This Week in Wizards: The duality of Washington

By Zach Rice

*This article was written prior to Washington’s 115-107 victory against the Timberwolves, 116-101 loss to the Cavaliers, and 102-90 loss to the Raptors.

Washington’s beginning to the season gave excited fans a glimmer of hope after years of mediocrity. But this past week’s tremulous four game road trip left a disgruntled Wizards team with a 2–2 record on the week, dropping them to third in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the first-place Nets.

After the Wizards defeated a deplorable, injury-ridden Pelicans team a few weeks ago in D.C, the Pelicans sought vengeance against the Wizards. They annihilated Washington, defeating the former number one seed by 25 points. The Wizard’s nineteen turnovers and lazy defense contributed to their heinous performance.

The Wizards followed this game with an atrocious performance against a young, tanking OKC team, barely squeaking out a win. Despite the close score, the Wizards’ starting lineup was an efficient 27/51 from the field and excellent in center play which carried the Wizards to victory. Montrezl Harrell had 14 points in 20 minutes off the bench and Daniel Gafford had an impressive eight blocks to lead the defensive intensity for Washington. A Shai Gilgeous-Alexander buzzer beater rimmed out, allowing the Wizards to escape with a 101-99 victory.

Following the OKC game, Washington won another thrilling game against the Mavericks on their second night of a back-to-back. The Wizards had another productive night from the field shooting 57.7%. Despite another efficient performance, turnovers continued to plague the Wizards. They committed 14 turnovers compared to Dallas’ seven.

Bradley Beal had one of his best games of the year, shooting over 70% from the floor with 26 points, and Kyle Kuzma lived up to his clutch reputation with 10 points in the fourth quarter and five points in the last two minutes to seal the win.

Following these two strong performances, the Wizards played a pitiful game against the Spurs. Unlike their Dallas game, the Wizards took care of the ball limited turnovers well; however, defensive breakdowns were a common theme. Washington was also outrebounded and shot 29% from three point range.

Here are three takeaways from a mediocre week by the Wizards:

Davis Bertans needs to step up
Davis Bertans is a problem. If the Wizards are going to break the bank for Bertans to shoot threes, he better make them. Since returning from injury, his stats have been terrible. He has shot 1/22 from the field, accumulating eight points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and six fouls in sixty one minutes of playing time. If this doesn’t step up immediately, Corey Kispert should be given an opportunity to take his role.

The turnover ratio has to improve
The Wizards have one of the worst turnover ratios in the league, and surprisingly it has little to do with their offense. Because they cannot force turnovers defensively, their turnover ratio has been abysmal. The Wizard turned the ball over 54 turnovers last week, while only forcing 36 defensively. That 1.5 to 1 ratio is a theme of Washington’s turnover struggles all season long, as the Wizards lead the league in least amount of turnovers forced per week. In order for this to turn around, Washington has to be more aggressive defensively.

Fast break points
In order for Washington to score more fast break points, they have to force more turnovers. They also have to push the tempo more by looking for breakout passes to establish transition offense. It was one of Wes Unseld Jr’s goals to play less fast-paced compared to last year so the Wizards wouldn’t fatigue and could play better defense. This has been very successful and Unseld should be given credit for this philosophy, but a moderation is necessary. The Wizards currently rank second-to-last in points per game scored on the fast break. Forcing more turnovers will automatically cause this to go up, however, coaching adjustments by Unseld would have a significant impact as well. Adjustments, like being more aggressive, can be fixed by quicker rotations and are easily achievable.

Hot Take: Bradley Beal will break his season high in points next week
Bradley Beal’s season high this year is only 30 points, which is unbelievable considering he averaged over 30 points per game last year. However, Beal has many favorable matchups this week. His most favorable is against the Pacers who struggle at defending guards. In two games last year against Indianapolis, Beal averaged 38 points per game and he seems poised for another. As of late, he’s been more efficient from the floor, and throughout the season, he’s played better with Spencer Dinwiddie alongside him.