Wizards

Quick Links

Morning tip: Wizards' stars unraveling after just 12 games?

usatsi_8951311.jpg

Morning tip: Wizards' stars unraveling after just 12 games?

Yet again, the Wizards are back at the same crossroads at 6-6 that they were at 2-7 two years ago. Questions about their mental toughness have arisen three consecutive seasons, and coach Randy Wittman brought it back after Wednesday's disaster in Charlotte.

"We don’t have guys that are making plays right now. Again, good looks but until we quit feeling sorry," said Wittman, who could've gone this road after a 123-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday but didn't. "When things go bad like that I had to twice in timeouts and tell them to lift their heads up. There’s plenty of time left. We’re up nine during this whole thing.  We start feeling sorry, start pouting putting our heads down and it becomes a snowball. We got to grow up in that aspect of it. If the shot doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in.

"Makes, misses, that’s the game. You never give in. We haven’t gotten over that. That’s been that way for the last couple of years. Guys don’t play well, put their heads down and we pout, feel sorry for ourselves."

Those words followed a 101-87 loss to the Hornets, who held the Wizards to 1-for-20 shooting in the fourth quarter and erased an 85-76 deficit with 9:53 remaining.

When confronted with Wittman's words, Bradley Beal only would shake his head before giving this retort: "I’m not going to comment on that."

It's uncharacteristic of the fourth-year shooting guard, who'll usually give some sort of answer and shrug it off. By saying nothing, he's staying plenty. That the Wizards are in this zone again is a bit shocking, especially given how Beal and John Wall began the season. They were taking big shots and closing games in the fourth quarters. When Paul Pierce left in free agency, the season after Trevor Ariza bolted, the front office was content to hand off the leadership duties to their dynamic backcourt. Both of them claimed they'd be the leaders.

It's not showing despite Wall being a two-time All-Star and Beal being in a contract year, a restricted free agent next summer who is banking on a max deal. They're also coming off a playoff run in which they dominated Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in a sweep of the Toronto Raptors and outplaying Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks until Wall broke his wrist. 

Wittman went out of his way to give his players a pass for unraveling Tuesday, a game that they trailed 62-61 at halftime that suddenly turned into a blowout. It was calculated because in a long season he doesn't want to overdo it this early. Gary Neal, a role player, has led them off the bench in scoring in both games. Beal and Wall again were fourth-quarter no-shows.

"We just collapsed. We fell apart a little bit. We got out of our concepts and they just ended up playing harder than we did. That and we didn’t make any shots," said Beal, who began shooting 5-for-9 only to go 1-for-7 after that, of the fourth-quarter collapse in Charlotte. "I don’t think we did a good job of executing. I don’t think we were aggressive enough. I don’t think we got to the basket. I don’t think we were taking the shots that we wanted. We were just kind of taking what they were giving us.

"We have to turn it around and figure it out. We know what to do. It’s just a matter of us doing it."

That last line has worn thin because it has been said ad nauseam. It doesn't matter if it's the pace-and-space offense they're trying to succeed with this season or the previous two seasons when Nene was starting alongside Marcin Gortat in the middle.

What is alarming is that after 12 games, there has been enough drama for 82. Gortat has been upset with Wittman for calling him out as "soft" two weeks ago, Beal already is having injury issues and clearly isn't pleased with Wednesday's critique and Wall has been unhappy with his lack of shots (Wall took a total of nine vs. Indiana but had nine after the first quarter in Charlotte) and is showing a short fuse with teammates for not being in the right spots or available for his passes resulting in turnovers.

They should be past this sort of pettiness. Remember Nene's rant about young players on the team needing to get their heads out of their butts two seasons ago? Last season during a streak when the Wizards lost 12 of 15, Beal and Wittman agreed when they were asked specifically about Al Harrington's observations from the 2013-14 season that they crack under the slightest duress. It was a 92-88 loss to the Hornets on their home floor last season that drove Wittman to lament his team stopped playing hard.

Wittman and Wall have clashed plenty of times, with the coach having a chat with him about "counterproductive play," questioning his leadership and judgment particularly on the defensive end when he gambles. No one will say it aloud, but when the Wizards lost that pivotal Game 5 to the Hawks in the playoffs last season it was Wall's gamble -- allowing Dennis Schroder to penetrate the lane for a block from behind -- that caused multiple defensive breakdowns that led to Al Horford's putback the game-winning dunk at the buzzer. Coming out of the timeout that was not the game plan. He was supposed to allow Schroder to shoot it from 20 feet given his jumper was considered suspect. That wasn't the first time that Wall did his own thing out of a timeout, to Wittman's chagrin, on a final play that caused confusion such as in a coverage switch that led to a game-winning layup for George Hill of Indiana last year.

Though more low key than Wall, Beal hasn't been exempt. He had a major blowup with the coaching staff early in 2013 after they lost an overtime game to Cleveland that they should've won. It went largely unnoticed as they walked off the floor, but he talked to CSNmidatlantic.com about it.

