This week in Wizards: All aboard the struggle bus

By Zach Rice

After a surprisingly hot start to the season, the Wizards have crashed back to Earth lately. Washington had by far their worst week of the season, which included dropping three consecutive games to mediocre teams and are now tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Wizards started off the week with a tremendous team effort against the Timberwolves. Washington dominated the glass, winning the rebound battle 52–39. Montrezl Harrell woke up from the nap he’s been taking for the last two weeks, putting up 27 points on 11/12 shooting. Daniel Gafford had 18 points and 10 boards to go along with three blocks as stellar center play led the way for Washington.

Two days later against the Cavaliers is where everything began to go downhill. Cleveland’s Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen combined for 60 points, 21 rebounds and 12 assists; Garland was cooking like a master chef on offense all night, and Allen was getting whatever he wanted inside against a seemingly hapless Wizards defense. In complete contrast to the Timberwolves game, the Wizards got outrebounded 54–33 against the Cavs. It was an overall disastrous game for the Wizards, as they were down by 36 at one point in the third quarter. Quality play from the bench is the only reason the Wizards didn’t lose by at least 30.

The road contest against the Raptors was a tough pill to swallow. Washington went down by 25 in the second quarter, and it proved to be too deep of a hole to dig out of. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the one bright spot, as he shot 8/9 from the field and scored 26 points. That ridiculous efficiency could not be said about anyone else on the Wizards, as Washington shot less than 35% if you disregard KCP.

Ensuing two tough losses, it was more of the same for Washington against the soon-to-be rebuilding Pacers. Unlike the previous two losses, the Wizards actually played well offensively. Bradley Beal put up over 30 points for the first time all season, as he was in his bag all night. The Wizards shot the rock extremely well, shooting 53% from the field and nearly 47% from three. Washington needed to look for more three-point opportunities, because the Pacers perimeter defense was disastrous. If the Wizards were able to hit more threes instead of twos to go along with more effort on defense, they could’ve pulled out the victory.

After a rough three game stretch, Washington got back on track and won a thrilling game in Detroit. The Wizards went down double digits in the first half for the fourth consecutive game; the difference this time around, however, was their second-half performance. Washington’s incredible third quarter led by KCP’s ten points in the first two minutes gave the Wizards the lead entering the fourth quarter. The Wizards proceeded to choke a 13 point lead in the fourth quarter as they scored just three points in the final six minutes. Thankfully for Washington, big-shot Kyle Kuzma came up clutch in OT. Kuzma’s three with 0.6 seconds left in the game was a crowd silencer and ended the losing streak for Washington.

Hopefully, the overtime win can be a turnaround for Washington, as it was beginning to feel like the start of the season was too good to be true.

Here are three takeaways from a subpar week from the Wizards:

Spencer Dinwiddie has to step up

While many Wizards players have struggled recently Dinwiddie’s performances have been blatantly unacceptable. In the last ten games, Dinwiddie is averaging nine points per game on 31% shooting. These inexcusable shooting numbers feature games where he went 1/9, 2/12, 2/8, 3/11 and 3/9. As a player who was averaging 20 points per game earlier this season and who has been an exceptional scorer his whole career, it is a bit of a mystery why he is on this horrendous shooting skid. This is likely nothing more than a cold streak for Dinwiddie, so hopefully the warmth of the west coast will heat up his shot next week. 

Bradley Beal needs to continue to be aggressive

Beal is the best player on this team and needs to act more like it. It’s very difficult to stop Beal when he puts his head down and attacks; his superb mid-range jumper, phenomenal touch and elite athleticism are the best aspects of his offensive game right now. While Beal is shooting a brutal 26% from three, he is managing to be mediocre from the field due to his flashes of aggression. Beal has played two outstanding games in a row, games we were accustomed to seeing the past two years, and it is all because he wasn’t shooting the three ball and instead attacked the basket. 

Wes Unseld Jr. needs to make play calling adjustments 

While Washington’s defense hasn’t been great, the offense has been much worse, so coach Unseld needs to change things up offensively.

First,  the Wizards need to be more active on offense. There is way too much standing around, and the lack of movement is causing too many contested jump shots. A way to create more open looks is by setting more off-ball screens and running a four man out on offense with either Daniel Gafford or Montrezel Harrell inside. That way, Dinwiddie and Beal will get more opportunities to capitalize on beating their defenders without help defense being right there to stonewall whoever is attacking. Obviously, there won’t be a very simple turnaround for the Wizards, but more passing and spacing would greatly improve Washington’s offense.

Hot take: Spencer Dinwiddie should come off the bench 

The idea of Dinwiddie coming off of the bench is intriguing. Dinwiddie would still play upwards of 30 minutes per game, and the Wizards know that he was a tremendous sixth man in Brooklyn. He averaged nearly 17 points per game coming off the bench for the Nets and could’ve won the Sixth Man of the Year award if he didn’t suffer a thumb injury that slowed down his breakout season. Now, as he is playing similar minutes in Washington as to then, it is confusing to many why Dinwiddie is struggling. However, the answer is plain and simple: his usage rate is too low. Dinwiddie’s usage as a sixth man was 24.2% in 2018 and jumped to 28.7% the following season, compared to this year’s at just 20.6%. If Dinwiddie comes off the bench, he would easily be the primary ball handler, and his usage rate would skyrocket. The starter fulfilling his place should be Aaron Holiday, who certainly deserves more minutes than he’s been getting recently. This would allow for Beal to run the point and try to get himself going as well. It likely would be a temporary change, but as Dinwiddie is struggling, maybe he could gain some confidence as the leader of the bench.