After pushing the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to six games in the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, expectations immediately skyrocketed for the Washington Wizards heading into this season.
This was the year John Wall was to take his game to new heights, and when Bradley Beal was supposed to fully transform into the Robin to Wall’s Batman. Washington was supposed to be a championship contender. They started the season looking like one with a record of 22-8 in 30 games, but they’ve gone just 12-19 since.
Washington isn’t ready for the big-time, at least not yet anyway.
Let’s take a look at that 22-8 stretch. During that time, the Wizards put up 100.6 points per game, a somewhat low number for such a winning team. However, it was their stifling defense that contributed to many of their victories. Washington held their opponents to 96.8 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting in those first 30 games. They also ranked tops in opponent field goals made, opponent field goal attempts and opponent assists.
Wall’s excellent play was another factor that propelled Washington to that fast start. The point guard recorded 18 double-doubles through 30 games, tied for first in the NBA at that point in the season.
During the Wizards’ decline, Wall hasn’t let up too much, averaging 16.8 points and 9.8 assists while recording 15 double-doubles in 31 games.
The cause of the decline, though, stems from some untimely struggles on both sides of the court, but especially on offense.
Washington’s offense has completely fizzled, as they’ve put up just 96.6 points per game in the last 31 games, four points less per game compared to their 30-game start. Much of that decline can be attributed to a prolonged absence of Beal, although the young shooting guard has had his share of troubles as well.
We all know about the stigma surrounding Beal: he can’t produce when Wall isn’t on the court. Last season, the shooting guard seemed to shake that stigma, shooting a similar percentage when Wall was on/off the court.
But this season has been a different story, and all of a sudden that negative stigma has erupted once again. Beal is shooting 42.7 percent with Wall on the court, compared to 36.1 percent when Wall heads to the bench, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
That low shooting percentage causes some issues for Washington, sometimes forcing Wall to stay on the floor for extended periods of time to create offense. If Beal, who’s supposed to be option number two, can’t produce efficiently, where’s the offense going to come from? The rest of the starters are all averaging double-digits, but we’re not talking about a Atlanta Hawks or San Antonio Spurs type of offense here.
This offense is run by Wall, and while he’s a great player, it’s just not as dangerous from a team standpoint. Although Washington is among the elite in assists per game, Wall’s 10.1 dimes per game accounts for much of that. Besides Wall, only one other player averages 3.0 assists or more. Golden State, Atlanta and San Antonio all have four players averaging 3.0 assists or more.
The timing of Washington’s struggles couldn’t be worse as we creep closer to the postseason. Since trading away veteran Andre Miller, the Wizards have gone 1-6. An aspect that isn’t discussed enough about the makeup of a roster is veteran leadership, something Miller provided, even if his play has declined.
We all saw the implosion of the New York Knicks begin a few years ago, and that’s a great example of veteran leadership affecting a roster. Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas were all veterans who helped the Knicks in the locker room. That’s all gone and New York has appeared rudderless for two years now.
Paul Pierce is still there to try and help keep the Wizards’ chemistry in balance, but the loss of Miller has visibly hurt Washington.
Time is limited for Washington to piece together the puzzle. There’s 21 games left in the season, and the Wizards only hold a two-game lead above sixth-seeded Milwaukee. If it weren’t for Milwaukee’s own struggles, Washington would’ve been in greater danger of falling down the playoff ladder.
The Wizards are still a young team with the core of Wall and Beal at the ages of 24 and 21, respectively. So, the future is certainly bright, but there’s still a good amount of work to do before they’re in the same discussion with the likes of Cleveland and Golden State.