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Roundtable: Are the Wizards showing their hand too early?

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Washington Wizards v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jake Whitacre: I hate the idea of a team peaking too early — It's not like you can store away momentum for later in the season. That said, I am a little worried that the Wizards' are showing their hand too early.

As we all know, the Wizards' strength is their starting unit which has been carrying them all season and compensating for the bench's flaws. The problem is, not only are the starters having to play more minutes to keep the team successful, but they're putting out more game film for teams to study on how to slow them down come playoff time.

Am I overthinking this, or is there a chance a lesser team could exploit the Wizards in the playoffs?

Tony East: I've been thinking about the "peaking too early" thing a lot recently too. Portland last year was very similar - rough start, then a monstrous January and February. They made the second round, but were handled easily by GSW and look what has happened since.

We all know about the bench flaws. We've seen tweets, emails, posts, everything. It's bad. The Wiz are one injury away from being a 35 win roster. We all know that.

But in terms of what that means for the playoffs, I think it's tough to say. On one hand, the 8 (starters plus Oubre, Mahinmi, and I guess Burke?) man rotation that Brooks will use in the playoffs will have a ton of experience together. On the other hand, all 3 of those bench guys have SO many exposable flaws (Mahinmi can't run, Oubre only goes left, Trey Burke is bad) that it will hurt the Wiz.

So I would agree the Wiz are exposable down the stretch. I think the ideal situation is playing a team with the same scenario of "bad bench" in the first round (anyone 5-9 except Atlanta basically) and then maybe they can hide some of the flaws until the ECF.

Lyndie Wood: “Am I overthinking this, or is there a chance a lesser team could exploit the Wizards in the playoffs?”

I don't think so. Even if they had normal depth (say, 2-3 good bench players) there would still be more than enough film to study on the starters.

Plus, I think playoff strategy wrinkles are a little bit overrated. The Raptors still didn't have a great answer for Pierce at power forward in 2015 after they had three games of tape. This year, teams are still going to have to worry about whether to stay home on Otto or help when Wall gets into the paint. It's less about surprising your opponent and more about whether your bread and butter offense still works when your opponent is keyed in defensively.

Jake Whitacre: I think Indiana could be an issue. They're roasted Washington's bench in every game they’ve played this season and I feel like Paul George's defense could be more meaningful against Washington in a playoff setting than it has been in the regular season. Granted, they're a bit of a mess right now, but they were last season too and they gave Toronto a run for their money in the playoffs.

Marcus Atkinson Sr.: To me at the end of the day, basketball is basketball. The X's and O's can matter, but talent matters too and all the statistics show that the Wizards starters are one of the best units in the league. That doesn't just go away because of some game film. In a 7 game series that's always a concern. That's what makes the playoffs so challenging, you see the same team over and over and those teams make the necessary adjustments, but I think for some teams and some units, there just isn't much you can do to stop them. If the Wizards starting five can continue to play with the kind of chemistry they have had for most of the season, then I think they can still be effective regardless of the circumstances.

Honestly, the bench won't be as big of an issue because the rotations will be shortened in the playoffs. I think where the bench comes in is for the second half of the season. We have been talking about the minutes for the starters, but I am more concerned about the playoff seeding for this team. We have seen how seeding can make a difference in how far a team can go in the playoffs (i.e. Spurs facing the Clippers in the first round two years ago after winning the title the year before). There is a big difference between the Wizards having to face Indiana/Boston in the first two rounds versus maybe a Chicago/Boston or an Atlanta/Cleveland. The path to the Conference Finals matters if they want to reach their goal.

How they finish this season will determine how they do in the playoffs more so than any adjustments teams can make. They have a road-heavy schedule in March with two West Coast road trips, if they can stay afloat on those road trips, they make their lives much easier. They need to keep playing well, keep winning and focus on getting the best seed possible and the rest will take care of itself.

Quinten Rosborough: Scott Brooks has done a really great job of sprinkling in new sets into the offense as of late, which makes me less worried about the team showing its hand too early. Plus, the Wizards will likely add a rotation player or two between now and then, which should only help diversify their sets.

Aside from general depth, I'm most concerned about the team's defense. Teams like Cleveland, Boston, and Toronto are going to try and force the team's worst defenders into 1-on-1 situations, and I'm not sure the team has any answers for that right now other than perhaps playing Markieff at the 5.

Alan Jenkins: With peaking too early, wasn't that kind of the thing the year Pierce was on this team? If I remember correctly, the Wizards were 11-12 games over .500 then had a very ho-hum finish to the season after the All-Star break only to sweep the Raptors.

As far as rotations go, I think we're getting a peek into what Brooks will do in the playoffs as the rotation shrinks and starters play heavy minutes. It'll be very interesting to see what he does for the remainder of the regular season. Will he try his best to keep the starters' minutes down so they aren't worn out come playoff time or keep things the same and fight for the 2-seed and an outside shot at the 1-seed?

Also, does he care about getting this team to 50 wins for the first time in eons?

Lyndie Wood: I think that year it was less "peaking early" and more "Rasual Butler was randomly hot from three for two months and the schedule was really light during that time."

Alan Jenkins: Ahhh, you're right Lyndie. Butler couldn't miss for like the first 2-3 months of the season then came back to earth.

Jake Whitacre: That was also a year where the Wizards had a super-soft schedule to start the season and a very difficult, road-heavy schedule at the end of the season.

just an observation

Lyndie Wood: That is true, but that team wasn't comfortably beating good teams and blowing out the bad ones the way this Wizards team is. I fully expect this year's team to have a worse record in March then they did in January and February, but due to the schedule and not the team "peaking early."

Quinten Rosborough: Lyndie brings up a good point about the schedule: They still have to play Toronto twice, Golden State twice, Utah twice, and they have road games left against the Celtics, Cavs, and Clippers. That’s a tough slate.

Jake Whitacre: The Wizards only play eight home games in March and April combined.

Lyndie Wood: 538 and Basketball-Reference SRS take schedule into account and project 50 and 48 wins, respectively, for what it's worth.

Kevin Broom: Their concern shouldn’t be peaking too early. That assumes the team’s “real” level is something lesser than what it’s been doing over the last 45 games, and that they’ll fall back to that when they’re finished “peaking.” Rather, their concern should be whether they can sustain this level of play without getting help for the bench. The next stretch of the season is tougher. Lots of road games, lots of travel, and better opponents. They’ve been getting by with the league’s worst bench. Will that be possible when they face starting lineups as good as theirs? Will that be possible if one of the starters sprains an ankle and has to miss 3-4 weeks? Will the starters begin to wear down because of the heavy minutes (second most minutes for starters in the league)?

My approach is in the same general area, but a bit more optimistic. Using full season data set, I have the Wizards as favorites in 18 of their remaining games. That’d have them finishing 52-30. I have an alternative approach that has them going 15-12 the rest of the way to finish 49-33.

Throw out the first 10 games, and the Wiz project to 51-54 wins.

So far, their schedule has been the league’s easiest schedule – their average opponent has been about the level of a 38-39 win team. The schedule has been a little easier even the last 45 games – about the level of a 37-38 win team. The rest of the way, their average opponent will be at the level of a 41-42 win team. Not brutal, but a bit more challenging.

So far this season, I estimate that having so many home games has been worth +0.30 points per game in scoring differential. Throw out the first 10 games, and the home court advantage…umm…advantage is +0.32. The heavy road schedule the rest of the way will flip that to -0.60 per game in scoring differential.

The last 27 games will be more of a test, but the schedule doesn’t look crushing, even with so many road games.