To rehash all of this background is to suggest that these squabbles aren't anything new, but also that they should be past this juvenile stage of development. The chemistry between Wall and Beal isn't there, and being passive aggressive isn't going to help matters.

This was an astute observation from Jared Dudley before the season began that bears repeating, after he'd joined them for a players-only workout in Los Angeles: "On this team everyone seems a friend. No one seems like they’re the aggressor so I could see why Paul (Pierce) was perfect. He was that guy, that lone wolf."

Pierce saw the same issues with the young guys that tweaked Nene. Tactfully, Pierce called out the young players for living too fast during road trips when they struggled last season.

But while some will blame the speed of play on offense for being the culprit now, how is it that the Wizards' second unit, with lesser-skilled players, has had more success in it than the first unit? In the last five games, the bench has contributed 31, 46, 51, 51 and 31 points and defensively they're every bit as effective. When the Wizards took a 42-35 lead vs. the Pacers, that was with mostly second-unit players on the floor. The same goes for the nine-point lead established late against the Hornets.

The starters haven't carried their weight, and it all begins with the primary ballhandlers in the backcourt -- Wall and Beal -- who are supposed to be the best in the East and second-best in the NBA. Twelve games in, they've proving only to be second-rate. There is no wolf. 

Quick Links

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

The 2017-18 NBA season has reached the halfway point with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game taking place in Los Angeles, Calif., this weekend.

But as the season shifts toward the second half NBC Sports Washington is taking at the major NBA awards and which players are positioned to bring home the hardware at the end of the 2018 season.

The season is far from over the second half is where the awards are won. Will Ben Simmons hold on to his lead in the Rookie of the Year running? Will LeBron James surpass James Harden for the MVP award?

Below are the detailed results of the NBC Sports Washington NBA midseason awards. 

The voting panel consists of NBC Sports Washington's Steve Buckhantz, Kara Lawson, Chris Miles, Travis Thomas, Adam Wise, Chase Hughes, Nick Ashooh and Troy Machir.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

2017-2018 NBA Midseason Awards

Rookie of the Year:

Nick AshoohDonovan Mitchell, Jazz. While Simmons gets to work with another franchise player in Joel Embiid, Mitchell saw Utah's second-leading scorer traded at the deadline (Rodney Hood), and has had center Rudy Gobert miss tons of games with injuries. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of at least 11 games and he leads all rookies in scoring, on a team that could make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Steve BuckhantzBen Simmons, 76ers. Rookie of the year would be Ben Simmons, and while there are more than one outstanding young players in the game, he seems to be the most unstoppable and the one with the greatest upside, especially if he hones his shooting skills.

Chase Hughes: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons has returned from injury to be a rookie sensation, consistently flirting with or recording triple-doubles. He is going to be an All-Star for a long time.

Kara LawsonBen Simmons, 76ers.

Troy MachirBen Simmons, 76ers. This is tough because Simmons 1) isn't really a rookie 2) Doesn't have any range on his jump shot, and 3) gets to play with Joel Embiid. Donovan Mitchell is the best player on his team and is doing it all without Rodney Hood (trade) and Rudy Gobert (injury). I still lean toward Simmons, but Mitchell will probably steal from him in the second half. 

Chris Miles:  Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. As Damian Lillard put it, he’s actually leading his team. Secondly he isn’t a “red-shirt rookie” like his top competitor Ben Simmons. This is a two horse race if anyone picks someone else that’s a failed drug test.

Travis ThomasBen Simmons, 76ers.  He’s the second best player on a team destined for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. His combination of size and court vision reminds me of a young Magic Johnson.

Adam Wise: Ben Simmons, 76ers. I don't like the rule that he's technically a rookie (ahem, Blake Griffin winning over John Wall in 2010-11) but he's a triple-double threat every night and you can't ignore that. Donovan Mitchell is a close second.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Most Improved Player:

Nick Ashooh: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. It’s always tough to pick the MOP, because sometimes it’s more about bigger opportunity that showcases the game a player already has.

Steve BuckhantzJaylen Brown, Celtics. Every time I see him play, the results are amazing. A very close second would be Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks.

Chase Hughes: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Oladipo went from decent to stardom seemingly overnight and has made the Pacers look very smart for trading for him.

Kara Lawson: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.

Troy Machir: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. We've always known Oladipo has elite athleticism and talent, but the change in scenery meant more opportunities to lead and develop. He's gone from a solid start to a bona fide perennial All-Star in less than half a season. 

Chris MilesVictor Oladipo, Pacers. He’s running away with this award. I taught him how to shoot over the summer so I can’t wait to get my residuals.

Travis ThomasVictor Oladipo. The local product is an All-Star now and he’s the only bright light on a team that’s overachieving, proving he’s also a leader. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers being in the Playoff picture without Oladipo.

