WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — A record of 33-21 at the All-Star Break is hardly something to complain about, especially from a franchise that has won a total of two playoff series dating back to 1983.
In the past season and a half the Wizards have transformed from perennial losers to potential contenders. One of the consequences of this newfound success is elevated expectations. While the team need only win half of its remaining games to surpass last season’s 44-win total, fans are becoming concerned—the Wizards have played their worst basketball of the season over the past two weeks.
The top five concerns for the Wizards at the All-Star break are as follows:
1. Randy Wittman – He is the biggest concern of all. It is high time to begin asking whether Randy Wittman is the limiting the Wizards potential or maximizing it.
Most Wizards fans I speak with seem to be terrified of rocking the boat. Success has been such a phantom for this franchise that they are terrified of any change. Don’t be scared. It is nearly impossible to win a championship in the NBA in spite of a mediocre coach.
I tend to believe that Wittman was in the right place at the right time when he assumed the position three seasons ago. He inherited a young, dysfunctional team that was near the bottom of the barrel. A few acquisitions, a decent draft, and some addition by subtraction provided him a team that was primed for a playoff run last season. If you stick with Randy Wittman, you have already seen this team’s ceiling.
Wittman could coach a 50-win regular season team, but he can’t coach a team to the Conference Finals. The final 90 seconds are pivotal in the majority of NBA playoff games. I have zero confidence in any situation with Wittman coaching the last 90 seconds. He can’t draw up a successful play out of a timeout; he looks flabbergasted and overmatched—offensively and defensively—when the team needs him at his best.
2. Finding a closer – The one thing that could save Randy Wittman is a closer—he doesn’t have one. Drawing up plays for Kevin Durant, LeBron James, or 2008 Paul Pierce can make any coach look like a genius.
Without a closer, the Wizards do not have many options when it comes to hitting a big shot.
John Wall is an amazing player and future MVP candidate, but he has yet to prove that he is a closer. He doesn’t get the generous foul calls that LeBron and company get when they go to the rim. That leaves him to his jump shot. Unfortunately, as Neil Greenberg statistically demonstrated in his Washington Post article this week, Wall shouldn’t even be taking shots at the end of quarters, let alone the end of the game.
The next logical choice for closing games is Paul Pierce. Though the 2015-version of Pierce has been serviceable this season, it’s not breaking news that he looks like your dad when he tries to separate from the defense to get off a last-second shot.
Bradley Beal could become the closer someday, but you can’t hit game-winners while you are wearing a suit on the sideline. This brings me to the next concern…
3. Bradley Beal’s health – Bullets fans, does the name Earl “The Pearl” Monroe mean anything to you? It should. A man who could have been one of the greatest basketball players of all-time hobbled through the latter stages of his career, due in large part to recurring knee injuries.
Bradley, I love you, Baby Panda, but you are scaring the crap out of me. I can’t afford to lose you; I’ve invested too much hope, and spent far too much time photoshopping your face onto pandas.
If you haven’t become concerned with Beal’s long-term health, now is the time to do so. Beal is facing a “recurring stress reaction” in his right leg for the third time in his career. This injury has caused him to miss time each season of his professional career. When healthy, he is a stud. He became the Zards go-to guy in crunch time during last season’s playoffs.
Beal is a cornerstone of what this team is trying to build—sadly, it’s becoming difficult to consider him a guarantee. Hence the Earl Monroe nightmares, says my therapist.
4. Struggles versus elite teams – The Wizards cannot beat the Raptors or Hawks. They are 0-6 versus the top two teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Plenty can change in the final 28 games, but right now the Wiz can’t be confident facing any opponent beyond the first round.
The Wiz will enter the playoffs in the 3 – 6 seed range. Here are the teams they should be afraid of facing, from most terrifying to least: 1. Cavs (LeBron demons) 2. Raptors (Canadian unicorns) 3. Hawks (They can’t shoot this well forever, right?) 4. Bulls (Far stronger than last year) 5. Beacon Town Beavers 6. Bucks. Everyone else in the East is garbage. Whatever the 76ers and Knicks are doing can’t even be classified as basketball. They should be forced to play each other outdoors, endlessly.
5. Expectations beyond this year – Let’s get this straight. The Wizards are a good, not great, team. They have one borderline-superstar and a bevy of capable contributors. Reaching the NBA Championship this year would be nothing short of a miracle. Beating the Western Conference champ in the finals would lead to copulation in the streets.
The absolute ceiling for the Zards is the Conference Finals. This team is still a few pieces away from competing on a championship level.
The Wizards will not win a championship if they stay on their current path. A Wittman-led team will drown the fans in mediocrity. There is enough talent on this roster to make the playoffs by default the next few years, but their exit will remain a swift one with an inadequate coach. Eventually fans are going to demand a deeper playoff run. A new coach, another season for young players to develop, and one big free agent signing could get us there.
Honorable mentions: Gortat’s mystifying struggles, trade deadline options, Porter’s playing time, and the Verizon Center’s crowd intensity (excluding Chic-fil-A free throws).
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