It’s no secret that over the last 3 years, the Washington Wizards have become a disappointment to D.C. sports. While the Capitals, Nationals, and Mystics were making their historic championship runs, the Wizards cheered from the sidelines, dreaming they could someday celebrate as champs. This season, Washington fans are sitting through yet another disappointing season, as they are currently 20-34, putting them at the 9th seed in the East, 3 games out of the playoffs. Some blame the situation on a multitude of injuries suffered by many Wizards players, but one player, in particular, is missed more than others – John Wall.
When Wall signed a 4 yr/ $171 million contract in 2017, Wizards fans didn’t just expect him to play well, but they expected him to lead the team, specifically come playoff time. But after Wall hit that incredible buzzer-beater to force game 7 in the 2017 playoffs against Boston, everything went downhill.
During the winter months of the 2017-18 season, Wall suffered from pain and discomfort in his left knee. He received PRP injections, consulted with specialists, and decided to undergo a procedure to “clean up the area”, causing him to miss 2 months of action. The next season, Wall endured recurring pain in his left heel. This pain became too much for him, as he ended up undergoing surgery, causing him to miss 6-8 months and concluding his 2018-19 season. One month later, Wall had yet another surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, adding to his list of injuries, and adding more time to his recovery plan.
With Wall expected to miss the rest of the current 2020 season, more pressure is put on the rest of the Washington roster to succeed. Unfortunately, even more, injuries forced most Wizards players to each miss extended periods of time; rookie sensation Rui Hachimura has missed 23 games, starting center Thomas Bryant has missed 24 games, and stretch-4 Moe Wagner has missed 27 games. These losses have forced GM Tommy Sheppard to dig deep to find players capable of playing for Washington. As a result, 7 players – Bonga, Schofield, Matthews, Payton ||, Robinson, Pasecniks, and Williams – have been called up from the G-league and asked to run lengthy minutes in the NBA. While these players have shown hints of talent, they are still developing, and shoving them into the “big boy” league might not only hurt their growth but will certainly decrease Washington’s chance of success. Here is an overview of the current roster:
- PG: Ish Smith
- SG: Bradley Beal
- SF: Isaac Bonga
- PF: Rui Hachimura
- C: Ian Mahinmi
- Davis Bertans
- Troy Brown Jr.
- Thomas Bryant
- Garrison Matthews
- Moritz Wagner
- Shabazz Napier
- Gary Payton II
- Jerome Robinson
- Admiral Schofield
- Johnathan Williams
- Anzejs Pasecniks
- John Wall
Obviously, it’s not anyone’s fault that the Wizards were put into the position they are currently in. Most players have missed time, new players have been pushed into a situation they aren’t ready for, and each Wizard plays while being unsure of what will happen in the future. These circumstances have caused team chemistry to plummet off the court, as there have been multiple locker room conflicts and alterations throughout the season, according to reports. Even before this current season, there have been many scuffles and verbal brawls that show Washinton’s poor culture. And of course, all of these factors about the nature of Washington off the court directly impact Washington’s success on the court. And with this, an endless cycle has formed without a sign of stoppage until something is changed about Washington’s system.
For Wizards’ fans, though, there is hope, as there are options the organization can try to fix the situation, starting from the top.
Many have called on Scott Brooks to step down as head coach of the Wizards.
Obviously, Brooks is recognized as one of the best coaches of the last decade. He won Coach of the Year in 2010 and took OKC to the Finals against Miami in 2012. However, he isn’t having as much success in Washington because he isn’t the right person for this job. When he was in OKC, he coached 3 future MVPs who knew their roles and did what they needed to do to win. In Washington, however, he is coaching young, developing players who haven’t found their persona in the NBA yet. Furthermore, Washington’s culture is indigent with arguments breaking out constantly over the years. So to get these players with personal agendas on the same page to win, as Stephen A. put it, “this job requires a heavy hammer”. The Wizards need a leader who can hold people accountable, and who can place responsibility and initiative on his players for an outcome. Because Brooks is known for having a friendly and loving demeanour, he might not fit with the goals of the franchise.
If Brooks doesn’t leave, the leadership of the team falls to Bradley Beal. While Beal isn’t known for being a commander off the court, he does his talking on the court.
Bradley Beal is having the best season of his career.
