The season is 21 games old, or one-quarter complete, and the Wizards sit at 8-13 in a season full of curveballs following Thursday’s 92-85 win vs. the Denver Nuggets at Verizon Center.
This isn’t who they thought they were coming into the season after 41-41 and being out of the playoffs. President Ernie Grunfeld told CSNmidatlantic.com before the first game Oct. 27 that he expected coach Scott Brooks to produce a playoff team.
A lot has gone wrong, but some things have gone right:
--Ian Mahinmi, expected to be the anchor of the second unit because of his ability to protect the rim and play away from it in a pick-and-roll heavy league, has played just one game because of his knees. First, it was left knee surgery. Now it's tendinitis in the right one. Mahinmi will be held out of practice at least a week before he's re-evaluated, and his absence has forced Brooks to play Jason Smith likely more than he'd planned and Andrew Nicholson out of position.
--The backcourt of Trey Burke and Marcus Thornton hasn't worked, and in the former's case a second-round pick was given up to acquire him. Burke has shown recent signs of being viable with the second unit as he's more comfortable playing as a scorer rather than as a initiator of the offense. Tomas Satoransky has fallen out of the rotation though he has promise. He has to work on his jump shot to expand his game. Ultimately, he'll be the backup point guard but he was forced into duty sooner than Brooks anticipated, too.
--The defense of John Wall and Markieff Morris hasn't been up to par for the first unit. With Wall, it's the dribble pentration that's allowed into the paint. He can defend, but gambling for steals costs him and he doesn't appear to always trust his teammates. Morris has been spectacular at times, most notably int he way he defended Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks and in the first two meetings with Serge Ibaka of the Orlando Magic. Since then, he hasn't been as good and his help rotations have been slow or half-hearted. Like Wall, it's not a matter of IQ or ability. And during the game with Denver, Morris was on completely different pages during key stretches late with Gortat. Wall and Morris each have five technical fouls, an indication that frustration in games may be eroding their focus as they harp on the officiating. Each has been ejected once.
--Otto Porter is a good defender. Among the starters, he has probably been the best though Beal is trending upward. Where Porter suffers, however, is against bigger players at small forward. He lacks the physical strength to deal with the elite ones though he did show well in a win over Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. Just as important, Porter's vulnerable to pick-and-roll coverages and dribble handoffs/pitches because he's not physical enough to blow up the action as Brooks would like.
--The chemistry is off. This goes for starters to a lesser degree (primarily defensively), but at times they all look as if they're sharing the court together for the first time. Blown coverages, confusion about the play calls and not getting back in transition defense. These kinks should've been eliminated this deep into the process.
--Kelly Oubre has been up and down, but lately he has been on the uptick. Brooks can go with him in the lineup with Porter, making them a more formidable defensive team. Oubre is the team's best defender as long as he keeps composure.
--Wall has scored a career-high 52 points. Beal has scored a career-high 42 points. Each has career-high averages as well. They're prospering on the court together at a level that they haven't in their previous years. The struggles of this team isn't because these two don't vibe well.
--Sheldon McClellan is in the D-League, but he at least could be ready to defend on an NBA level. He has a ways to go on the offensive end, but when he started a game vs. the Chicago Bulls he gained the respect of Dwyane Wade. The undrafted rookie has promise though it might take a minute before it comes to fruition on the court.
-- Offensively, Porter has reached the next level and has been the consistent third scorer that they've been missing.
--Brooks' temperament gives them a chance to turn things around. There have been ample opportunities for the first-year coach to blow a gasket, toss his players under the bus and label them as "soft." He hasn't done that nor will he, and the equity he could be earning with his players could pay dividends in the long run.