The Wizards have one win since April of last year. They won only 15 games in 2011, won only 23 games on the season, have gone 68-178 over the last three, and have not cracked the elusive 26 win barrier for three seasons. Indeed, if you really want to overthink things, the Wizards haven’t won more than 45 games since 1978-79, the year after winning their only NBA championship. That’s how bad the franchise has been having it.

There are less talented teams out there, though. So something must be wrong. Quite. Why have the Wizards been this bad?

Two years ago, the Wizards sold the No. 32 pick to Houston for $2.5 million, and then re-invested most of it in signing veteran big man Fabricio Oberto, whom they then saw fit to actually play in actual games. Despite recording 121 fouls to only 105 rebounds and 83 points, the Wizards would repeatedly turn to Oberto ahead of JaVale McGee, a core young piece, because Oberto would play the “right way.” He would screen, hand-off, pass, only sometimes throw the ball away, and try his level best to not be too slow in his defensive rotations. Signing Oberto, and playing him ahead of infinitely more talented players, was supposed to set a standard for Wizards basketball, a means to instil discipline and good habits into youngsters by making them sit and watch inferior veterans do it first.

It didn’t work. The Wizards continue to be submarined by a lack of discipline on the court, the folly of youth with little veteran savvy to correct it with. There’s plenty of talent on the roster but there’s no cohesion to it. And without IQ, heart or intensity, talent counts for nothing.

Flip Saunders will likely be the fall guy before the year is out, because someone has to be. But he’s trying, moreso than his players. You can’t teach a team that won’t listen. Washington’s offense is built around a point guard who can’t shoot, a shooting guard who won’t stop shooting, and a big man who shoots whatever he wants before blaming others for it on Twitter. All this is complimented by a defense that just doesn’t understand fundamental defensive positioning, nor that seems to want to try. In stockpiling assets and loading up on potential, all the Wizards have done is create a cast of misfits. Misfits who, for the most part, play as though they are in it only for themselves.

Dearth of on-court discipline notwithstanding, there is a genuine depth of talent to the roster. But even their genuine prospects are suffering. John Wall in particular is off to a terrible start, shooting 35 percent from the field, turning the ball over four times a game and looking thoroughly baffled in the halfcourt. Wall will however at least try to pass, but the same cannot be said for the whole team. As good of shot makers as they are, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Jordan Crawford seem content with looking only for their own, running isolation after isolation, damaging their reputations, shooting percentages and team performance in the process.

If the team has such an inherent distrust of itself that veteran reserve Mo Evans (who is not guilty of the aforementioned crimes) saw fit to call a players-only meeting barely a week into a season, it isn’t hard to see where it stems from. The Wizards, frankly, do not play like a team.

Frustrated by mediocrity, Washington blew up their expensive, badly-constructed but talented team of veterans, and replaced it with a cheaper, equally badly-constructed yet highly talented team of youngsters. At the behest of owner Ted Leonsis, they adhered to the time-honoured mantra that it’s better to be young and bad than old and average, opting to tank several seasons to build something long term. Yet they’re somehow worse off for it, and there’s no end in sight. A worryingly care-free culture permeates the roster, one so entrenched that not even Mo Evans and Roger Mason can make an inroad into it.

Eight of the 15 Wizards players are rookies or sophomores. The next three with the most experience — Young, Blatche and McGee — play more like the problem than the solution. In terms of true veterans, the Wizards boast only four, and yet they barely play. Ronny Turiaf is out long term with a broken hand, Mo Evans has yet to play due to a knee injury, Roger Mason is a bit-part player, and Rashard Lewis has been simply ineffective this season.

As near as makes no difference, then, the Wizards are dependent upon the vagaries of youth. Even the moves to rectify this imbalance were themselves undermined. Mike Miller was merely a rental, Kirk Hinrich lasted half a season before he was traded for youth and cap space, and Shaun Livingston left as soon as he broke out. The Wizards don’t need both Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, nor both Jordan Crawford and Nick Young, nor both Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. But they do have them, and this stockpiling of youth may have gone too far.

The Wizards finally won a game this week, beating a Raptors team so overtly obvious in their tanking that they start Rasual Butler. The depth and potential were on display, as was a level of effort the normally lethargic Wizards are not known for, and for which Saunders’s starting lineup changes ought take much of the credit. It was a game and a result that hinted at what might still lie dormant within.

But that’s all they’ve done. A team with this much young talent should feel a lot better about where it’s headed than this. They might just have to get older.

Comments (18)

  1. Interesting piece. On the bright side at least they’re entertaining, unlike the Pistons.

  2. Loved the read, Mark, I disagree with the Raptors blatantly tanking though. As difficult as it is to watch Rasual Butler play basketball, I feel like Dwane Casey really believes Butler can be that glue guy besides scorers (Bargnani, DeRozan), passers (Calderon), and a big banger type (Amir). It’s sad, but true.

