Most head coaches are not often given additional opportunities to master the craft when their career record sports a .326 winning percentage and zero total playoff appearances. In fact, catching on as an assistant somewhere or even as a ‘team consultant’ might prove to be a challenge. Unless of course one of two things happens: Either A) previous stints had some obvious and justifiable reasons for failure or B) the organization doing the hiring is run by Ernie Grunfeld. Sadly for Washington Wizards fans, the latter is the one we’ve been lucky enough to witness. The aforementioned coach, Randy Wittman, was retained for the 2012-2013 after he steered the team to an 18-31 record last year following Flip Saunders’ dismissal. This was deemed worthy enough for Nation’s Capital and the contract papers were written up. As we’ve reached the halfway point of this season, it seems fair to put a label on the job done so far. I think three words should mostly summarize it – it’s not working.
Look, Wittman strikes me as a really nice guy and someone who gets through to his team. He’s gotten them to play extremely hard all season despite trying times and their effort is apparent (for example, we are only .5 games up on Charlotte in the standings but the average margin of defeat is 3.5 points better). I think I’d enjoy having him as a friend, but maybe not as a head basketball coach in a league that requires you to match wits with Gregg Popovich and Rick Adelman. The reason itself for removing the ‘interim’ label was curious. For starters, six of those wins last year came at the tail end of the season when playoff teams were resting starters and lottery teams were researching how to assist Anthony Davis in trademarking his unibrow. Secondly, Wittman was backed strongly by the team’s two stars, John Wall and Nene. These two seem particularly unqualified to weigh in on the coaching decision. Wall was a 21-year old point guard who saw his numbers maintain at the exact same level from Year 1 to Year 2 and Nene, albeit a veteran, played a grand total of 11 games in a Wizards uniform. But Grunfeld went ahead and extended him and now sitting at 11-33 it may be time to return to the coaching search this summer. I’m not intending to be overly critical or blame all of our struggles on the coach. In fact, as a huge fan it pains me to criticize the team in the first place and not just look at the positives (such as posting a 7-5 record in our last 12 games). The front office also deserves a share of the blame, but reviewing the mess the GM has created might take its own website, much less a separate column.
The season may not have been what it was had a healthy Wall and Nene been available all season, but the personnel shouldn’t be given a pass either. The roster has not been constructed in a way to withstand injuries in any fashion, but the coaching decisions that have been made by Wittman and his staff have been comedic at times, and play a big role in yet another season toiling away. The main issue in the schemes we employ is the complete lack of understanding of who is on the roster. For a team that can’t really shoot jump shots, an absurd 74% attempts come from that spectrum (in case you were wondering, our effective FG% on those shots is 40.3). We’ve turned Emeka Okafor into a pick-and-pop guy, which has led to disastrous results (although he’s finally being used properly. And the results are evident in the month of January). We allow Trevor Ariza to show a potential future in the construction business by getting his brick-laying started early. And of course there’s never a shot that either Jordan Crawford or Kevin Seraphin met that they haven’t fallen in love with. The offense has shown improvement upon Wall’s return, but we are still pushing historic rates of incompetence with an Offensive Efficiency of 94.7. Maybe a team that struggles this much in the half-court set but is loaded with athletic wings should…run a little more? We’re 13th in the league in fastbreak points after ranking 3rd and 4th in the last two seasons respectively. Can someone show this team a tape of ‘Coach Carter’? I might have it on Blu-Ray if we want to get fancy.
The second area of bafflement with our coaching involves Wittman’s substitution patterns, or the lack thereof. There often isn’t a rhyme or reason to why someone gets 30 minutes a night or 15. And rather than gradually roll out the backups, our bench squad will come in as a 5 man unit and often loses the lead or extend the gap. This would be a successful strategy if we had reserves like the Clippers, or even the Pistons but the offense becomes extremely stagnant and often times crucial opportunities are missed by the time the starters are back on the floor (it doesn’t help that the bench includes gunner-extraordinaires Crawford and Seraphin. For the full details, please reference the Kevin Seraphin Decision Tree by WizofAwes’ James Straton). In addition, the 1st and 3rd most commonly used lineups have yielded a plus/minus rating of -97 combined and a Win % of 14.2 and 0 respectively, as per 82games.com. I don’t even think I can bring myself to elaborate any further.
There are other examples to cite, whether it is our play calling after timeouts/stoppages or the insistence that Nene bulldoze his way to the basket while everyone hangs out on the other side of the court. But the message remains the same; hire a new coach at season’s end at lets field a respectable team on the court in 2013-14. Yet another top 5 pick will join the fray and it’s time to change the losing culture that has inflicted the Wizards since the departure of our Big 3. Wittman will probably make a great addition to a staff somewhere around the NBA as he has proven to be successful in player development; but to truly compete at the highest level I believe we need someone else leading the charge.