The Washington Wizards have gotten off to the most disappointing of starts early in the NBA season. They’re at the bottom of the East at 0-3 after losing to the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons and, the infamous, Philadelphia 76ers.
The Wizards moniker coming into the season was ‘no excuses’, but yet, there seems to have been some type of excused conjured up after each individual loss this season. The playoff hope for the Wizards hasn’t faded away yet, but only three games into the season fans are getting skeptical once again.
That begs the question, what does it take to change this franchise into a winner? If they keep heading down the path that they are without making any adjustments, they’re sure to fall short of their goal of the postseason. They also risk losing a fairly valuable draft pick.
The answer, via social media, yesterday was to fire Randy Wittman. Wittman’s tenure in Washington has been one of mixed feelings. Last season he obviously held the team back with his uneven minute distribution, his impatience with bad play and his stagnant offensive sets.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote a very telling piece on Wittman’s status yesterday morning. There were some real damning pieces of information in the piece in terms of how Wittman’s tenure has gone with the Wizards.
The thing is that it’s miraculous Wittman has lasted this long. His record in Washington is now 47-87, a .350 winning percentage. That’s not good. He was hired only as a temporary replacement for Flip Saunders in the first place. He kept “reaching” his players by the end of the season, justifying decisions by Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld to keep him. Wrong decisions, all. The Wizards have had more patience with Wittman’s potential as a head coach than the team’s had with Jan Vesely or Chris Singleton as legit NBA players. This is a classic case of trusting some good quality, expensive ingredients with a chef whose idea of gourmet is Late Night Bacon. Wittman does not seem to be able to help this collection of players win.
Wittman’s record with the Wizards has been atrocious, but he kept his tenure alive by connecting with the players through his no-nonsense tactics and rewarding them for working hard. And those are definitely qualities that you’d like in a coach–there’s no disputing that. Wittman seems to be a good leader and a good teacher, but there’s something to be said about his management of the actual basketball game.
He’s failed to develop two first round picks in Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, he’s failed to put together a competent offense as long as he’s been the head coach and he’s yet to have a winning record. All he has to hang his hat on is a stellar stretch by John Wall and a top 10 showing from the Wizards defense last season.
The offense has made strides in a positive direction in three games this season–they rank 13th in points per 100 according to basketball-reference. Even though this is an extremely small sample, I expect this to keep up. But, now, the issue has shifted over to the other side of the ball. The Wizards have the second worst defense in the league right now and Wittman has yet to make an adjustment.
The Wizards players are playing out of position more often than not and Gortat has yet to grasp his protection assignments. He isn’t going to be Emeka Okafor in front of the rim, but he should be more than solid. And if the Wizards could muster up a league average defense they’d be a playoff team.
Wittman has tweaked the defensive scheme but the players just don’t get it. That isn’t completely on him, but he holds a lion’s share of the blame.
To be fair, there have been many sub-par performances by multiple Wizards players. Bradley Beal has a PER of 3.7 and Nene has only played in one game so far in the young NBA season. It isn’t hard to fathom the Wizards underperforming in these circumstances.
Still, when you look at the more successful teams in the NBA, you see them fighting through injury and staying successful. A large part of that has to do with coaching and development–something that the Wizards have been lacking for years.
Wittman isn’t the cause of the problem in Washington–he’s just one of the symptoms. Meaning, this isn’t all his fault, but he’s the next person in line to fall should this season continue on its underwhelming path. But at the end of the day, the Wizards players also have to perform to their best ability. If they don’t, this team needs to be blown to bits with very few exceptions.