    • @Tas – The fact that Rasual Butler is a viable starting option tells me that the front office isn’t trying nearly as hard to win right now as the coaching staff. I don’t doubt that Casey is doing his very best with what he’s got, but I also don’t doubt that the front office deliberately didn’t give him much to work with.

    • I agree, it looks like the Raptors are legitimately trying to win games. Butler’s also the 3 point specialist that they need to spread the floor. He’s gotten a lot of great looks so far from 3 point range, but unfortunately his shots just haven’t found the net.

      But I do like James Johnson as a 6th man. He’s an energy guy, and easily one of their best defenders, if not the best. Also versatile, as he can play both SF and PF.

  3. Smart, fair analysis. Would have liked a take on what the team should do, given all these problems. For example, if the team drops Nick Young next summer — as they should — what can they do? Crawford cannot start at SG. The 2012 free-agent list for SGs is terrible. And they’ll be drafting too high to take the top-rated SG on the board (Bradley Beal).

    Answering my own question, the answer was probably to overpay for Afflalo, knowing they can draft a scoring SF (Barnes, Kidd-Gilchrist) and/or more easily find a scoring SF in free agency than they can find a stable solution at SG who does a lot of things well. In other words: Wall + Afflalo + Barnes > Wall + Young (or Crawford) + Barnes. By a lot.

    I know the Wiz didn’t want to use cap space now, but when you look at the ’12 free agents, it’s a dud. And it’s a lot to ask the players and fans to wait until the end of the ’12-13 season so the Wiz can become one of 5 teams to offer a max deal for James Harden.

    • How are the Wizards supposed to get Afflalo though? Denver has him locked up for the next 5 years, and there’s no way they’d get rid of him for anything Washington would have to offer, other than their 2012 draft pick, obviously (which Washington won’t give up).

    • Correct me if im wrong but from what I know Crawford only signed a one year contract so they wont have him next year

  4. This is more a collection than a team.

  5. No doubt the Wizards should be better than 1-9 at this point.

    6th overall pick Jan Vesley has hardly been used at all so far this season either. Only 13.7MPG in his 3GP

  6. Luckily for the Wizards, their weakest position is the PF position. i dont care who they have on their roster at the moment because the top 5 PFs in this draft are all better then the PFs currently on the roster.

  7. It is painful to watch the Wizards, not so much for lack of talent but lack of effort, hustle and plain basketball IQ. IMO, they need to get rid of players who play a “me-first” brand of streetball for the show and stats (i.e. Crawford, Blatche, McGee, Young). They all have talent and I believe each individual will do much better when surrounded by savvy veterans and higher-tiered players. We’ve all heard the term “a sum greater than its parts”. Here, having a whole collection of talented players with low basketball IQ and a more vested interest in individual stats than wins seems to have an opposite effect. The Wizards is simply a talented team with a sum much lesser than its parts.

    P.S. Remember the ugly moments when Blatche and McGee attempted to get their triple-double? This is a team that still resembles more of a Washington Generals team than a competitive NBA team right now.

    • Try again, McGee has been playing his butt off and playing team ball. If others are not and affecting the way his game is percieved thats another question. The problem may have ben when they had a big man worth building around and choose to draft a PG and resume building around that PG. They did not let that center go yet tried to make him fit that mold. Do you remember when we had Shaun Livingston. He was not the bet option at PG but he was alot better than Wall is now.

  8. the wiz need a coach like stan van gundy who can shut these egotistical players up and force them to work as a team. The crew right now is running the ship

  9. This has less to do with basketball IQ than it does with actual IQ. Easily some of the dumbest human beings ever assembled in one place – it just so happens that they are supposed to be playing basketball together.

  10. I think its the uniforms.

  11. The Wizards have way too many problems. The front office management and draft selections/strategy over the past few years has been atrocious. They need to fire both Ernie and Flip, emphasize rebuilding, create a fresh start mentality but not piss of Wall.

    They fire Coach Jordan after 4 straight years of making the playoffs (during a season of turmoil and injury of the big 3) to hire a coach that did the same thing in Minnesota.

    Once they made the decision to start over and explode the big three, 2009-10, the “building years” mentality should’ve emphasized much more. Not playing McGee or developing McGee during a 19-63 season (15.2 minutes per game) was a huge mistake. You need to develop Centers, we’ve learned they are few and far between. I don’t understand how you miss taking Rubio in the 2009 draft. I’m okay with Wall missing shots, I’d rather have him focus on being a point guard than a shooting guard (like Rondo).

    Here’s the first draft pick each yeah. it pains me that we’ve gotten so many high picks but haven’t turned much of anything.
    2011 #6 Jan Vesely
    2010 #1 John Wall
    2009 #5 Trade Rubio for Randy Foye and Mike Miller
    2008 #18 JaVale McGee
    2007 #16 Nick Young

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