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Are The Wizards Slumping Or Just Not Very Good?

Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.

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Having lost seven of their last 10 games, things are looking somewhat bleak for the 32-20 Wizards. Most of the losses came against quality teams, adding to the narrative that the Wizards simply can’t hang with top teams, but two losses to the sub-.500 Hornets in four days and a handful of injuries have soured the mood.

The two schools of thought here are: a) The Wizards are simply slumping and will bounce back or b) their early success was a fluke and now they’re regressing back to their norm.

Both sides of the story hold some water. On the one hand, they are dealing with a lot of injuries—John Wall is all beat up, Bradley Beal’s toe hurts, Kevin Seraphin has a bum ankle—and it’s not uncommon for teams to slump around this time of year.

On the other hand, key role players early in the season, when the Wiz raced off to a 19-6 start, are no longer playing quality minutes. Some are just struggling; Seraphin wasn’t playing well before the ankle injury and Kris Humphries has missed 28 of his last 45 shots. Others are nowhere to be found; Andre Miller played just eight minutes during the losing streak and Rasual Butler comes and goes seemingly at random.

Here’s a look at the reasoning for each side.

It’s Just A ‘Midseason Funk’

After the Wiz lost to the Raptors (game two in their losing streak), Paul Pierce floated the idea of the team simply fighting with a “midseason funk.” Again, teams do struggle as the All-Star Break approaches — the season is long and it wears on bodies and minds.

With Wall and Beal not at 100 percent, the offense struggles to create. Wall has 58 assists in the last six games, which is 48 more than any other player (Miller has 10) and nearly as much as the rest of the team combined.

Mcin Gortat appears to have been hit by the Nerdlucks from Moron Mountain, and in a fit of blind rage (not actually), shaved off his mohawk in an attempt to regain his powers. Gortat is averaging just 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game over the past six games; for what it’s worth, Humphries is putting up 8.2 points and 6.9 rebounds in 22 minutes per game this season, and he’s making $6 million less.

Then if you look past the stats, you see things just aren’t going the Wizards’ way. They’re not making the right play, not communicating well, not hustling for loose balls, settling for bad jumpers and letting their frustration get to them. They look lost and exasperated, as slumping teams typically do.

Actually, It’s The Truth Coming Out

Heading into the season, the Wizards look blessed with an abundance of riches in the frontcourt. Not even counting the creative small-ball lineups one could come up with using the bevy of small forwards on the roster, Randy Wittman entered the season with five traditional big men with varying skills in Gortat, Nene, Humphries, Seraphin and DeJuan Blair.

Gortat and Nene make up a terrific starting pair when healthy, but Nene should always be expected to miss 15-20 games per season. Humphries and Blair seemed like quality role players who added a midrange game and rebounding (Humphries) and some toughness down low (Blair). Seraphin is a perpetual wild card, but he’s shown flashes of being a quality bench player.

Now, just more than three months into the season, Nene has missed eight games and is a much less intimidating defender without the disappearing act known as Gortat watching his back, Humphries is showing his limitations and is sadly still probably best known for marrying a Kardashian, the negative side of Seraphin’s wild card ways is showing and Blair is a train wreck.

Wittman is proving that, despite a history overwhelmingly filled with losses, he does not seem to be able to handle adversity, and he’s rapidly losing the legions of supporters he recently gained.
Miller has been one of the best backup point guards in basketball this season, and suddenly Garrett Temple (!) is getting his minutes. Temple is seen as a defensive specialist while Miller is unquestionably a defensive liability, but Temple hasn’t exactly wowed on defense either.

In theory, benching a poor defender in favor of a superior one should improve a team’s defense. But it’s not as if backup point guards kept lighting the Wizards up and Miller was the only player holding Washington back. The second unit defense hasn’t gotten much better, if any, and since Temple took over the offense has been about as intimidating as the Washington Generals.

In another strange Wittman quirk, Gortat is often reserved to cheerleading duties in the fourth quarter. Not many coaches regularly bench one of their starters in late-game situations, and those who do usually do it because they have some offensive stud coming off the bench. The Wizards bench their five-year/$60 million center for some combination of Humphries and Seraphin.

Wittman seems to decide his small forward rotation on a game-to-game basis by picking names out of a hat, and the lack of consistency is hurting all three reserves. Nobody is surprised that Butler’s numbers have dropped off. He hasn’t averaged more than five points per game in a full season since 2009-10, and his three-point shooting early on was far better than he’s ever had.

But before Thursday night’s loss to Charlotte, Butler had gotten just 15 minutes total in the previous four games after playing 20 minutes against the Lakers. So to recap, Butler’s minutes in the previous seven games: 20, 4, 3, 7, 1, 29, 23. Again, inconsistency.

Most of those minutes have been going to Otto Porter Jr., and that’s a good thing. He’s young, has high upside and is already the most versatile of the Wizards small forwards.

The problem is Wittman’s herky-jerky playing time management, like a puppeteer with ADHD. A lineup isn’t just going to suddenly be fluid and dynamic as soon as it steps on a floor together; it needs time to get used to itself. Wittman has been utilizing this strategy of try something for a week or so, and if it fails, abandon the concept forever.

Speaking of abandoning things forever, why did Temple replace Miller again?

Unfortunately, the best way for the Wizards to get out of this is simply playing through it. There’s no quick-fix solution, but there are steps that could be taken to help the process along. Wittman doesn’t necessarily deserve to keep his job, but firing him would be the wrong move, at least during the season. A few minor roster moves could turn the team around in a way that even Wittman couldn’t screw it up (much).

Martell Webster, Temple, Blair and Seraphin are all expendable, and they’re only really on the roster because they’re better than nothing. Part of why they’re so expendable is because they haven’t produced, meaning they also have minimal trade value. But there’s probably a deal available somewhere that would bring the Wizards either some bench scoring or a rim protector in exchange for a package of one or two of those players and maybe a second-round pick.

Still, a trade won’t singlehandedly turn the season back to green. The whole team needs to make a concerted effort to work together and they need to take advantage of easy wins—such as this past weekend’s game against Brooklyn and tonight’s against Orlando.

Before they go getting down on themselves, the Wizards need to remember that at this time last year, they were grateful to hover around .500. In that light, 32-20 doesn’t look so bad after all.

Image taken with love from Truth About It.

D.C. sports fan and digital media guy that's been doing this since 2004. Once threw a football further than Chris Cooley.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. JP

    February 10, 2015 at 2:02 PM

    The Wizards are fine, it’s Randy Wittman that’s not. Good Lord, play your best players. Bench players are supposed to give your starters a breather and hopefully bring a spurt of energy into the game while the top guns are out. Sure that’s an oversimplification, but c’mon, it’s not that hard figure out. The Magic 8-Ball will always lead you astray with its answers, Randy, so stop asking it line-up questions before you end up asking it about new employment options.

  2. Ketel on Rocks

    February 11, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    I completely agree with the above. Wittman is a subpar coach with an above average team. It’s the coach that’s the weakest link in this equation. I don’t have high hopes that Wittman can coach this team to the Finals.

    That said, these are the dog days of the NBA. The season drags on too long, and teams lose focus. No need to panic over a 5 game skid.

  3. Illformula

    February 12, 2015 at 1:11 PM

    Agree with everything being said. Unless I missed it above, we also should consider the schedule. They’ve had all of their toughest matchups on the road over the last 5 weeks or so – we’d expect them to compete with good teams, which they did, but it’s just additional factors to their recent struggles.

    They’ll be ok.

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