The Washington Wizards are 3-16. They rank 28th in the league in net rating, only ahead of the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs. They suffer more blowout losses than any other team in the NBA. Yet, surprisingly, that is not the most embarrassing thing about the 2023-24 Wizards. It is the clutch performance of the team through 19 games.
NBA.com defines clutch as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score is within five points. This is basically the highest-stress moments an NBA team can play during the regular season. And the Washington Wizards have failed miserably on that front so far this season.
Due to the fact that the Wizards lose in a lot of blowouts, they have played the fewest number of clutch games in the NBA. They have only been in a clutch situation in six games, and for a total of 23 minutes. They won none of them. In fact, they are the only team in the NBA that hasn't won a clutch game.
Why are the Wizards so bad at close games?
Partly, it is coaching. Wes Unseld Jr hasn't been able to put his team in the right situation because of his odd rotation decisions. There have been plenty of instances so far when he went too small, or all offense at the end of games. The most recent Orlando Magic game when he sat Deni Avdija for the majority of the fourth quarter, or the Charlotte Hornets game when he didn't play Daniel Gafford at the end of the game. On both occasions, the Wizards were lit up defensively.
The Wizards' offensive stars haven't lived up to expectations in close games, either. When Unseld Jr. goes all-offense in closing lineups, fans expect Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole to carry the offensive burden and deliver the win. That hasn't happened.
Kuzma's decision-making at the end of games has been questionable
In the 23 clutch minutes this season, the Wizards were outscored by 42 points, according to NBA.com data. They had more turnovers than assists and shot 34.9% from the field while attempting only three free throws in total. Those are the worst clutch offensive statistics of any team in the NBA by a significant margin.
There were plenty of individual mistakes by various Wizards in that span, causing them to lose games they could and should have won. This caught the attention of NBA analyst Nate Duncan, who criticized Kyle Kuzma's decision-making at the end of close games.
It's important to note that 6 games and 23 minutes are an extremely small sample. It doesn't say much about the team. But it does give us a hint about the strengths and weaknesses of individual players and the coaching staff. As the sample size grows throughout the season, the decision-making at the end of close games by the players and Unseld Jr. is worth monitoring.