Washington Wizards: A Trip To The NBA Lottery Might Help Washington In 2016


Washington Wizards Could Be Lottery Bound In 2016

Let’s get this out of the way: the Washington Wizards are not going to make the NBA Playoffs this coming spring.  Things can always change and the Wizards can go on an unpredictable run to qualify for the post-season, but in my opinion, this iteration of the Washington Wizards are destined for the lottery.

Am I jumping the gun based on a slow start to the season? Maybe, but I think it’s time this franchise and the fans reflect and take stock of the current situation. This season the Washington Wizards are 10-14 through 24 games. If the playoffs were to begin today they would be on the outside looking in.

That alone, while alarming, doesn’t tell the entire story.

What’s alarming is that if the playoffs began today the Wizards are not even on the doorstep to the playoffs as three other teams — Atlanta, New York, and Boston (teams who are a combined 4-0 versus Washington this year) —  stand ahead of them in line among the non-qualifying teams to the post-season.

Last year’s 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and a team that had a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, would be closer to cellar dwellers in this season’s version of the Eastern Conference if it weren’t for the Philadelphia 76ers.

If you don’t think one quarter of the season is enough, how about this: over their past 64 regular season games dating back to last season, the Washington Wizards have a combined 26-38 record. That’s a 40.6% winning percentage over a stretch of time that adds up to approximately two/thirds of an NBA season.

The mood heading into the playoffs last spring was not very optimistic based on how the Wizards had stumbled to the finish line. Then low and behold, Washington shocked many, swept Toronto, and started off well versus Atlanta prior to John Wall suffering fractures in his left non-shooting hand.

The optimistic view coming into this season was that the playoffs were a platform to build off of.

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John Wall and Bradley Beal had established themselves in the post-season as a true formidable duo, and the move to a more open and three-point oriented offense was just a glimpse at the potential this team had moving forward.

Fast forward 24 games and unfortunately the 5-0 run to start the playoffs look like the anomaly and the pattern of poor basketball we saw post All-Star break last season seems to be the reality that has carried over.

The blame lies at many levels and have been touched on ad-nauseam when discussing the this Wizards teams and their larger shortcomings.

Missed draft selections, injuries, personnel decisions, etc…we know the list. Pointing at this season specifically, defense and injuries share the majority of the blame.

Defense, the staple of the Wizards since Randy Wittman took over as Head Coach, has drastically fallen off.

They’ve went from being the fifth best defensive team in the NBA to the 26th best. They’re the worst team in the league in defending the 3-point shot as well. Opponents are lighting them up with penetration and from deep — and they’ve had no answer.

Injuries also have had a big impact on the roster as key starters and projected rotation players including Bradley Beal, Nene, Kris Humphries, Gary Neal, and Alan Anderson have all missed time.

It would be more than fair to say that if the Wizards were healthy that they might be playing at a higher level with better results to show for it, but would the difference be substantial and is it even fair to use the excuses?

I don’t think they are.

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The players who are injured are not known for their reliability health wise.

Nene, Bradley Beal, and Kris Humphries have a track record here of having missed time.

Drew Gooden and Alan Anderson are both on the wrong side of 30 so how could they be expected to stay healthy throughout the season?

They shouldn’t be so that takes us back to the problem; this is not a playoff team.

This iteration of the Washington Wizards has proven to be what they are.

This is a team that can beat anyone in the NBA, as evidenced by their success in recent seasons including wins this season versus San Antonio and Cleveland. However this team can also lose by anyone in the NBA, including an embarrassing home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and SEVEN losses by 15 or more points.

Mix that all together and you have a .500 level type of team that roller coasters its way through an 82 game NBA season. Coaches and players have thrown out the words soft and lack of energy when trying to explain losses and inconsistent effort on a nightly basis. Departed and current players such as Paul Pierce and Marcin Gortat have pointed to how mentally fragile this group at times in explaining the highs of lows of a Wizards regular season.

In the past two seasons the Wizards were able to take the punches and manage through these issues. This season is different though as the Eastern Conference is much improved. The teams ahead of them and currently seeded in the playoffs have shown to be consistent.

John Wall has continued to evolve as an NBA player and after an early slump is having a scorching December averaging 24.4 points, 10.7 assists, and 5 rebounds on 50.03% shooting from the field. The problem is, his teammate haven’t contributed.

After a strong start to the season, Beal sustained a shoulder injury and then never looked the same when he returned. To make matters worse, he is currently sidelined with his fourth stress reaction in four years and once again is unavailable.

Otto Porter has struggled with his shooting and on the defensive side of the floor — two areas where he shined in his breakthrough postseason last spring. Finally Marcin Gortat has played consistently, but at 31-years-old he isn’t who the team should be looking at to turn into something he hasn’t been throughout his career.

The inability of the Washington Wizards to develop a deep nucleus is highlighted this year by a heavy reliance on veterans who were signed to fill out the roster based on their willingness to accept contracts that expire in 2016 and frankly come with some limitations.

Gary Neal has been great off the bench this year averaging 11 points on 47.4% shooting from the field and 45.3% shooting from beyond the arc, but it’s doubtful the Washington Wizards projected him playing 22+ minutes per night (25 mpg in December).

As great as Neal has been in his role and as hard as he’s played, he isn’t going to play the role of lock-down perimeter defender. Wittman can choose alternatively to go with Garrett Temple in those minutes (and has as he’s searched for any combination) but then you exchange offense for defense.

The lack of complete, two way players throughout the roster is clear when watching this team (please hurry back Alan Anderson). If the Washington Wizards are who they are — an inconsistent team shallow in talent that lacks energy on a nightly basis — how can we expect them to amount to much more than what they’ve already shown to be?

The question then becomes: what does this mean for the future?

The worst kept secret in sports is the Wizards have set aside cap space, including minimizing salary they’ve been willing to take beyond this season in an effort to lure Kevin Durant back home to the DMV. While Kevin Durant may decide to join the Wizards this summer, isn’t it fair to think the Wizards struggles this year make it less likely that he considers leaving a 17-9 Oklahoma City Thunder team?  I hope I’m wrong about that and there is no way to tell but any reasonable person would have to say that it doesn’t help the Wizards’ odds in the least.

All is not lost, however.

This step back may actually be what is needed for the Washington Wizards to take stock of what they are, make the necessary steps to move two steps forward, and get out of the malaise of a mid-seed team. The core in Washington is limited with only John Wall, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat, and Kelly Oubre Jr. under contract past this season (Bradley Beal will be a restricted free agent).

That’s not enough to compete in the current landscape of the NBA where teams are getting deeper and come at you in waves. The Wizards needs one to two All-Star caliber players emerge next to John Wall. Due to Bradley Beal’s lack of availability, the Wizards still have not been able to solidify that weakness to their roster.

If Beal can get over the injury bug he still might, but that’s a big if at this point especially if he can’t get on the floor consistently. The Wizards need to go back to building the roster and that’s where one trip back to the lottery might be the ticket.

As a person who has followed this team for 25+ years, admitting a trip back to lottery land and out of the playoffs is difficult and not easy to stomach after such a short taste of playoff success.

Add in the negative consequences it might have on their summer pursuit of Kevin Durant and what would amount to a wasted season for some of the young veterans on the roster and it’s almost unbearable.

Next: Kelly Oubre Could Be A Future Star In Washington

However, I’ve written on numerous occasions about what I think it will take for this team to jump from good to great and if this nucleus (including the coaches and front office ) have proven to be incapable of that — a step back this year might be what’s needed for a quick re-tool and big step forward in the future.