The Wizards have been a nightmare to watch over the past two months posting an 11-16 record since the start of 2015 and a 2-8 record in their last 10 games. Home court advantage for the playoffs is a distant afterthought as the 5 or 6 seed seems much more likely. There’s been no shortage of finger pointing over the past few weeks either. Everyone is calling for Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman to be fired, injuries have set this team back, there’s also been rumors of certain players complaining about playing time; the sky is damn near falling here in Washington. Last night’s embarrassing 20 point blowout loss to the Wolves was just the cherry on top.
The blame game is at an all time high. Fact of the matter is; this is the roster and coaching staff we have to work with through the end of the season. If the Wizards want to break out of this funk and quickly, here are the three key players that need to step up.
John Wall – Being the franchise player is easy when the team is sitting pretty at 22-8, their second best start in franchise history. 360 layups, alley-oop dunks, it’s all fun and games. But when the team is going through a horrific slump, not so much. John is the leader of this basketball team so it all starts with him.
Although his overall stats haven’t dipped too much since the All Star break, his energy on the defensive end has. Early in the year, John was all over the player he was defending. Deflections, diving on the floor, and communication defensively; it was there in the early part of the season. Now, not so much. John has to set the tone on the defensive end for his teammates to buy in. Even though the team is horrific on offensive right now, that has nothing to do with bringing energy and locking up on defense night in and night out.
Since the Wizards aren’t putting up major points, the main focus needs to be on getting deflections and turning the other team over to get some easy buckets in transition. Pressuring the other team’s point guard is key and John must pick up that intensity we saw at the beginning of the year.
Additionally, he has to be more careful with the rock. He’s converted 18 turnovers in the four games since the All Star break including eight against the Warriors (FYI, Steph Curry had zero turnovers that game). However, these aren’t turnovers where a charge is drawn or the ball is knocked out of bounds and the defense can reset. These are turnovers where he is forcing the ball into tight windows that don’t exist. Worse are the lazy passes that get picked off and are turned into easy transition dunks for the opposition. Throwing alley-oops to Otto Porter from half-court and cross court passes for an attempted corner three are not being converted and can’t be thrown right now. The team struggles to score as it is so they need to protect the ball and that starts with heady play from John Wall.
Hope I’m wrong but I’ll say it again. I believe that this team will only go as far in the playoffs as John can take us. Before the year he said that he thinks he’s the best point guard in the league. Now would be a great time to start proving that to people.
Nene – The one player who has kind of been immune to all this finger pointing as of late is Nene. Whenever we talk about the veterans on our team, seems like Pierce, Butler, and Gortat get mentioned first. Nene is sort of forgotten about when it comes to this team’s struggles.
There’s good Nene and bad Nene. Aside from the Detroit game, we’ve seen mostly good Nene since the All Star break. When Nene is playing with his back to the basket, he is at his best. He is very physical and can go pound for pound with the best of them. Posting up his man or driving the ball from short range is his strength. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to bail his defender out and settle for jump shots a lot of the time. Nene is just an OK jump shooter.
What happens way too often is he settles for a jump shot attempting to make the defender respect his ability to take jumpers. If his jumper isn’t falling on a particular night, he’ll continue to take more jump shots. If his jumper still isn’t falling, he will then drop his head and barrel to the hoop often missing the layup and will then complain to the refs all the way down the court. That is the play from Nene that needs to stop immediately. When Nene starts forcing drives or shots, good things do not happen.
We traded for Nene to be that veteran presence in the locker room. He seems to have gotten a pass from the fans and media during this slump. Fact of the matter is, he needs to play smarter if we’re going to right the ship.
Rasual Butler – He teased the hell out of everyone in D.C. with the way he was shooting the ball to start the season. Dude couldn’t miss, shooting 50% from three point range through the first 20 games of the season. Reality has set back in as his three point field goal percentage is now 40%. 40% is a very nice number to shoot from three point range but just like the Wizards season, that number is representative of the hot start at the beginning of the year.
Rasual is our best shooter off the bench. He is the only guy on the bench who is even capable of scoring 20 points. We need some kind of spark to come off the bench and get the team points and Rasual has to be that guy. Since he’s not very good at creating his own shot, this is a little more difficult. However, what Rasual is very good at is rising above his defender. He has a confident stroke and is capable of knocking down shots even with a hand in his face. Outside of Bradley Beal, he is probably our next best option to shoot threes.
On the defensive end, he brings good size and is an upgrade speed wise at the small forward spot. He’s not a lockdown defender by any means but is much more capable of staying in front of his man than Paul Pierce is.
We can continue to point fingers all we want, dream up trades for Otto Porter and future picks, or speculate who our next coach might be but the fact of the matter is; this is our squad for the rest of the season. If these three players can elevate their game, that will hopefully elevate the overall team’s game and get this squad clicking again. And if they can’t, well… let’s not think about that.