Back during the Summer of 2016, the Washington Wizards front office felt like they found their captain to steer the franchise towards the future. Randy Wittman did a terrific job making Washington one of the top defensive teams in the league but with two budding stars in the backcourt, it was clear the Wizards needed to go in a different direction to maximize John Wall and Bradley Beal’s ability on the offensive end.
Enter Scott Brooks—a guy who successfully turned the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise into a perennial winner, reached the NBA Finals in 2012, and made two other trips to the Western Conference Finals. Some thought it was a good move to bring in Brooks who had a history of managing two stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook while others saw it as an uncreative chess move to try and lure Kevin Durant to D.C. that summer.
In entering his third season with the Wizards, no one thinks that his job is necessarily in jeopardy. He guided the Wizards to 49 wins in his first season and has a winning record in Washington—something only four other coaches can claim. However, on the heels of a disappointing season, a slow start to this year could cause for a rumbling amongst the Washington fanbase and his seat getting a bit warmer.
One of the biggest knocks on Brooks through his first two seasons in Washington is the double-edged sword of his rotations. The front office has done Brooks no favors, maybe until this summer, to bolster a roster that legitimately goes greater than eight deep. But at the same time, Brooks has continually relied on lineups that aren’t producing.
The Wizards relied heavily on units that didn’t feature a single starter last season. Early in the campaign, Brooks played Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mike Scott, and Ian Mahinmi together, it wasn’t a very effective lineup as they bolstered a net -4.7 rating over 26 games. Once it became clear Frazier was not a viable option, rather than stagger his lineups more, Brooks just swapped out Frazier for Tomas Satoransky. Even with the upgrade of Satoransky, that lineup had a net -4.3 rating over 25 games. Those were the fifth and sixth-most used lineups of the entire season.
All-bench lineups are somewhat tolerable in the regular season, but they really bit Brooks in the playoffs as he’d either reluctantly have to resort to his reserve unit during the ‘dead window’ or keep his starters in longer than usual and burn them out before the end of the game. If Brooks would have staggered his starters minutes more during the regular season, it likely would have given him the confidence to go to that lineup in the postseason more often rather than choosing from one of two extremes. As a result, the Raptors’ (bench) had the last laugh.
Like other teams, Washington feels like they have as good a shot as anyone in the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference. The Wizards will likely trot out the deepest roster they’ve had during the Wall era but it doesn’t come without some anxiety. Brooks, who at times looked like was in over his head last year with all of the loud personalities on the team will add yet another in Dwight Howard. So yes, the path to the Eastern Conference Finals seems more feasible, but so does the path to losing the locker room entirely if the team struggles out of the gates.
It’s unlikely that Brooks is going anywhere as he’s still owed $21 million dollars over the next three years. And as we’ve seen with past coaches, management is more likely to take an extra year or two when it comes to coaching decisions rather than making an abrupt move. Unfortunately for Wizards fans, after two years, it’s still unclear if Scott Brooks is the right guy who can lead Washington to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond.