Wizards

Wizards

The Wizards may be surprised at their first round exit to the Toronto Raptors, but exactly how they perished should not be surprising at all. Their shortcomings were familiar and indicative of their biggest problems from this season and from yesteryear.

Though Markieff Morris said the Wizards were the better team in the fallout of their Game 6 loss on Friday night, there are a handful of reasons to argue otherwise. Most notably, it was the Raptors' depth that helped carry them past Washington and into the second round.

The whole series demonstrated this fact. The Raptors were missing point guard Fred VanVleet, one of the NBA's best bench players, yet they still rolled a deeper rotation than the Wizards and with impressive success. 

VanVleet's replacement, Delon Wright, scored 18 points in both Game 1 and 5 and shot 46.7 percent from three in the series. C.J. Miles scored a combined 30 points in the first two games to help lead the Raptors to a 2-0 series lead. Other bench players like Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl did their part rebounding the ball and scoring when needed with efficiency.

Game 6 was a perfect example of their depth advantage. While John Wall and Bradley Beal each logged 40-plus minutes, the Raptors' star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played 33 and 31 minutes, respectively. 

"In a playoff game, a closeout game, you’ll never expect your guys, your starting backcourt to do that," Lowry said of his and DeRozan's minutes. "But that’s how our team is built. On any given night our bench can do that. There’s been nights where I only play 24 minutes. Throughout the season, our bench has won games."

 

The Wizards now enter the offseason with questions about their depth. The absence of Otto Porter, who had a minor procedure on his left leg in the hours before Game 6, did not tell the entire story. Wall and Beal scored 30 of the Wizards' 39 second-half points. They did not have help when the season was on the line.

This was in some respects a reprise of last season's final game when the Wizards' bench amassed only five points in a Game 7 loss to the Celtics. The Wizards' second unit was outscored 34-to-20 by Toronto Game 6.

The Wizards' bench was better this season, but how much better? It's certainly not on the level of Toronto's.

The Wizards and Raptors have taken very different philosophies towards the draft in recent years. The Wizards have traded three of their first round picks for veterans that can help them win now like Morris, Marcin Gortat and Bojan Bogdanovic, who left in free agency this past summer. Those deals have all worked out to varying degrees and could be argued as smart moves.

The Raptors, on the other hand, have held on to those first round picks and flooded their bench with young, high-ceiling players who Dwane Casey has coached up to contribute very quickly. That approach has worked very well for them.

Wright, Siakam, Poeltl and starting forward OG Anunoby were all selected in the first round in the past three years. The only first round pick the Wizards can boast during that stretch is Kelly Oubre, Jr. who was Porter's replacement in Game 6 and had an uneven series, all things considered.

More depth, particular when it comes to scorers, would allow the Wizards to overcome the loss of a player like Porter's. They were able to do so for much of the regular season, as Wall missed 41 games. But their depth couldn't earn them more than the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and that contributed to their early demise.

What ultimately did them in more specifically was a problem that plagued them all throughout their headscratching regular season that was characterized by profound highs and lows. They stopped passing and playing as a collective unit.

The Wizards, who turned the ball over 14 times, had only 12 assists as a team. That's only a few more than the 9.6 that Wall averaged during the regular season.

It was the fewest assists in a game for the Wizards since Dec. 4 and their fewest in a playoff game since May 9, 2014 in their second round series against the Pacers. 

“Twelve assists? That speaks for itself," Morris said.

The fourth quarter was when they were at their worst. They had only three assists in the frame and shot 25 percent. They scored 14 points as a team, their worst postseason quarter also since that Pacers game in 2014. They hadn't scored 14 or less in any quarter since Feb. 28 against the Warriors.

 

"Some of the things that happened in the fourth quarter have been happening throughout the year," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We just had trouble scoring, making shots, we turned the ball over, we gave up offensive rebounds."

In crunch time, the Wizards' offense was shut off like a faucet. Wall and Beal were left to do everything on their own and they didn't have the werewithal or the legs to pull it off. The Raptors had too much artillery and the Wizards were overmatched when it counted most.

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