After a 10-3 start to the season, vaulting them to the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time in roughly four years, the Wizards have fallen off significantly.
Washington is 5-11 over the last month, and by the looks of their upcoming schedule on a west-coast road trip, they're in danger of falling below .500 before Christmas. The lack of wins hasn't been the most alarming part, either. It's how different this team has played over the last 16 games compared to its first 14, picking up a laundry list of problems that need to be corrected sooner rather than later.
There are a few that are definitely fixable, while some may require either a rotation shake-up or a roster move before the trade deadline. Let's take stock of the biggest problems facing the Wizards right now and determine what we should expect moving forward.
Problem No. 1: Defense
The Wizards' hot start to the year was built on their defense. After struggling to guard anyone over the last two-plus seasons, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. had Washington clicking on that end of the floor right away.
Over the course of their 10-3 start, the Wizards ranked third in the NBA in defense with a net rating of +5.4, which was good for ninth in the league. They've since fallen to 26th in defense and hold the fourth-worst net rating in basketball, ahead of just the Pistons (4-22), Magic (5-24) and Thunder (8-19).
They've been getting absolutely gashed in the paint and have struggled containing ball-handlers on the perimeter despite the new rule changes allowing defenders to play with more physicality at the point of attack.
As has been the case for years, the Wizards won't do much of anything this season if they don't defend. Their offense isn't good enough to overcome a below-average defense, and the formula for consistent success in the NBA has always started on the defensive end of the floor.
The good news is that playing good team defense boils down to personnel and effort/buy-in. Washington has plenty of capable, versatile defenders and a defense-first head coach. It may just come down to playing with the same intensity they did at the start of the season.
This is the problem that will sink the Wizards if it isn't fixed, but there's no reason to believe they won't turn it around before long.
Problem No. 2: Beal and Dinwiddie
Part of the reason why the defensive issues have taken center stage for the Wizards is that the offense hasn't been able to mask much of anything. Washington has the 26th-ranked offense since the 10-3 start, and are 25th in offense for the season.
A lot of that falls on the team's primary ball-handlers in Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie. Beal is shooting 44% from the field (lowest since 2015-16) and a career-worst 27.1% from three to go along with a career-high 3.4 turnovers per game. Dinwiddie is struggling even more, shooting 38% on field goals with his lowest scoring average in four years.
Beal has had cold shooting starts to seasons before. Over the course of his career, Beal has shot 43.8% in the first three months of the season compared to 46.7% from January-to-April. He'll likely break out of his slump at some point, but Dinwiddie's struggles may be more of a long-term issue.
It's hard to blame him, too. He missed basically all of last season with an ACL tear and is still settling into a new role on a new team. There's no way Dinwiddie has his timing and rhythm down the way he would without sitting out a year. Still, the longer it takes for him to get right, the worse it could get for the Wizards' offense.
We've seen players come back from serious injuries and extended absences only to look great, like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry last season. But there's also the Gordon Hayward and Paul George types who needed more time to get their timing and confidence back on the floor. If Dinwiddie takes the latter path, the Wizards may have to readdress the state of their backcourt.
Problem No. 3: Shooting
The Wizards made several moves to address their shooting woes from last year, but the results haven't been there this season. Washington has the third-worst 3-point percentage in the league (32.4%) which is ironically a step back from where they were last season (35.1%).
Similar to their defense, the Wizards have the personnel to fix this problem. Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are streaky, but overall good shooters Washington can depend on. Beal and Dinwiddie seemingly can't buy a triple this season, so you probably just need one of them to bust out of their respective slumps.
Then there's Davis Bertans and Corey Kispert, two supposed sharpshooters both shooting under 30% from deep. The law of averages is bound to become a factor at some point. Even with all of Bertans' problems last year, he still hit 40% of his threes at a high volume.
Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant's upcoming returns could help fast-track this resolution as well. Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford are non-shooters at the center position, so playing Bryant and Hachimura as stretch bigs could help with spacing and give a boost to the overall shot-making profile of the roster.
So while the shooting has been bad, it wouldn't make sense for these woes to continue. The Wizards have the personnel and they're getting good shots on offense, they just aren't falling yet.
Honorable mention: Expectations
The magic variable for every fanbase's bliss or misery has always been expectations. Entering the season, the Wizards were thought to be a play-in tournament candidate like last year, but the 10-3 start shifted expectations in a big way. Now that they've regressed, the sky is falling.
Do the Wizards have problems on the court? Absolutely, but their record is about what you'd expect for the roster they have, it's just been a little jarring to see them play so well and then so bad over the course of two months. The reality is this is a deep team with limited star power at the top. Those kind of groups don't typically beat up on everyone they play, especially considering how many teams in the East are actually trying to win games and not just accepting a high lottery spot.
Washington has been inconsistent, but so have six other Eastern Conference teams outside the core group of contenders. The Sixers, Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, Celtics and Raptors have all had up-and-down seasons, not to mention a similar situation playing out in the Western Conference. So while you're having a hard time figuring out how good your favorite team is, you're also not alone.