Beal is averaging career highs in points and assists. Some will say that his stats are “empty” because his team is losing, despite him posting great numbers. However, most don’t realize how hard it is for Beal to do what he does on a nightly basis. When one sole player is the only offensive threat on the court, opposing teams shape their defensive strategy around that lone person. No matter how the Wizards execute on offense, the goal of the opponent’s defense is to not stop the team but to stop Beal. Opponents might press Beal up the court, double Beal off a pick, or trap Beal in the corner to get the ball out of his hands. Even when Beal plays off the ball, opponents still know exactly where he is and might switch on screens or overplay him to prevent his threat. So essentially, Beal ends up indirectly playing 1 v 5 on offense. However, even with coaches and players centering their scheme around stopping Beal, Bradley is still skilled enough to be able to get to his spots, make plays, and create for others. And this isn’t just some of the time… Beal is putting up 29 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. He is consistently able to read the defense and use what he is given to routinely produce for the team.
One should also remember that most of Beal’s teammates are young and still developing their skills. Therefore, as Beal drives his players to succeed every night, he is indeed showing his ability to lead a team. While some say Beal should be winning more often, it is undoubtedly more impressive that Beal can gather and push his teammates to thrive. And when put into perspective, winning 20 games and scoring 115 PPG with an inexperienced, raw group of people is pretty incredible. It takes a true leader to accomplish what Beal has done so far, and being able to carry a group of underdeveloped players on a nightly basis, while dealing with defenses constructed around making Beal deteriorate, make his season that much more impressive.
If nothing improves by the end of the season, however, there are still things fans should keep in mind for the future.
Beal decided to stick with the team.
When Bradley decided to extend his contract for 2 more years back in October, there were many aspects to analyze. When signing on the dotted line, Brad had decided to stay with the Wizards organization for 3 more years until the 2022-23 season (where he has a player option). This showed that through all the drops and downtrends the Wizards had suffered through the years, Bradley believed there were opportunities for improvement, and possibilities of becoming a successful team once again. He believed that once Wall came back, they can be one of the best backcourts in the league, leading one of the best teams in the league.
Beal’s decision is also a mark on his authentic character and integrity. Nowadays, fans see players taking the easy route. Players will leave teams without notice, force trades, and blatantly sit out games in hopes of being able to leave an organization they are tired of. Players will turn their backs on teammates and ignore their relationship with fans, just to make it easier for themselves to win. In Beal’s case, he is one of the few people left that would rather work hard and build trust through an organization, than to just quit. And with that, it is indeed a comfort for fans knowing they can count on Beal to be there through the hardships, so that the probability is higher for Washington to succeed in the near future.
The Wizards are still missing a player.
Bradley Beal, with his amazing attributes, leadership, and character, isn’t the Wizards’ best player. The guy putting 30 a night while leading a broken team and showing rare symbols of trust through it all is Washington’s 2nd best player. Where’s the Wizards’ best player? Probably in a gym somewhere rehabbing his leg.
While it’s unsure how good Wall will be when he finally returns to the court, it can be said that even if Wall will never be as explosive and skilled as he was before, he will most definitely still play at an all-star level. Even if he will never be one of the most all-around guards in the league ever again, his presence on and off the court will boost Washington’s chance for success. Off the court, having an experienced veteran will help young players to develop their skills, and to shape their raw talents into NBA-level expertise. On the court, at minimum, Wall’s presence will take the pressure off Beal to produce, making him more efficient and versatile. And at maximum, Wall’s talents will create an offensive and defensive threat to opponents, because having 2 guards who can consistently produce at a high level through crucial moments of the game will prove why Washington is still a threat in the East.
Before Wall was injured, he was the clear superstar, while Beal was nothing more than an above-average scorer. When Wall was gone, however, Beal turned himself into an NBA superstar, creating new attributes for himself that he never contained with Wall. Once Wall and Beal are together again, Washington can outplay teams using their combination of skill from 2 superstars, instead of just one. And once the Wizards start succeeding on the court, team chemistry will improve, and many of the conflicts off the court will disintegrate. This will create a good cycle of production and culture that will certainly improve Washington’s probability of success.
In summary, there are many elements to the Wizard’s organization that make it interesting to analyze. It’s no secret that they are atrocious right now, due to injuries and poor culture. But fans should know that there are many aspects of the organization that could turn the situation around. Beal is turning himself into a superstar and has committed to the team for the future, the young players will only get better over time as they develop their talents, and Wall is continuing to put himself back into the league as fast as he can. And if everyone else on the team does what they need to do, Washington fans can breathe easy knowing, every day, the Wizards are indeed one step closer towards contending for an NBA championship.