“In the NBA, you have to take a step back before you can move forward. At some point, Washington will have to make that decision…” – Marcus Atkinson, Bullets Forever, Jan 2019.
After Sunday night’s close game ended once more without a victory cigar, the Wizards are left stuck with the 5th worst record in the NBA. Whatever the reason(s)—Covid, injuries, late-game execution, lack of fluid passing, inept defending, careening confidence, turnovers, missed free throws and rotations, scoreless droughts, coaching miscues,
Davis Bertans getting banged on—this season hasn’t gone to plan. The plan, of course, was to construct a roster that would, as a floor, make the playoffs. Buoyed by Boston and Miami’s surprising run, some (read: Me) went full fanatic and thought that the Wizards could likewise overachieve and, as its ceiling, get to the Eastern Conference Finals. But then along came latent roster construction defects to show us differently.
Although Washington is 11 games under the mediocre threshold, the Wizards are only a laughable four back of the playoff spots. I don’t know what to make of this talented team languishing in mediocrity, but I do know it’s time to depart from the scripture’s teaching to walk by faith and not by sight. See, it is hard to have rational faith in this team because what the eye suggests the Wizards’ play confirms: We’re going to lose a lot more games.
Why? Start with the team’s
folly strategy to fork over a large lead to the opposing team, go on a spirited run to get close before ultimately failing to protect the ball and get stops when it most matters. This silly stratagem always ends in
But losing can lead to a brighter future. As the Wizards continue to invent new ways to send fans around the twist, the losses equally increase the chances for nabbing one of the generational talents whiling away the time before the NBA draft. A more provocative way of putting this would be to label it tanking. But I won’t call the Wizards flavor of losing tanking, as Ted Leonsis said we’d never, ever tank.
There’s not much to be gained by reciting the arguments for and against tanking. Because what matters more, we think, is the transition to what to watch and get excited for during such a lost season. In sports, as with life, general advice comes from those who’ve been in your shoes. And if you look closely, following their lone championship, the Dallas Mavericks were another team who utilized the strategy of competing for the playoffs but never really jumping to contender status.
But then Mark Cuban endorsed the Tank, and in two years his team was back in the playoffs with a very bright future ahead of them. Having endured what we’re now faced with, I asked Kirk Henderson, the site manager of SB Nation’s Dallas Mavericks site for tips. Here is what he said:
There are two related paths that I recommend going down during a losing season. First is getting into the depths of Draft Twitter. There are men and women out there who do absurd deep dives on all the various players who might be available in the upcoming draft. It’s nuts but it’s fun, and you end up educating yourself on things about players and what works and doesn’t work at the NBA level.
This leads directly into the second path: paying close attention to what the prospects on your team are actually doing. I’m not talking wins, losses, or statistical benchmarks. Rather, I’m talking about *how* these things happen.
Example: The sweet-shooting from the mid-range for (insert player X) has worked for him over a five-game streak? Is that sustainable? Is his form something that’s improved? (Insert player Y) has done a great job on help defense while also leading the second unit offense, can that project up to guarding better players and running an offense against a first team? It’s often granular as hell, but if you’re pairing this with some pining for potential superstars in the draft, it gets you through getting the crap kicked out of your team by the Lakers on a random Tuesday in March
Lastly, it’s not worth getting upset over wins. That sounds silly to say aloud because you want your team to win, but in a tank losing season, that’s generally not the case. Enjoying trivial things like the occasional win is recommended; the lottery odds are so similar now it’s not like a win in April is going to change your entire franchise moving forward.”
The important takeaway from this is a deceptively simple one: Stay sane, folks, and dive into Draft Twitter. Alternatively, pray for a five-game win streak.