It took Scott Brooks a long time to realize that he has nothing to lose by making lineup changes.
Despite the constant threats of possible changes to the rotation, Brooks stayed with his regular group for far too long. The poor effort continued and the losses piled up. Then finally, he made a change.
Brooks benched Markieff Morris for Kelly Oubre Jr. and moved Otto Porter Jr. to the four. At that point, Oubre was one of the few players on the roster who consistently played hard. When a team plays soul-less basketball like the Wizards have been, playing hard is enough to get a player a spot in the starting five.
Unfortunately, Oubre’s energy wasn’t enough. He struggled to find his rhythm behind the 3-point arc as a starter, making just 29 percent of his attempts, and has failed to assert himself offensively without dominating the ball to the team’s detriment (in 571 minutes, Oubre collected just 16 assists).
Brooks then made another change, moving Oubre back to the bench for Tomas Satoransky. As Albert Lee noted, the team’s ball movement increased and the offense picked up after Satoransky was inserted as a starter. He isn’t perfect — the coaching staff, with reason, doesn’t appear confident in his ball-handling ability and has relegated him mostly to off-ball duty — but he doesn’t get in his own way, which is more than Oubre could say as a starter.
Now it might be time for Brooks to make another change — this time to his bench rotation.
Austin Rivers was supposed to be the guy to bail John Wall and Bradley Beal out when they needed a break. He was supposed to be the backup Washington’s backcourt has sorely needed.
Rivers was coming off a career season and was entering a contract year. It was the perfect mix. So far, the marriage hasn’t worked out, and if it keeps going like this, it might not last very long.
Rivers is averaging 7 points per game on 38 percent shooting — the worst he’s shot since his rookie season — and has reverted back to looking like the player who Doc Rivers saved from falling out of the league.
With a quarter of the games played, Rivers has done little to earn a permanent spot in the rotation. So why shouldn’t he get the Ian Mahinmi treatment?
Mahinmi was replaced by Thomas Bryant for fairly obvious reasons — he was essentially ineffective on the floor. He added nothing to the game that the bench players couldn’t and fouled at a laughable rate. He was clunky with the ball in his hands, became way too comfortable with floating out to the perimeter and generally moves like his feet are tied to cinder blocks.
Likewise, Rivers has been extraordinarily bad offensively and his defense is overstated. He’s posting a negative win share (the first time he posted a negative win share was in New Orleans, right before being traded to the Clippers) — and is currently the only active player on the roster with such a horrendous statistic.
It’s hard to argue a case for keeping Rivers in the lineup. Meanwhile, Troy Brown Jr., the team’s 15th overall pick, is waiting for an opportunity.
In three games with the Capital City Go-Go, Brown Jr. is averaging 18.7 points on 51 percent shooting to go along with 4.7 assists. He’s shown flashes of being an all-around player — someone who could distribute, score by moving well without the ball and he’s willing to get after it on the glass. And perhaps most importantly, he’s not Rivers.
Washington is in no position to compete for a championship and don’t have a reason not to develop their young players in-game. Playing in the G-League can only get a player so far. Rivers has done nothing to warrant the playing time he’s gotten — in fact, he’s done enough to justify getting benched.
It’s been 25 games. The team has seen just about all they need to see out of Rivers, who continues to look like he did when he was referred to as the worst player in the NBA. If Washington is serious about turning the season around, Brooks once again has to realize he needs to make a change.