The Wizards loss on Friday to the Kings—the team with the lowest payroll in the NBA—was the latest in a series of disappointing to losses to teams that shouldn’t be able to stack up against Washington’s talented, expensive roster. Still, the most disappointing part of the game wasn’t the loss itself but the process that’s led to this 1-4 start.
Defense has been a problem since Brooks took the job two years ago, and it has only gotten worse this season. This season they’re allowing 112.2 points per 100 possessions, the ninth-worst average in the league. Players have talked openly about poor communication, they have the worst transition defense in the league, and have been historically bad at rebounding in the early part of the season.
What’s even more concerning is how players have already begun calling each other out in the locker room just five games into the season. After the loss, John Wall and Bradley Beal appeared on the same page, when talking about the issues. There focus was mainly on teammates having “agenda’ and themes, like players looking for their own shots or not defending up to snuff.
“We’re worried about who’s getting the shot, who’s missing and making, but take some pride in guarding your man one-on-one…You take more pride in practice when a guy scores than you do in the game,” Wall said after the game.
“Sometimes, we have our own agendas on the floor, whether it’s complaining about shots, complaining about playing time, complaining about whatever it may be,” Beal said. “We’re worried about the wrong shit, and that’s not where our focus needs to be. And it’s just going to continue to hurt us.”
Public displays of disunity have plagued the Wizards in previous seasons, but this year the drama came early. Last year, there was locker room bickering over Washington’s hot streak while Wall recovered from knee surgery, igniting locker room tension especially between Wall and now Los Angeles Clippers center, Marcin Gortat. To head down a similar road just five guys into the 2018-2019 season is worrisome, and something Wizards are tired of watching.
It doesn’t help that Brooks isn’t on the same page with his highest-paid player this season, Otto Porter. The $100 million dollar man who Brooks ‘begged’ to shoot the ball more often isn’t, and now he’s losing playing time because of it. Porter played under 30 minutes for the third time in five games this season.
There are several parallels between Brooks’ tenure in Washington and his previous tenure in Oklahoma City. Despite winning over 70 percent of his games, he was criticized for a lack of creativity and movement in his offensive sets. The team depended on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook to create chances, which at times left them both tired and overwhelmed.
The same thing is happening now in Washington with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Brooks’ isolation-heavy basketball doesn’t suit Wall, Beal, or Porter’s best strengths. As we saw all throughout last season, it makes the team look very pedestrian when the game slows down.
Isolation can be effective, but it has to be done well. On Friday, the Wizards didn’t do a good job of finding the weak links in Sacramento’s young defense, especially in the closing minutes. Here, Bradley Beal tries to force something in the teeth of the Kings’ defense and it leads to a preventable turnover.
On the next possession, Wall tries to beat De’Aaron Fox one-on-one and when he can’t he puts Markieff Morris in an awkward spot and winds up traveling.
Despite those missed opportunities, the Wizards still had a chance on their final possession. However, without a timeout, they had to rely on pre-established concepts and communication to put something together quickly. This was the final result:
The tough thing about being a head coach is that you don’t get much praise for when things run smoothly, but you get most of the blame when things go awry, especially when it happens over and over again. Fair or not, it’s on Brooks to figure out why this keeps happening and needs to be done to get the team back on track. Five games into the season is a bit early to put Brooks on the hot seat and hit the panic button, but some worry is warranted. If he can’t stop the Wizards from making the same mistakes, it’s going to be hard for him to keep getting chances.