The Washington Wizards were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season. For the 2019-2020 season they ranked at the bottom in almost every major catch-all statistic to measure team defense. They were 29th in opponent points allowed per game, 29th in unadjusted defensive efficiency, and 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They also allowed opposing teams to shoot a blistering 48.8 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from behind the arc, good for second and fourth worst in the league respectively.
Despite these obstacles, they managed to make it to the summer bubble stage of 2020’s pandemic shortened season, but it was mostly on the strength of their offensive performances, and Herculean scoring efforts from Bradley Beal. The Wizards collectively scored 114.4 points a night, good for seventh best in the league and Beal ranked fifth in the league with a 34.4 percent usage rate. They ultimately did not advance to the postseason in the bubble and ended up dropping further in the standings, as Beal and sharpshooter Davis Bertans sat out the seeding games.
Where the Problems Lie
The problem is personnel. The Wizards only had three players with a positive defensive box plus minus last season (Gary Payton II, Chris Chiozza and CJ Miles) none of whom are on the team this season and Beal was the third worst defensive player on the team in this metric with a -2.4. Even with former Coach of the Year Scott Brooks at the helm, the Wizards have been pushovers on the defensive side of the ball, and not quite good enough on the other end of the court to make up for it.
So far this season, the Wizards have given up 113 points to the 76ers, and 130 and 120 to an Orlando Magic team that had the sixth worst offense in the league in terms of points per game last season. Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross got whatever they wanted against a Wizards’ defense that seemed incapable of defending without fouling, as the Magic shot 38 free throws. If the 121 points they are currently allowing per game was extrapolated out over a whole season, they would have been the worst scoring defense in the league last year by almost two points a game.
High Expectations, Disappointing Results
Expectations are high for the team are high this year. They would not make a trade for a former MVP and All-NBA player like Russell Westbrook if they didn’t plan on making some noise in the playoffs. But despite Westbrook having two triple doubles to start his Wizards career, he was inefficient in achieving both, shooting just 36.6 percent from the floor and starting his Wizards career 0-6 from three. Many thought Westbrook would be able to help cover up the team’s defensive issues by giving them another offensive engine, taking some of the scoring and playmaking pressure off Beal and allowing both to be more locked in on the defensive end. Unfortunately, basketball is a team game and by retaining poor defensive players like Bertans and Thomas Bryant, you create a problem that cannot always be solved by more offense.
The Wizards are 0-3 and something obviously needs to change to avoid a repeat of last season. Color analyst Drew Gooden said that Bradley Beal must be thinking “here we go again” as he started the season with two 30-point games and 29 on Sunday, only to lose all three games. It is unlikely that Beal sticks around if the Wizards find themselves mired in the same issues that plagued them last season, even after signing a max contract extension this offseason.
The league has seen players sign big deals and promise to stick around only to renege following a lackluster season, such as Westbrook’s former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Paul George. Westbrook was traded, not signed by Washington, and would likely look to move on as well if the Wizards underperform, as he is probably looking to join a contender towards the end of his prime at 32 years old. Head coach Scott Brooks’ job would likely be in question if the Wizards fail to make the postseason.
It is not time to hit the panic button quite yet. The Wizards have three easy matchups the next three games with two games against the Chicago Bulls and one against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they need to start winning games soon to avoid falling behind early in the standings. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, it is a long season, and it is always easy to have a knee jerk reaction to particularly strong or weak performances early on. Here’s to hoping Scott Brooks and company have what it takes to figure it out.
‘From our Haus to yours’