The Washington Wizards have had an odd season to say the least. They started the season 0-5, were 17-32 49 games into the season, but somehow have managed to clinch a play-in spot after last night’s 121-105 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook’s heroics continued with another triple-double stat line of 21 points, 12 assists and 17 rebounds. Their record has moved to 33-38 on the year, and they have gone 16-6 over their last 22 games.
With the Wizards now squarely in the hunt to make the playoffs, it raises the question of Scott Brooks’ future status as the head coach of the Wizards. While their late season surge has been one of the best stories in the league this season, the level of talent the duo of Bradley Beal and Westbrook brings to the table makes one wonder why it took this team so long to get in together.
Defenders of Brooks might reasonably point out that the Wizards had perhaps the worst bout with COVID-19 of any team. The Wizards had six players test positive early in the season and missed almost two weeks of games and practice while quarantining and contract tracing took place. Additionally, Westbrook was nursing a quad injury sustained in the prior season and likely needed some time to become 100% healthy. Thomas Bryant and Deni Avdija also had season-ending injuries and Ish Smith missed a great deal of time as well. All of this is to say, there is a case for keeping Brooks around. He navigated the team through a great deal of adversity, especially in the midst of a public outcry (especially from Wizards Reddit) that he be relieved of his duty as head coach.
However, there is still area for concern. Critics of Brooks’ have long pointed out that even since his Thunder days his teams have run disorganized and iso-heavy offenses that rely too much on the shot creation ability of stars and not enough on chemistry and organic ball movement. Many Wizards games this season largely consisted of long sequences of Westbrook or Beal dribbling the ball slightly past halfcourt for most of the shot clock, only to take an ill-advised mid-range jumper or force a dump off to a slightly unprepared shooter. His lack of creativity or understanding of how to implement rookie forward Deni Avidja’s unique skill set into the offense was also concerning to see from such a highly regarded coach. Avdija, who was touted for his strong game IQ and playmaking as a point forward, was effectively reduced to being an oversized 3-and-D wing who seldom got the opportunity to create offense for others.
The play-in represents a strange set of circumstances for the Wizards’ organization to have to make a decision from. They have to make a decision about Brooks’ employment status fairly soon, but they are being presented with a strange body of work in terms of this season. If the Wizards ultimately make the playoffs, perhaps all the struggles of the season should be forgiven. But if they get bounced, it is hard to rationalize keeping a coach around who couldn’t make the playoffs with the second-leading scorer in the NBA, and a player who recently broke the NBA’s all-time record for triple-doubles. Brooks could very realistically be coaching for his job these next few weeks; it will be exciting to see if he is up to the challenge.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN
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