You may have seen it yesterday, the comment Washington rookie guard Bradley Beal made about his moribund, (at the time) 0-11 team’s psyche, or what’s still left of it. The comment was rare in how it blended despair (“it’s like depression”) with silver linings (“we’re going to make [the playoffs]“). Beal told the Washington Post.
“We just lost. Everybody hates losing. You just see the guys faces, it’s like depression. We haven’t won a game yet,” Beal said. “We still have  more games. It’s still a long season. We still have our opportunity to get over .500. Right now, it’s our goal we have to shoot for, is to probably get into the playoffs. We’re going to make it. I have faith in this team. I have confidence in us. I think we’re more than capable of doing it, with the assets that we have. As long as guys keep buying in and never give up, we’ll be fine.”
Mind you, this was before the Wizards lost their 12th straight game to open this season, nearly allowing San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter to record a triple-double with 15 points, 12 boards and seven assists — off the bench. What little goodwill capital existed in the Wizards’ playoff chances has dwindled; coach Randy Wittman would be lucky to even have Congress’ dismal approval rating.
Go back to Beal’s comment, however, and remember how it blended the hope and the hopelessness, and he may have a point.
But first, the bad: Since the beginning of the three-point era in 1979, eight teams have started 0-12 but Washington’s .397 shooting is the worst of them all. It’s a mark influenced by the only recent return of big man Nene and the injury of John Wall, of course, but more that in the stars’ absence, the Wizards rarely looked for high-percentage shots. Though their .298 shooting from three-point range is tied for second-best among those eight winless teams (though, to be clear, it’s still horrific shooting from deep), they’ve attempted 80 more from three than the next-highest, the 1996-97 Suns, and third-highest in all of the NBA this season. Something has to give with that many deep attempts, and in this case, it’s driven the Wizards to have the fewest attempts per game at the rim, with just 19.4.
I can say with confidence everyone knew this team’s offense would be lacking without Wall and Nene, but to be that poor at getting inside shots is either a structural problem with Wittman’s offense, a knock on Wittman for letting his team be so content with shooting jumpers, or a testament to how poor this team is at beating their man off the dribble. Whatever the reason of those three scenarios, the general lack of aggression toward the hoop has generated the lowest free throws made and free-throw attempts of any of those eight 0-12 teams. They’re not helping themselves in any way.
To recap: The Wizards can’t shoot from deep, but instead of attempting high-percentage shots, they just shoot more often from deep. It’s like doubling down on a bet to win back the considerable amount of money you’ve already lost.
The Wizards’ defense has not been able to counterbalance that bad of an offense, but it is the reason this team could win before reaching the 2009-10 Nets’ 0-18 mark. If D.C.’s offense is even worse than we thought without Wall and Nene, its defense is surprisingly better, ranked eighth in efficiency. It’s in the top half of the league in opponent field-goal shooting, the top 10 in opponent three-point shooting, and forces the eighth-highest turnovers per game. Judging Washington’s defense against the seven other 0-12 teams isn’t much for high praise, but it should be noted the Wiz are holding opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage and second-lowest free-throw attempts among them.
The division between Washington’s good and bad sides are fundamental. Of the famed Four Factors of basketball (offensive rebound rate, turnover rate, free-throw rate and efficient field-goal percentage), the only one Washington’s defense isn’t in the top half of the league in is its free throws. The only category its offense is in the top half of the league, however, is its offensive rebounds, and just barely. It’s as if this team is actually two, split by the halfcourt line into a defense that would be the envy of many and the offense whose only comparison is a noxious Superfund site.
The short-term fix here? Nene, whose return from injury is already proving huge. The Wizards are +30.4 when he plays, and -9.9 when he doesn’t. Wall, of course, will be an improvement at point guard, as well. The long-term fix? Maybe a shock collar to use whenever a guard launches a contested, long two-point attempt and some Lysol to clean the whole arena, where apathy is contagious. More practically, the solution is just having one area of the game to fix, rather than trying rework both ends. This Washington defense isn’t going to push the team to the playoff spot Beal called for, but it is a way the team could avoid breaking the Nets’ record 0-18 start to the season.
What do you think?
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