This week in Wizards: The home stretch

By Zach Rice

As the season is wisping away, so are the hopes and dreams of Wizards fans. After going 1–3 this week, the Wizards are essentially out of play-in contention, unless they miraculously finish the season undefeated. After a white hot start to the season, ending the season 10–0 but getting Will Smith-style slapped by the Raptors in the play-in tournament would be quite the full circle moment.

The first game of the week ended in an infuriating loss to a suddenly relentless Knicks team that vastly out-hustled the Wizards. The ‘Bockers won an ugly game despite shooting 34% from the field, dominating the glass and getting to the free throw line frequently. The Knicks had 19 offensive boards compared to three for the Wizards, and 36 free throw attempts compared to 21. 

The Wizards followed up a painful loss with a high-scoring, paint-dominant game against the Lakers. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers held a lead they had since the first quarter until Kristaps Porzingis nearly outscored the Lakers by himself in the final frame. Porzingis had 16 of Washington’s 34 fourth quarter points while the Lakers only scored 20 points of their own. Porzingis and Daniel Gafford dominated with their physicality all game, exposing the Lakers’ lack of defensive toughness and scoring in the paint at will. The two were a combined 18/26 shooting and shot more free throws combined than the entire Lakers squad. Tomas Satoransky showed out as well, shooting 6/6 from the field with 16 points, six assists, two steals and a plus-minus of +23.

It feels like there’s a new season-worst game for the Wizards every week, but the performance against the Rockets was extraordinarily embarrassing. The Wizards had a 23-point lead in the second quarter and ended up losing by 18. 

Pause for condolences. 

After taking a comfortable lead, the Wizards suddenly couldn’t hit a shot and became careless with the ball, and the Rockets got hot and cut the Washington lead to twelve at halftime. Nonetheless, it was an impressive first half. However, as the whistle blew and the second half started, it felt like a different game. Any remnants of movement evaporated, and the Wizards kept settling for bad threes late in the shot clock. Meanwhile, Christian Wood couldn’t miss, and the Rockets made it a three point game by the end of the third quarter. The Rockets proceeded to go on a 12–0 run to start the fourth quarter and never looked back, as they outscored the Wizards by 21 in the period.

The Wizards picked up right where they left off against the Bucks. After the first quarter, the Wizards found themselves down 19 to a Bucks team that didn’t even have Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton. Unfortunately, the Wizards were in too deep of a hole to recover. The loss was consolidated on the scoreboard thanks to garbage time in the fourth quarter, as losing by 12 doesn’t depict the story of the agonizing game. 

In the Motor City, the Wizards nearly blew another double-digit lead, but double-doubles from Deni Avdija and Kristaps Porzingis lifted the Wizards over the Pistons despite getting outscored in the paint 54–32. Although no one else really stepped up for the Wizards in the scoring department, KP and Deni’s stellar performances were enough to get the win.  

The Wizards then returned home to face a Stephen Curry-less Warriors, where an unexpected hero emerged by the name of Corey Kispert. Kispert lit up the Warriors from three, draining 6/9 triples en route to a season-high 25 points in a Wizards victory. KCP also contributed 22 points on an immaculate 8/8 shooting, and the Wizards sent the spiraling Warriors down a deeper hole. 

Here are three takeaways from a mostly abysmal week from the Wizards.

The Wizards must be more assertive on offense 

Throughout the week and the season, it has been clear that the Wizards are at their best when they are aggressive. This has been very difficult without Bradley Beal and even more so without Kyle Kuzma, and this week was a glaring example of why the Wizards must play downhill basketball. The only game this week where they had a strong paint presence was against the Lakers, where Porzingis and Gafford combined for 44 points and shot nearly 70% from the field. The aggressiveness was the same in the first half against the Rockets, as they didn’t settle for jump shots, but when the Rockets started playing ferociously, the Wizards began settling for poor shots. Wes Unseld Jr. has to prioritize trying to score at the rim.

Look to score early in the shot clock

The Wizards aren’t Villanova or Virginia. They can’t meander around for 25 seconds and then make an easy layup. It’s vital that they start setting screens early in the shot clock so that there is a sense of movement and shot creation before there are ten seconds left in the shot clock. This will lead to more opportunities at the rim and better opportunities from three. It will make the Wizards’ offense way less predictable. Take, for example, the Warriors. They get into their offensive sets in the blink of an eye, and even though they may not convert their shot attempts into points, the fact that they get quality shots a majority of the time is a testament to their efficient pace. Against the Wizards, Jordan Poole and Draymond Green were constantly pushing the pace, which often led to efficient movement and, most of the time, a quality shot. Although the Wizards won, Washington should’ve been taking notes.        

We need a point guard

Although it is fairly obvious, it has become abundantly clear how important it is to have a point guard who can score and play-make. Even though Spencer Dinwiddie had his ups and very down downs, he is infinitely better than Raul Neto and Ish Smith. Neto is a solid playmaker, and so is Smith, but having a point guard who can’t score greatly limits the potential of an offense. Whether Beal is a Wizard or not next year, Washington needs a true point guard who can help his teammates and create shots for himself. While stars like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Colin Sexton could be available, the chances of the Wizards landing one of them and keeping Beal is far-fetched. More realistically, the Wizards could draft Johnny Davis, TyTy Washington or Dyson Daniels, or Jaden Ivey if they’re lucky.

Hot Take: Trade Bradley Beal or let him walk in free agency 

I’m sick and tired of mediocrity. For the last four seasons, the Wizards have finished between 8th and 11th in the East. What that means is the Wizards get a weak lottery pick or get smacked in the first round without a lottery pick. As long as the Wizards keep Beal, they won’t be any better than they have been. They’re best off tanking and getting some of the top picks in the next few years, so hopefully they can nail draft picks like they did with John Wall and Beal.