Washington Wizards: After 6-2 Start, They Still Have A Lot Of Room To Improve


The Washington Wizards are off to a 6-2 start, their best start in 40 years. They will have an opportunity for a 7-2 start with a win on Saturday night at home versus the Orlando Magic and are in the midst of a stretch where 14 of the next 19 games are at home. All must go good in Wizards Nation, right? Wrong.

The Washington Wizards are off to this start, even though they’re 18th in the NBA in points per game at 98.8 points per game. Of their eight games, they’ve failed to top the 100 point mark in five of them, one of which was on overtime game versus Indiana. Don’t get me wrong, the sky is not falling. For a team that started 0-8 in 2011, 0-12 in 2012 and 2-7 in 2013, this is undeniably an improvement by leaps and bounds.

Additionally the team is still playing without Bradley Beal and Martell Webster, two players who accounted for 284 made 3-point shots last season. They’re also still playing good defense, a Randy Wittman staple, allowing 96.9 points per game; 9th in the NBA. To put that into context the Toronto Raptors are similarly allowing 96.4 points per game, but average 107 points per game on offense, giving them a 10.6 points per game differential (compared to the Wizards differential of 1.9 points per game). If this team wants to compete with the best the Eastern Conference has to offer, they have to improve offensively and increasing their points per game differential will be key. This starts by asking the question, is Randy Wittman rely too heavily on the veteran players?

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Wittman has always seemed to have an affinity for veteran players on his roster and in his rotation.  This is supported by the Washington Wizards going from one of the youngest teams a several years ago to now being the second oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 29. The question is, on the court, how is this affecting the Wizards productivity offensively?

Nene is currently playing 29 minutes per game, right in-line with his 29.4 minutes per game last season. However, aside from rebounding, his stats are trending in the wrong direction, down 3.6% from the field to 46.7% and 8.3% from the free throw line to 50%. Marcin Gortat on the other hand is off to a strong start to the season playing 31.9 minutes per game, in-line with his average for last season. His shooting percentage from the field is up 4.1% to 58.3%, while his free throw percentage is down 5% to 63.6%.

Why is Nene, in less minutes and while less effective, shooting more field goal attempts per game than Gortat? Nene is averaging 10.7 field goal attempts per game in 29 minutes while Gortat is averaging 10.5 attempts per game in 32 minutes. Why is the 32 year old Nene, who’s been increasingly less effective in the twilight of his career, receiving more looks at the basket than the center the Washington Wizards just invested 5-years and $60 million to?

Similarly, the question can be asked is Wittman relying too heavily on Paul Pierce?

At 37 years old, Pierce’s minutes are in-line with his last year in Brooklyn (although that’s skewed by his ejection versus Milwaukee), but his shooting is down over 10% while he’s attempting more than one field goal attempt per game more than he did with Brooklyn. He’s also not playing any minutes as a stretch-4, which is a role that he thrived in with Brooklyn last season. Otto Porter is playing 24 minutes per game, but in those minutes he’s only getting 5.9 attempts from the field. What’s the problem with that? The problem is, he’s shooting 51.1% from the field and 44.4% from the 3-point line. His shooting, on a team that’s missing two of its best shooters right now, is sorely needed and should be featured more heavily in terms of minutes and opportunities in those minutes.

This comes back to the head coach. Randy Wittman is no longer in a contract year. He has the security of a multi-year deal and should be coaching in a way that has this team best situated to compete in April, versus trying to gut out every possible win right now. Does it benefit this team that Rasual Butler, a 35 year old 12-year NBA journey-man is playing ahead of Glen Rice Jr and getting as many field goal attempts per game as Otto Porter?

The Washington Wizards win one or two more games in November based on a move like that (last night’s win versus Indiana is a perfect example), but isn’t it important for a team which struggles on offense to allow Rice to establish himself and find a place in the rotation? Wouldn’t his ability to get to the free throw line and provide offense in bunches provide the greatest benefit to this team long-term? Isn’t it concerning that Rasual Butler is getting as many attempts per game as last year’s 3rd overall pick, who had a career high of 21 points in the only game this year where he played 30+ minutes and took more than 10 shots from the field?

The Washington Wizards are off to a solid start to the season, but there is room to grow while they wait on the return of the wounded. To accomplish that, Wittman may need to take his own advice when he said “You want a balance.” When referring to the mix of veterans and young guys, “You strive to try and get that equation right, that formula right”.

The sample size is small, but it may be time to get the young players, and players they have a long-term investment in more integrated into the lineup if they want to reach their potential on the offensive end of the floor and truly join the Eastern Conference elite.

Next: Garrett Temple & His Unexpected Contributions