I know many are disappointed in the Wizards start this year, as am I. I've watched nearly every second of this season (except the Miami game) and I can see it. I can see what they want to do, and occasionally it shows up. I can see Wall using his unique blend of speed and size to over-match defenses, come hard running off screens, and finding Nene or Gortat down low or Beal and Ariza for threes. But they don't know how to do it for an entire game, to sustain it. That mostly falls on Wall, the leader and point guard. For as dynamic as Wall has been, there are times where he brings the ball up with no urgency, bouncing the ball high and starring at the floor. Here are my basic thoughts:
1. Nene is the most important player on this team. Not the best, mind you. But the most important. He hustles, does the dirty work, has a post up game but also an outsider jumper, and he plays hard on defense. I'm reading Bill Simmons's NBA book and he talks early about what Isiah Thomas called The Secret, meaning superstars need to sacrifice their stats to win and must be surrounded by certain kinds of players who understand their role. Hence why the Bad Boys won two titles AFTER trading Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre. Nene is one of those Secret guys, if you go with that analogy. And I LOVED that he called out his teammates, especially the young guys, and he shouldn't be made to apologize for it or walk it back. He's a leader who plays ball the right way. Its not coincidence that Nene was ejected against the Thunder we blew a 10 point lead.
2. Bradley Beal is ahead of schedule. If the season continues the way it has, Beal will be an All-Star. He was drafted to be John Wall's sidekick, but right now he's the best player. He works hard off the ball and shows no hesitation when the ball is in his hands. I heard Simmons and Jalen Rose today on ESPN compare him to Ray Allen, "the remix." Since there hasn't been anyone particularly fearsome for teams to defend to start the season, Beal has made them pay. His challenge will be to keep this up when teams start to key on him. That started in the OKC game when Durant was put on him. So far so good for #3.
3. John Wall has been better than he's given credit for. He's averaging 17 points a game and 8.8 assists. He is a scoring point guard, but he has been more better overall this year. I think Wall doesn't quite trust what is being asked of him in DC. There is a difference in his game when he's out there with Beal, Ariza, Nene and Gortat. He has two double-doubles and was one assist away from two more. Wall kind of reminds me of fellow DC star Robert Griffin III. Like RG3, Wall is a rhythm player who when everything is clicking looks like a top 5 point guard in the NBA. But when guys are missing shots or the offense goes stagnant, you can tell he just wants to do it all himself. Wall needs to understand that he controls the pace and rhythm that he thrives under. He can't wait for it just to happen, nor can he just force things. He has to keep the system going and demand his teammates do too.
4. Randy Wittman is a good coach, but not a good head coach. Its clear to me that the players like Wittman. But they like him like he's an assistant coach, and there is a difference. I do not believe the Wittman commands the respect of the locker room the way great coaches do. Guys like him, want to play hard for him, but I don't think anyone on that bench think that Wittman can match wits with the best on the bench. Wittman is a fantastic basketball coach and gets great effort, but he's not the answer. And for me, there is a name looming out there who has a perfect style for this roster and worked with Grunfeld in Milwaukee that got the Bucks to the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals ... George Karl.
5. The bench. Other than Al Harrington, I can't think of any time this season where the bench has held things together for this team. Eric Maynor has been adequate, Kevin Seraphin has had a few flashes, but other than that there hasn't been much to show for it. Jan Vesely has been a no-show all season. Martell Webster is only averaging 9 points a game. The plan I sure was for Webster to start, but Ariza has out-played him. When our starting five is out there, I think we can hang with nearly every team in the league. But once they take a spell, we fall behind. 50 win teams don't have that. They have guys that can come in and contribute. I want to see Glen Rice Jr get in there and see what he can do. He's a 6' 6' 200lbs shooting guard, I think he can do some things in the league and can be one of those bench mob guys that comes in and makes things happen, giving Beal a break.
6. Patience? Will Ernie & Co. sit tight if things continue to get tough. I'm not too worried because a three-game road trip thought Oklahoma City, Dallas, and San Antonio is brutal for anyone. What about Otto Porter? What is his story? When does he play and if he does, what does he contribute? How about Gortat? A nice addition and averaging a double-double, but can walk away after this year. He was brought here to get us to the playoffs. If there is any creeping doubt that this won't happen, then what? Could he be dumped on, say, Detroit for Greg Monroe? The Pistons are 2-6 and even more of a disappointment. What about a contender who needs a big man with skills like The Clippers, Bulls, Rockets, or Thunder?
Its still early, but this is a squad without much of a margin for error. The Eastern Conference is a top 3 conference and the remaining seven spots are open to just about anyone. But young teams like Charlotte, Orlando, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto are making noise early and we can't afford to fall too far behind.