Everything was good just a week ago. Everyone was upbeat, guys were cracking jokes, and optimism was in the air at Washington Wizards media day as they cut the ribbon on the 2018-2019 season. A new beginning of sorts, to prove that last year was the anomaly even with all of the injuries and that this year was going to be different now that John Wall is finally healthy on top of the fact that they’ll likely be trotting out arguably the deepest roster they’ve had in the Wall era.
However, Monday night’s preseason game against the Knicks was a subtle reminder that it’s a lot easier to talk about making changes than it is to actually carry through with them.
Yes, it was just one game, a preseason game at that, but the Wizards’ preseason loss to the New York Knicks showed that Washington still has a long way to go if they’re serious about changing the culture and making some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Like most preseason games, the game started out very sloppy at first. Turnovers, poor shooting, missed assignments on defense, you name it; that was to be expected. However, midway through the first quarter and into the second, it was clear that Scott Brooks’ media day message of guys must “focus on us and playing, stop talking” clearly hadn’t resonated.
After driving to the hole without getting a foul call early in the first quarter, Bradley Beal argued for a foul call with one of the officials to no avail. He casually jogged back down the court as the Knicks took advantage of a 5-on-4 opportunity. Later in the second quarter, he picked off a pass on the wing and took it coast to coast but missed the layup. Once again, he thought he was fouled and had some more choice words to go along with a death stare for one of the officials resulting in a technical foul—in just the second quarter of the first preseason game.
The ridiculousness didn’t stop there. Just minutes after Beal’s incident, Markieff Morris and rookie Mitchell Robinson met chest to chest near half-court after free-throw attempts by the Knicks resulting in a double-technicals for both players. Shortly thereafter, Morris sought out Robinson during a dead ball and continued to chirp at the rookie resulting in Morris getting ejected from the game—in just the second quarter of the first preseason game.
Morris did himself no favors after the game saying that: “This stupid-ass rookie talking too much. And obviously, I didn’t like what he said.” He completely ignored Brooks’ mantra of ‘focus on us and playing, stop talking’ because a rookie said something to his disliking—in a preseason game.
Kelly Oubre Jr.—someone the Wizards will be counting on heavily for a boost off the bench—looked more like a player entering his rookie or sophomore season than a guy with three years under his belt. If you just look at the box score it would appear that he had a solid night. He led the team in scoring with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists but he needed 14 shots to get there and committed 3 turnovers.
He tried to finish 1-on-2 or get to the hole through a clogged up painted area rather than making the correct play on multiple occasions. Again, it’s a super small sample size but it was not a welcoming sign going into a season that’s supposed to be about breaking bad habits.
The game turned out to be more on-brand for the 2017-2018 team rather than signifying a new chapter as they alluded to numerous times during Media Day last week. Is it time to press the panic button in D.C.? Absolutely not. However, it’s troubling considering it only took one half for many of the Wizards bad habits from last season to rear their ugly heads, and the team hasn’t even started trying to integrate Dwight Howard yet.
Losing the game, 24 turnovers, heck, botching the final play of regulation wasn’t the problem Monday night. The real issue here is that we’re already talking about many of the non-basketball related bad habits that haunted this team all of last season and they’ve only played one preseason game. The question now is when, and more probably more importantly, who is going to hold everyone in the locker room accountable for the changes they need to make this season?