When the Wizards started the 2021-22 season with a 10-3 record, everything looked to be clicking. As time would tell, though, one problem festered for Washington over the remaining 69 games of the season, and it’s a problem the Wizards must overcome to have better success next year.
At the macro level, Washington couldn’t maintain their 10-3 start due to injuries, a hodgepodge of new players struggling to mesh consistently, working out the kinks of a rookie head coach’s first year, the list goes on. At the micro-level, though, the Wizards also found trouble holding onto leads within games.
According to Statmuse.com, the Wizards had the ninth-most blown leads in the NBA in 2021-22. Most hauntingly, they squandered a 35-point advantage to the L.A. Clippers in late January. They fumbled a 23-point edge to the Houston Rockets two months later.
So, what contributed to Washington's inability to hang on after hot starts? When taking appraisal of this past season during their end-of-season media availabilities, both head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and general manager Tommy Sheppard harped on the ‘adversity’ the team would need to learn how to face head-on next year.
“I think we had high expectations going into the season and everything kinda is dictated by staying healthy all year, and we weren’t able to do that,” Sheppard said. “That’s just something you have to struggle with throughout the NBA. We’re one of 30 teams. Everybody has the same narrative, everybody says, ‘If we can stay healthy, then this could happen,’ and I feel like we weren’t able to do that.”
Washington lost man-hours before the year even started, as Rui Hachimura—who many figured to be a prominent depth piece at forward and indeed blossomed into that role late in the season—was out until February due to personal issues. Bradley Beal’s year was cut short after undergoing wrist surgery that same month. Kyle Kuzma, the Wizards’ No. 1 scoring option in Beal’s absence, last appeared in mid-March with knee issues.
All those factors certainly contributed to the months-long slide the Wizards endured after their red-hot start. However, the newfound depth enjoyed at every position save point guard could’ve also helped Washington stay afloat in the Eastern Conference. Alas, defensive struggles plagued the team and contributed to a lack of consistency that resulted in missing the playoffs.
“I thought we started off pretty strong and I thought that was a great start for us—not only winning games, but we had to rely on our defense to do so,” Wes Unseld Jr. said. “It’s gotta be a mindset and a commitment from day one throughout, so I think that’s one big piece.”
Simply put, the Wizards seemed to have no issues starting off hot. Hanging onto those leads, though, was where the team’s shortcomings came into view. Heading into Unseld Jr.’s second season at the helm, Washington will hopefully see an uptick in chemistry with a squad still getting used to sharing the court together. Injuries are unpredictable, but staying healthy would certainly help as well.
“Obviously the health factor is something that we can’t necessarily control, but if we come back healthy…I think we’re setting ourselves up for a pretty bright future,” Unseld Jr. said. “Overall, I’m very pleased with where we are as a roster, where we are collectively as a team. I think there’s a lot of excitement about where we can move this thing forward.”