Watching the Wizards get smothered by the Bucks several games back, I thought, 'This feels familiar.' In the opening weeks of seasons past, the Bucks always seemed right on the edge of utterly dominating. Yet the Wizards hung around and the Bucks could never quite pull away. I thought, 'This feels familiar.' When the Wizards came roaring back, I allowed myself a chuckle. 'Yep,' I thought, then hesitated, 'yet more so.'
'Familiar, yet more so' has been a theme over the past few weeks. The Wizards offense has had trouble taking care of the ball as they adjust to a new offense, the defense has suffered accordingly, while the ghost of a futureless front court raises its head. There has been a shift, with John Wall and Bradley Beal putting the franchise on their backs in the way we have all dreamed of, but it is not enough to balance what's been happening on the other end of the lineup.
Ernie Grunfeld has balanced Ted Leonsis-era Wizards squads by surrounding John Wall with veteran heads in the frontcourt, aiming for high IQ, defense-first players of good standing where they were available and merely suffering bad contracts as necessary. Always looking to build around John Wall, and now Bradley Beal, Ernie's vets largely gave Randy Wittman the tools he needed to help the team's franchise players develop. Five drafts later, only Otto Porter stands (at anything resembling) ready to help carry the load forward as Nene's advancing years and Marcin Gortat's recurring struggles rear their ugly heads. Ernie has plugged the holes as best he can, despite a thin free agent class. After a spate of injuries, the Wizards have struggled with a new style. That's the bad news.
The good news is that Washington is once again adjusting to a new style, an offense that is to the old one what a Nissan Skyline is to an Altima. It's hard to remember defensive driving when you're dealing with a massive increase in power and an extra gear. Several losses in a row raise an eyebrow, but growing pains are growing pains, especially when power forward is such a question mark. Randy Wittman is playing with less than a full deck in the front court for several reasons:
- There are no drafted big men on the team after five offseasons rebuilding. This is pretty shocking, when considered in a vacuum.
- A thin free agent market last summer, coupled with a LOT of money floating around, which leads right into...
- The brass is preparing for a run at Kevin Durant in 2016. Contracts needed to be managed carefully and fan favorite Trevor Booker was allowed to depart. With other teams in the league spending money like sand, the Wizards needed to protect their powder. Ernie Grunfeld gauged the market and scrounged like few other GMs can. His tactical successes there must be judged against his strategic drafting failures, but ultimately there are two franchise pieces in place on a playoff team with a real shot at a Top 2 player in free agency.
There is a lot of progress, change, and strategy feeding into what has become a rough start in spite of a rare and impressive win over San Antonio. As this season's Wizards look to find their footing on defense, remember your Douglas Adams and don't panic. Randy Wittman always gets this team situated on defense and taking care of the ball after a rough start. Familiar struggles and successes, yet magnified. There are seventy-five games left before the playoffs, a cutting edge offense to integrate, and Bradley Beal's ascendancy to celebrate while the best is yet to come.