Adam Wise: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Should Tim Hardaway Jr. have a say in this? Giannis has upped his "wow" factor this season and it was already among to tops in the league. He's can't-miss viewing when he's on the floor.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Sixth Man of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Lou Williams, Clippers. No brainer here. "Lou-Will" is one of the top scorers in the NBA despite playing just 32 minutes per game.

Steve BuckhantzLou Williams, Clippers. He's making shots of the bench like Jamal Crawford and has had numerous game winners. I also like Terry Rozier of Boston. He's an excellent player with a huge upside.

Keely Diven:

Chase Hughes: Lou Williams, Clippers.  could have been an All-Star this year, he has been that good off the Clippers' bench. The guy is putting up career numbers and got a well-deserved contract extension along the way.

Kara Lawson: Lou Williams, Clippers. 

Troy Machir: Lou Williams, Clippers. There are several good candidates, but this is Lou Williams' award ... again. He's averaging over 20 ppg and coming off the bench AND nearly made the All-Star Game. When has that ever happened before?

Chris Miles:  Kelly Oubre, Wizards. Yep, I went full homer on this one. Dude is legit and this summer the “should Oubre start” camp is going to revolt if he keeps this up.

Travis ThomasLou Williams, Clippers. He should be every year. In fact they should rename the award, Lou Williams Of The Year. He’s averaging 23 points a game coming off the bench for a team going nowhere fast.

Adam Wise: Lou Williams, Clippers. He should've been an All-Star ... and he doesn't even start! 

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Coach of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets. D’Antoni has kept the Rockets in contention for the top spot in the west, which means a true competitor to the Warriors. They’ve already had two double-digit win streaks, and now that he finally has a roster that fits his system, it’s not just Golden State that can run teams off the floor.

Steve Buckhantz: Eric Spoelstra, Heat. Just when you think they really don't have a lot going on in South Florida, he consistently keeps his squad in the game and has them poised to make a run in the post season. Brett Brown of the Sixers and Brad Steven of the Celtics would also get consideration.

Chase Hughes: Gregh Popovich, Spurs. The Spurs are third in the stacked Western Conference despite missing Kawhi Leonard.

Kara Lawson: Dwane Casey, Raptors.

Troy Machir: Dwane Casey, Raptors. The Cavs and Celtics are the talk of the East, but the Raptors are the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. Casey doesn't get enough credit, which is why I'm writing about him here. 

Chris MilesBrad Stevens, Celtics. I hate Boston, everything about it. Just being forced to pick this guy means I don’t have to write an explanation.

Travis ThomasBrad Stevens, Celtics. Boston has continually overachieved under Stevens tutelage. Despite the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward, Stevens still has the Celtics primed for a run at the NBA Finals.

Adam Wise: Dwane Casey, Raptors. Toronto seemed to be an afterthought in the East after everyone got all excited about the new faces in Boston and Cleveland. He's figured out how to use a deeper bench, while also giving ample minutes to his stars in DeRozan & Lowry. The Raptors are very well in the hunt for the top seed for that reason.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

NBA Most Valuable Player:

Nick Ashooh: James Harden, Rockets. He leads the NBA in scoring, second in assists, and has Houston poised to give a legit push to the Warriors out West.

Steve Buckhantz: James Harden, Rockets. You can always make a case for the great players and how they elevate the athletes around them, and this is an award that's best suited to someone AFTER the season ends, but right now I'd go with Harden, who continues to play at a high level for his squad. Lebron will be there in the end, as will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. 

Chase Hughes: James Harden, Rockets. He is the NBA's leading scorer, is second in assists and is leading the charge for the Rockets, who have the league's best record.

Kara Lawson: James Harden, Rockets. 

Troy Machir: James Harden, Rockets. LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet, but James Harden is the NBA MVP at the midway point. He's still the elite volume scorer he always was, but he's evolved into a player that makes his teammates around him better. Also, he scored a 60-point triple-double. 

Chris MilesJames Harden, Rockets. His 60-point triple-double should say enough. His team is also 26-1 when he has Chris Paul and Clint Capella. They also gave it to the Warriors and are in contention for the top seed in the West. Lebron James is second and could supplant Harden depending on how the season ends.

Travis ThomasJames Harden, Rockets. You could have made the case for him the past three seasons but other guys balled out of control and earned the award. This season it’s undeniable, he’s averaging  over 30 point per game and leading one of the best teams in the league.

Adam Wise: James Harden, Rockets. He's used the runner-up to the award as motivation this year. While the rebounding numbers are down (Clint Capella has gobbled them up), he's still near the top of the league in assists and he's leading the NBA in scoring. Oh yeah, and his play has elevated the Rockets into the "Could they really beat the Warriors in the playoffs?" discussion.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Quick Links

Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

usatsi_10358223.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise.

That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace.

That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Injury Impact

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them.

This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS

Inconsistency Problems

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins.

And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.

ALL-STAR GAME: BEAL SHOWS HE BELONGS ON ALL-STAR STAGE

Emergenace of Satoransky and Oubre

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS STACKED CLASS

Rallying Without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker Room Chemisty

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result, couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.