Washington Wizards: Don’t blame Russell Westbrook for slow start

Washington Wizards Russell Westbrook. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards Russell Westbrook. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Wizards are still winless. Don’t blame their struggles on Russell Westbrook, though.

Is it time to hit the panic button in D.C.? After trading away John Wall for Russell Westbrook and officially making this Bradley Beal‘s team, the Washington Wizards entered the 2020-21 season looking to end a two-season playoff drought. They still can, but they’re not headed in the right direction right now.

Four games into the season, and the Washington Wizards are still winless. Unfortunately, the losses keep getting worse. During a tough loss in Philadelphia to start the season, there were positives to build off of. But there weren’t many positives in the back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic. And there were even fewer in their loss to the Chicago Bulls, who were 0-3 before facing the Wizards.

Starting a season on a losing streak can only lead to one thing: finger-pointing. It’s time to figure out who exactly is responsible for this horrid start!

Russell Westbrook is not the reason that the Washington Wizards are off to a slow start.

In reality, it’s not one person, but a mix of people. Let’s start with coach Scott Brooks. Unfortunately, this type of slow start is all too familiar for him and the Wizards. Since Brooks took over as head coach in 2016, the Wizards have yet to have a winning record after ten games.

  • 2019-20: 3-7
  • 2018-19: 2-8
  • 2017-18: 5-5
  • 2016-17: 2-8

It’s been a while since the Wizards started 0-4, though. They haven’t done that since the start of the 2012-13 season; Bradley Beal’s rookie year. That season, the Wizards finished 29-53. That won’t end a playoff drought.

Despite rotating rosters, there’s been one constant throughout the five seasons of slow starts: Scott Brooks. This season, Brooks’ seemingly on-the-fly decision-making on lineups and playing time certainly isn’t helping the Wizards win. Brooks himself has said he likes the pieces on the team, and he likes the effort, even in the loss to the Bulls. So if it’s not the players, who is it?

Of course, the players themselves aren’t entirely without blame. Davis Bertans is only “60-70 percent.” I understand Bertans was away from five-on-five basketball for nine months, but they need more out of their $80 million man.

And at what point are we going to start holding Bradley Beal accountable for failing to win games as the leader of this Wizards team. Sure, his numbers are back to being among the league’s best. Through four losses, Beal is averaging 32 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game. But he’s also been careless with the ball, averaging 4.0 turnovers per game. And his efficiency is down even if his totals are up. Beal is shooting just 24 percent from three.

During the Wizards’ collapse vs. the Orlando Magic — their most winnable game this season, the one in which the Wizards entered the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead — Beal went 2-9 from the field and 0-2 from three in the final frame. Zero assists, zero rebounds, one turnover. When the Wizards needed to close, Beal didn’t deliver.

And on top of all of this, Rui Hachimura has missed all four games. But this team looks like they need a lot more than Hachimura at the moment.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. But one person who isn’t the problem — at least not yet — is Russell Westbrook. We’re only three games into the Westbrook experience, and we’ve gotten the full spectrum. Three games, three triple-doubles, three losses. And several defensive miscues.

Regardless, Westbrook is the only player on the WIzards who has finished each game with a positive plus/minus. The Wizards are 0-4, but their net rating is 32 points higher with Westbrook on the floor, the largest net rating difference among all Wizards with at least 10 minutes of play.

Shooting-wise, Westbrook got out to a rocky start. He went a combined 15-41 from the field in the Wizards’ first two losses. After the 0-2 start, Westbrook took responsibility and vowed to do better. Westbrook rested during the Wizards 120-113 loss to Orlando, then came out and stuck to his word vs. Chicago. After shooting under 41 percent in each of his first two games, Westbrook shot 53 percent vs. the Bulls.

Now, if Scott Brooks would only surround him with the right pieces, Westbrook should not share the court with Raul Neto, Ish Smith, and Robin Lopez. No matter who the fourth guy on the floor is, there isn’t enough spacing. Westbrook can’t get downhill and attack the basket. He can’t force the defense to collapse because they’re already jamming the lane. And he can’t kick to shooters because he’s not surrounded by any! Through three games, Westbrook has made a living in the mid-range. It’s not ideal, but we’ll keep seeing more of it as long as Brooks surrounds him with a suboptimal supporting cast. At least give Garrison Mathews a shot.

Next. 3 Russell Westbrook storylines to watch this season. dark

Westbrook has long been accused of putting up empty stats, triple-doubles that don’t amount to anything but impressive box scores and early playoff exits. Through three games with the Wizards, Westbrook’s gotten his numbers, and the Wizards have taken L’s. But Westbrook isn’t the one keeping the Wizards from winning. Point your fingers elsewhere for now.