What happened to the Wizards on the West Coast over the past several days was predictable in that they beat the Suns, easily the worst of their four opponents, and lost to the Denver Nuggets, L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers. The latter two may be the best teams in the NBA and the Nuggets aren't far down the list.
Drawing broad conclusions from those types of defeats isn't all that necessary when it could be viewed simply as really good teams beating up on a bad one. But the talk in the postgame locker room on Sunday night from head coach Scott Brooks and shooting guard Bradley Beal suggest some changes could be in the works.
Brooks said on the NBC Sports Washington postgame show he may need to play Isaac Bonga more and Beal hinted changes may be necessary now that the team sits at 6-12, matching their worst start to the season since 2012-13. They knew their defense would struggle, but so far it has been historically inept.
The Wizards currently hold the worst defensive rating in the league (115.7) and that has them on pace to have the second-worst in NBA history. Only last year's Cavaliers (117.6) have had a higher mark.
That is not good and Brooks can only do so much to shake things up on that end of the floor. It should first be noted, by the way, that Brooks has threatened changes in the past and thought otherwise before the Wizards' next game. So, don't count on something drastic to happen before the Wizards host the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.
But, if Brooks does decide to shift things around, he only has so many options. The Wizards are like a baseball team that mashes homers but has a pitching staff full of guys with 5.00+ career ERAs. At some point, your personnel is your personnel. Thomas Bryant isn't going to become Rudy Gobert anytime soon.
Here's some ideas:
1. Brooks could start with playing Bonga more, as he suggested.
He has the second-best defensive rating on the team behind Moe Wagner. He also is tied for the team lead in deflections per-36 minutes and is fourth in contested shots per-36 minutes.
Most importantly, Bonga is a defense-first player. When he is on the floor, that is his focus and the Wizards simply don't have many guys with that approach. At least with his length at 6-foot-9, he can disrupt passing lanes and will give a consistent effort on that end of the floor.
Bonga's defensive ceiling is fairly high and he could someday not too distant in the future provide an impact like Jared Jeffries used to in the mid-2000s for the Wizards. Jeffries was like Bonga in that he was tall for his position and skinny with long arms. Jeffries had his best years in Washington when he was a scrappy defender.
2. Another change that could help is putting Ish Smith back in the starting lineup.
He is a better defender than Isaiah Thomas and the Wizards' best defensive moments this season have seemed to be with him on the floor.
Thomas has been a nice surprise this season, but his defensive shortcomings are more apparent when he's in the starting lineup because he has to defend first-string players. On Sunday night, he got switched onto Kawhi Leonard, who promptly cleared out for an iso play, backed Thomas into the lane and easily shot a midrange jumper over him for two points.
3. One other thing that could technically help is getting Ian Mahinmi back.
The veteran center has yet to play in a game this year due to an Achilles strain, but he might be an upgrade defensively down low. Even though he is arguably not even a replacement-level player at this point, his best attribute is defense.
Mahinmi can't move like he used to, but he does have active hands and he's another player who has six fouls to use. Plus, the Wizards need all the help they can get and especially with back-up center Wagner currently sidelined with a left ankle sprain.
The Wizards have many defensive problems, but arguably their biggest issue is protecting the paint. They allow more points in the paint (53.3) than any other team.
There is no easy fix for the Wizards and there really may be no fix at all. But Brooks has to try something and it sounds like he's close to doing just that.
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