Wesley Johnson, 31, has been in the NBA for 10 seasons. He’s played 603 games and there’s 13,423 minutes of game footage available for scouts to dissect his game. In those 10 seasons, Johnson has worn the jersey of six different teams, cementing his status as a journeyman veteran.
If there’s any player in the league with no questions left answered, it’s Johnson.
Brooks’ statement is head-scratching and it would almost be comical if it didn’t come at the cost of player development. Once heralded for his ability to grow players’ games, Brooks has had little success in that aspect this season. And why? For the sake of trying to win games, yet miserably failing to do so.
One could reasonably assume that Brooks is making decisions to save his job. The rationale exists: play the veteran over the young player because the experienced player will help the team win games in the immediate, and if that means jeopardizing player development, then so be it.
But that rationale doesn’t work in this situation because, well, Johnson isn’t good enough to help teams win games. In fact, his play has contributed to Washington’s misery—making Brooks’ decision-making that much more unforgivable.
In 19 minutes against the Toronto Raptors, Johnson scored 1 point. He followed that game up with 0 points in 14 minutes against the Hornets. Then, in Washington’s most recent loss, Brooks played Johnson for 16 minutes, in which Johnson tallied, again, just 1 point. Johnson did not make a single field goal in any of those three games, missing a combined 10 shots. Oh, and for the first time in his career, Johnson is rocking a negative win share.
So, why is he playing over rookie Troy Brown Jr.?
Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Brown, the team’s 15th overall pick from last summer’s draft, has spent most of his time in the G-League, playing alongside Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza, who was just signed by the Houston Rockets. Brown, just 19, has displayed his versatile skill-set in the G-League, averaging 17 points on 49 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from three, along with 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. His pace is veteran-like as he rarely forces the issue and he’s flashed the playmaking ability that caused his stock to rise on draft night.
If Brooks is truly coaching for his career and wants to remain on the Wizards’ bench, then playing the most effective players would be a good start. Recognizing that those players aren’t always veterans would be even better.
With Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre gone—the two forwards once considered building-block pieces in D.C.—there is no logical reason to keep Brown waiting, marinating on the bench while other veterans don’t have long-term futures on the roster.
It goes beyond Brown, too.
Thomas Bryant, who’s been one of the few bright spots for the Wizards this season, hasn’t gotten consistent minutes despite being the lone reliable center in the rotation.
On Feb. 2 against the Bucks, Bryant played 32 minutes, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds—impressive numbers for an all-star veteran, let alone a player seeing actual minutes on the court for the first time in his career. The following game, he played just 19 minutes—beginning a string of five straight games where he played less than 20 minutes. In Washington’s most recent loss, Bryant played 31 minutes—and, again, posted 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Remember—the only reason Bryant got his chance is because Dwight Howard got hurt and the Wizards’ management did not find a reliable backup. Had Ian Mahinmi been capable of playing without fouling out, Bryant would likely be stuck in the G-League or glued to the end of the bench. Robinson could have had a similar breakout experience, but due to Brooks’ coaching decisions and the Wizards brass’ questionable desire to make the playoffs at all costs, that breakout will have to wait (if it ever comes).
Devin Robinson’s shot to prove himself has also been lost at the expense of playing veterans who, again, don’t have long-term futures in Washington, either.
The business of basketball revolves around winning games, but there are ways to keep a job other than producing wins, especially when the team is in no position to succeed. Focusing on player development is a sure-fire way to get in the management’s good graces—and if Brooks’ indefensible decisions aren’t remedied soon, Brown and Co. could hear their names get called by another head coach next season.