I haven't subscribed to the John-Wall-for-Norris-Cole insanity, but still...suggesting the team is in crisis feels reactionary as hell in middle of Week 1. Sure, the starters have looked like a hot mess, the coach brought the fire and brimstone during preseason, the team captain questioned leadership via post-game commentary and Twitter before telling the world to 'shut up' after the team choked away a massive lead in a home opener where the organization handed out 'New Traditions' t-shirts. But Javale McGee is showing signs of that consistent progress we've discussed, Nick Young looks like pre-injury Nick Young, Chris Singleton is as advertised, and Ronny Turiaf has finally given Flip a tenable substitute when Javale needs a breather/reminder.
So what do you do when the guys you're counting on to lead the team stumble? What do you do when they stumble badly? Flip Saunders is riding herd on a lot of young guys driving the athletic-specimen equivalent of supercars while trying to do so as a unit. But this isn't the AAU. It's hard to find the chaos we're witnessing as anything but unacceptable, but it's necessary for our sanity to know what we're complaining about which means defining the problem more clearly.
The Nature of Luck
'Fortune favors the prepared', 'Luck is preparation meeting opportunity', pick your cliche. Add up a drastically shortened training camp with lion's share of the team coming off injuries, acclimating rookies, getting last season's rhythm back while making sophomore strides and it's hard to see how the team was going to enter the season any kind of prepared. That first quarter against the Nets was not a mirage, and is the kind of flash that tells us what this team can be.
Flip also has nothing to do with roster balance. Once Jan Vesely and Maurice Evans are ready to step onto the floor...well, let's just say fan favorite Trevor Booker has logged only 14 minutes of court time and if Rashard Lewis slides to the 4 with Chris Singleton's play demanding attention...that and Kevin Seraphin sightings will rank up there with those of the Yeti. But Ronny Turiaf's commendable play has a lot more to do with that particular score. This team has to prepare by learning on the battlefield and they're going to get better as they do.
On Plant Husbandry
Specifically, on the art of pruning. The practice of pruning is predicated on the removal of spent buds, dead branches, etc. to ensure the overall health of the plant. The most conclusive measure of this in the NBA is in minutes played. So what does the game log look like for the Wizards this early in the year?
Flip is still playing John Wall too much. Aside from that, only Andray Blatche is averaging more than 30 minutes a game and we'll see how long that continues with his play being what it is thus far, and not to further mention his off-the-court antics. 'Back-ups' Nick Young and Chris Singleton are pushing for starting spots, five players are logging twenty minutes or more (with Turiaf logging nineteen) which means we're looking at an eight player rotation.
This is probably where we want better from Flip. Trevor Booker needs more than scraps. A more prominent role for Booker T, moving CSing and SwagyP into the starting lineup while reducing AB's and JC's time would go a long way towards reinforcing his credibility. But so far, maybe he's done better than we first thought.
Harder Decisions Ahead
Even so, the metaphor of roster balance versus plant husbandry is going to take on more tension. As the season progresses, Flip is going to face a difficult scenario, if an anticipated one. Rebuilding in the NBA, absent a glut of superstars, requires a significant influx of talented youth, at most if not all positions. Often multiple players at the same position.
This is also where planning for luck comes back into play. Multiple chances at each position increases the odds you find an NBA-caliber player. The problem is that the issue isn't that simple. From a gardeninig perspective, you seed your plants too close together and you can choke them out. Not enough room and your seedlings either die (fall out of the league) or you've stunted their growth and they never reach their potential.
The question is which players are earning the room to grow based on what they're showing. And this is precisely what makes fielding a cohesive team so difficult this year, survival of the fittest, eh? Some players don't get the chance to show, some players try to show too much and some continue along in high profile simply because of the size of their contract.
The only course of action that is inexcusable is maintaining the status quo. That jeopordizes the health of the entire team. But if Flip can maintain the relative evenhandedness (with respect to playing time) he showed against the Hawks, take a deep breath and inch back from the ledge. Though even if he does create and sustain the ideal environment for growth, more than a few of us may end up looking to Ernie Grunfeld to ease roster congestion. But however this team has been put together, it is Flip's job to get this garden blooming and doling out playing time on a balanced basis is the right step to take.