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Washington Wizards can't afford to gamble away any more games

Unpredictable rotations and embracing the hot hand have led to confusion and desperation in Washington.


WASHINGTON -- With another loss on the books and a tougher schedule coming up, the Washington Wizards have a lot of soul searching to do as an organization. It's not surprising that this team has suffered while its two best players (John Wall and Nene) have been on the sideline. However, their absence doesn't explain away the worst start in franchise history (0-9) and the lack of cohesive play from the majority of the roster for an entire 48-minute game. On any given night, there's no predicting what Randy Wittman is going to get from his team and who he's going to get it from.

Much of the criticism today has been about how Wittman has had it or is angry and fed up with this team. His subdued tone in the post-game press conference last night tells a different story, though. This isn't a coach who is mad at himself or his team or their lack of wins. He's confused, and he was reaching out for help.

He can't understand why he can't get consistent play from his ideal rotation of 8 or 9 guys.

"I'd love to have an 8-9 man rotation. That's my dream. And I'm playing 12-13 every night. You can't do that in an NBA game," he said. "If you want to develop a group and then a group that comes in, I'm having a hard time doing that with the play right now."

He can't fathom how a team could play so hard, make easy baskets, and get tough stops midway through the 3rd quarter but not do that for any other time in the game.

"We've got to figure out how to play a game, a whole game," he said ... "Did we give up? No. We had that second group that finished the game that just played their tails off. Did a lot of good things."

He doesn't get why shooters don't shoot and non-shooters do.

"I don't know who to start. Who to play. Who not to play. It's the confusion of different guys every game, whether it's starters or bench, bench or starters. We have no consistency in our group of play," he said.

After the game last night, Jordan Crawford, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin, A.J. Price, and Shaun Livingston all agreed with their coach. They all said that no one had been playing consistently and that it's difficult to know what you're going to do on the floor when you don't know your role on a given night.

I have long been a personal critic of Randy Wittman's predictable rotation patterns, but in the last few games this season, he has been straying from his usual patterns and just trying to see what works. I think it's admirable that he's coaching outside of his comfort zone, but for the players to not know how much they'll be used on a given night is detrimental to their development and production.

And most importantly, it's detrimental to the development and production of (presumed) franchise cornerstone Bradley Beal. There is a lot of inconsistent play from everyone on the roster. You can't rely on the same guys giving you the same effort every night. But really, can't the same be said for every team? Sure, teams have one or two go-to guys, those guys are told they are the go-to guys. Why can't that be the same here? The players' poor play causes Wittman's erratic rotations, and Wittman's erratic rotations exacerbate poor play. It's a vicious cycle, and it's not sustainable long term.

So far, the way Wittman has tried to deal with the losses has been to embrace the the fallacy of the hot hand. Whether or not you ascribe to this theory, the logic behind it seems appealing: give the ball to the guy who's getting it done. With a team like Washington, where a different guy can get hot on any given night, it seems like an attractive approach. Hell, it worked well for Nick Young on the Wizards, why not try it out now?

Using the hot hand is a dangerous plan for a few reasons:

1) It's been debunked many times as impractical and ineffective.

2) It doesn't work when you base your lineup on the hot hand from the previous game (Cartier Martin/Martell Webster lineup swap, anyone?)

3) It's a form of gambling.

There's another gambling term that's sort of the opposite of the hot hand. It's called "chasing." A gambler engages in chasing when they've already lost a lot of money, so they raise their bets every hand to try to make up for what they've lost. If you're familiar with gambling, then you know that this is one of its most dangerous signs. Chasing implies panic, desperation, false hope, and confusion.

Chasing at the end of the bench and playing the hot handed guys from the night before has thus far been a recipe for disaster. If the Wizards can't pull out a win this week, Wittman might have to give up his seat at the table.