WASHINGTON — A handful of NBA teams have overachieved, and just as many have underachieved, as per usual. However, one prominent NBA analyst thinks the Wizards have underachieved more than any other team this year.
Howard Beck, of Bleacher Report, told The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan Tuesday morning the Wizards have a case as the most disappointing team in the NBA.
“This is certainly a disappointing season,” Beck said of the Wizards’ 2015-16 campaign, adding coach Randy Wittman could be fired if the season continues at this pace. “I think the Wizards are one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA, if not the most. And they’ve had injury issues, too, as you guys know. But I’ve got a feeling that this might be [Wittman’s] last shot. If they don’t rally and somehow get back in this playoff race, and make the playoffs, and make some noise in the playoffs, I gotta think that he’s gonna be one of the others to go this offseason.”
Beck’s case is easy to make, as Washington is just 22-27 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. A year ago, the Wizards were 31-18 through 49 games, using a similar roster with only a few players having been swapped. Host Eric Bickel asked what the Wizards’ biggest issues are, as many of the players remain the same, but Beck says the roster might look similar, but the team is very different. As Beck notes, the Wizards attempted to dramatically revamp their offensive strategy in the offseason and have been plagued by injuries all year, so while John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter remain fixtures, it’s basically been a season of “next man up.”
“You always start with personnel, and I don’t know that they have the right personnel,” Beck said, at which point Bickel interrupts.
“They have largely the same guys as last year though, right? Minus Paul Pierce, largely,” Bickel said.
“Yeah, but they’ve also been hurt and they’ve also tried to change their style and go small,” Beck responded. “So first it was Kris Humphries, who did not exactly spend his career as a stretch 4, trying to convert him into a stretch 4, and then he got hurt anyway. Now you’ve got Jared Dudley out there. Jared’s a nice player, but is he the guy that you want plugged in as your starting power forward? He’s been mostly a bench guy in his career. I just don’t know that they’ve got the right personnel to do what they want to do right now. And Nene’s always hurt. The Nene-[Marcin] Gortat frontcourt had its run, but it seemed like there was a limit to how far that it could take them in today’s NBA. I feel like there’s just a rejiggering coming at some point soon, where they’re just going to have to look at this roster and say, ‘Alright, what’s our identity really going to be and how do we get the players to execute that, and to match that identity?'”
Washington won 44 games in 2013 and 46 in 2014. It made the Eastern Conference Semifinals in each of those two seasons, and if not for an untimely injury to Wall, the Wizards stood a good chance of beating the Atlanta Hawks and facing off with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The goal this season for Washington was to take the next step but also remain flexible heading into the 2016 offseason, when it would make a full-on run for locally-born superstar Kevin Durant, who is set to be a free agent.
With the Wizards facing an uphill climb to even make it into the postseason this year, the goal of making the conference finals seems like a longshot at best. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, are 39-14 and appear destined for at least the second round of the playoffs, and they make a strong case as a title contender; it seems highly unlikely Durant would leave that situation to come join a floundering Wizards team with so much in flux.
Beck mentioned the Milwaukee Bucks as a team that could be possibly looked at as underachieving, but he discounted that notion, saying they simply overachieved last year amid a weak Eastern Conference, and now they’re falling back to where they should be.
A case could be made for the Houston Rockets being the most disappointing team this year, as they won 54 games two years ago and 56 games last season but are just 27-26 this season. But the Rockets have gone 23-19 under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff and, having won 11 of their past 18 games, appear to be in the process of righting the ship.
The New Orleans Pelicans had hopes of improving upon a respectable 45-37 last year — after going 34-48 in 2013, 27-55 in 2012 and 21-45 in 2011 — but they have fallen flat and sit at just 19-32. They make a strong case as the league’s most disappointing team, but few expected them to be among the top teams in their conference at the end of the season.
Most expected Washington to at least make the playoffs, and many thought it could compete for the second or third spot in the Eastern Conference. Now, simply making the playoffs might be the most realistic goal.