In this escapade of a season, sometimes filled with serendipity and other times filled with frustration, writers and fans alike have attempted to theorize the enigmatic entity that is the Washington Wizards. The team’s record against below .500 teams, the mercurial bench, the questionable offensive coaching, and the regression of the defense have all been discussed ad nauseam. However, the root of the issues of this team lies in roster construction.
It has been well established that Ernie Grunfeld has made questionable decisions as the Wizards general manager. Most people realize the team isn’t very deep, and isn’t built for any sustained contention. However, there is an important part of how this roster’s constructed that I feel is not discussed enough.
John Wall is having by far the best season of his career, averaging a career high 19.8 points, 8.6 assists, 2.1 steals. A lot of this has been because of the roster turnover from two years ago. In that time, the Wizards were notorious for being one of the worst shooting teams in the league. A consistent three-point shooter was practically non-existent on the roster, and Wall’s own shooting inconsistencies didn’t help either. Drafting Bradley Beal, bringing in Martell Webster, and taking advantage of Trevor Ariza’s career year from deep has made Washington one of the best shooting teams in the league. All this shooting for Wall has helped create more space for pick and rolls and drives.
However, in the process of bringing in shooters to take advantage of John Wall’s ability to find them, the Wizards have essentially neglected to prioritize ball handling. Bringing in Eric Maynor to sure up the backup point guard spot was an unmitigated disaster, so he clearly hasn’t filled that role this year. Garrett Temple has definitely been an upgrade over Maynor, but his limitations as a ball handler are obvious, and he’s clearly playing out of position as a point guard.
The team has tried many options to mitigate this issue. One of them is attempting to develop Bradley Beal into a secondary ball handler on pick and rolls, but unfortunately, that has not led to many great results. They mostly run side pick-and-rolls with him, and because his handle is not good enough to probe his way to the middle, he is often stuck around the baseline, leading to either a contested jump shot or a turnover. While he has shown some flashes of success on these plays, the Wizards do not screen well enough to guide him to the middle, and it is clear that his dribbling hurts him here.
Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza have both improved off the bounce. They’ve attempted to initiate offense and have fared better than most would have expected, but in a vacuum, it still has not been very productive offense. They are relied on way more than players of their caliber should be, and it has contributed to a below average offense.
Initiating offense is not even the main issue at hand when talking about a lack of ball-handlers. No one on the team even has enough of a handle to dribble drive consistently. Not having the ability to get to the rim consistently is why the Wizards are among the bottom in the league in free throw attempts, and why they are often forced into taking mid range jumpers. Being that Wall is the one player that can dribble and get to the rim consistently, it is not difficult to see why the offense plummets with him out of the game.
Overall, there are several issues that can be discussed regarding the Wizards. However, the ceiling of this team is truly capped by this particular one. Dribbling is one of the most important skills in basketball, and not having players who can create and/or initiate offense off the dribble consistently is a bad formula for an offense, and whether its from within the team or outside, the Wizards must prioritize fixing this weakness sometime in the near future.