Team Record: 44 wins, 38 losses; 5th seed in Eastern Conference Standings; Semi-Finals Elimination in NBA Playoffs
Head Coach: Randy Wittman
It was playoffs or bust for Mr. Randy Wittman and he delivered. Ted Leonsis believes he delivered to the tune of a three-year extension. It is easy to follow Leonsis’ thought process on the extension; He gave Wittman a specific goal in reaching the playoffs and Wittman knocked it out of the park. We shouldn’t blame Wittman for the short sightedness of such a goal and neither should you.
By just about any measure, this season was a roaring success. The Wizards beat the over/under in Vegas, exceeded my personal expectations, made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and picked up a win in the second round for the first time since 1982. He coached an offense that obliterated the second best defense in the league in the first round and a defense that was by far the best in the playoffs with a 98.2 defensive rating, which would have ranked first in the NBA during the regular season.
Not a bad one-year resume for a coach to accumulate.
The Wizards were once again a strong defensive team and some of that is due to Wittman’s scheming and his ability to rally his players. There is no doubt that the squad loves to play for him and give constant effort. He helped reverse Marcin Gortat’s reputation as a mediocre defender and prodded John Wall and Trevor Ariza to heights they had not reached defensively in DC. The defensive play is the argument for Wittman’s extension and the Wizards’ success. The offense will come, or so Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld assume. A consistent defense is a much more difficult product to manufacture. For that, I applaud Wittman.
However, it is curious that the Wizards began to play well on defense the moment Nene arrived from Denver. Is it even possible that a roster over the last two years with athletes like Wall and Bradley Beal and a frontcourt featuring Nene, Gortat, Ariza, and once-upon-a-time Emeka Okafor could ever be worse than decent? I’m not so sure.
On the offensive side, it is hard to imagine a team with skilled offensive players at almost every position could produce the playoff’s worst and regular season’s 14th worst offense while playing the league’s easiest schedule (all things in context: The Wizards had to play the best and second best defense in their playoff run). Wittman is dedicated to long twos and post ups, two surefire ways to grind an offense to a screeching halt. Every Gortat or Nene post up is cringe worthy when considering the alternative is a Wall or Beal pick and roll. The playoffs made it clear that the defense is good enough to overcome similarly bad offenses, but if the Wizards want to really compete, the offensive scheme has to change to focus more on threes and lay ups. With Wall at the helm, this should not be too difficult.
Ultimately, the Wizards are going to be as competitive as John Wall and Bradley Beal can make them. Wittman will be along for the ride, preaching hustle and stressing the little things. If he’d stress the little things on offense a bit more, I’d be happier, but it’s hard to be anything but at least lukewarm with his performance this season. Wittman proved he’s a competent head coach this year which is more than most of us would have expected 365 days ago. For that, he gets a respectable grade.
His yearly accomplishments in a vacuum deserve an A- but his actual coaching deserves a B.