know these guys can do a better job taking more efficient shots that would help the offense.

Now, it must be noted that too many mid-range shots isn’t the only problem for Washington. The Wizards are shooting the three (the few they take) at a terrible rate of late, and they don’t get to the free throw line very often. (Wall is part of this problem) The defense hasn’t been quite as good as earlier in the season, although the drop-off hasn’t been that much. The bench, in general, hasn’t been good at all.

It has been a collective failure for Washington, and there’s not all that much time to figure things out before the playoffs. All hope isn’t lost, though, as the Wizards are a talented squad with a strong starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene and Marcin Gortat. That’s a group that can do some damage in the postseason, and if the bench can offer anything, perhaps a run can be made.

But the Wizards could just as easily flame out, because we have no idea what version of this team we’re going to see. The same thing could be said for the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, potential first-round opponents, but that should only be a small comfort for Washington. The Wizards need to get it together, and fast.

 

 

 

 

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