The Washington Wizards had a disastrous start to the 2023-24 NBA season. There aren’t many silver linings except for Bilal Coulibaly being ahead of schedule, Kyle Kuzma showing good leadership, and Deni Avdija taking a step forward. Despite underwhelming individual performances from most of the roster and getting blown out by most of their opponents, the Wizards don’t have an issue with their starting five. It’s basically every other lineup that struggles to compete.
There are plenty of Wizards fans who justifiably want rookie Coulibaly to start. The team has been better with him on the floor, especially on the defensive end. However, it’s hard to make the argument that Washington’s starting lineup is the reason they are losing games.
Tyus Jones-Jordan Poole-Deni Avdija-Kyle Kuzma-Daniel Gafford group has started most of the Wizards games. In fact, that five is the only lineup that played over 100 possessions together. It’s clearly the unit that coach Wes Unseld Jr. trusts the most. And that makes sense. There is enough playmaking, shot creation, frontcourt size, and rim protection in that lineup to hold their own on both ends.
And they have done precisely that. In 253 possessions together, that group has scored 117.4 points and allowed 118.2 points per 100 possessions. That net rating of -0.8 is better than almost all of Washington’s most commonly used lineups. It also ranks exactly the middle-of-the-pack among all five-man lineups in the NBA that played at least 100 possessions together, according to Cleaning the Glass data.
The fact that the Wizards’ starting unit is average compared to other starters or often-used lineups is a good sign for Washington. What is a bad sign, however, is the coaching staff’s inability to find any other lineup combination that works.
According to the Cleaning the Glass data, the next three most often used Wizards’ lineups are some of the worst units in the league. For example, Washington’s second-most used five-man combination of Jones-Poole-Coulibaly-Kuzma-Avdija gets outscored by a whopping 66.6 points per 100 possessions. That is not Coulibaly’s fault since that group has no interior presence whatsoever. Coach Unseld Jr. needs to figure out his rotations so that such hopeless lineups aren’t thrown out there.
One way to address this issue would be to add more center depth so that there is consistently solid center play for 48 minutes. Another would be to split Tyus Jones and Jordan Poole more so that at least one of them is on the court at all times to keep the offense afloat. Regardless of the solution Unseld Jr. eventually finds, it’s clear that he needs to find more lineup combinations that works instead of changing the surprisingly solid starting five.