The Wizards were playing the Atlanta Hawks tough in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. John Wall was leading his team and giving them everything he had. But one fall he had changed the dynamic of the entire series. Wall took a tumble in the 1st game and ended up having some fractures in his left hand. He played through the fractures for the rest of Game 1, helping the Wizards steal homecourt advantage from Atlanta. But in doing that, Wall suffered an injury that would change the series. The injury to Wall would cause him to miss the next three games, which the Wizards would lose two of them. Washington would get a surprise return in Game 5 from Wall, but those two games they lost without Wall would come back to haunt them, as they would lose the series 4-2. Heading into this season, there were higher expectations for the Wizards. They had a very young and talented backcourt duo returning in John Wall and Bradley Beal. And to go along with that, they had some veteran big men returning to their team and a swingman in Otto Porter Jr who gained valuable experience. It was thought that this team would be competing for the Eastern Conference crown. Well, those thoughts have not come to reality as the Wizards are currently 21-25, good enough for 10th in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and outside the playoff picture. So what has happened to this up-and-coming team?
The pairing of Wall and Beal was talked about as being one of the most talented backcourts around. And when they are on the court together, they can have their moments. But the issue has always been the health of Bradley Beal. The talented young wing from the University of Florida was taken with the 3rd pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. And when he was taken, there was the thought of what he could be with Wall. But because of him always being injured, we never get to see the consistency of those two playing together. This season is especially important to Beal because he is seeking a max extension from the Wizards. But if I am the Wizards, I think long and hard on that one. Do you really want to give a max extension to a guy that has missed over 25 games twice in his four-year career? That is the dilemma facing the Wizards at this point. Beal is a talent, but he is a talent that stays injured all the time. And if he continues to get injured at this pace, then he may start entering the realm of guys that are talented but a risk. So far this season, he has only played in a total of 25 games, staring 17 of them. He played well in the game Wednesday night versus the Golden State Warriors. But looking at his numbers this season, he has been an up-and-down character. If the Wizards are to make a push for the playoffs, then Beal has to be more consistent. The Wizards need him to be on the floor and effective at all times because it seems like the weight of this team is falling on John Wall.
But the issue is of the Wizards’ decline does not squarely fall on the shoulders of Wizards head coach Randy Wittman and the injuries of Bradley Beal. The Wizards pretty deep inside last season. The duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene were punishing people inside last season. Add to that guys like Kevin Seraphin and Kris Humphries to that mix along with veteran forward Paul Pierce and you have a group of guys that are solid and can give something to the team. This season, Paul Pierce is gone (signed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers) and Kevin Seraphin signed with the New York Knicks. Other than those two, the Wizards have the same crew there as their big men. But unfortunately for them, the Wizards have not been the same underneath. Gortat has not been quite as consistently and Nene has definitely not been the same guy. Both were huge for the Wizards at one point in time. Now it seems like they both struggle to get it going from night to night. Gortat cannot finish the point blank layups despite having layups spoon fed to him. And defensively, it seems like they are just getting outworked on the boards at different points. That kind of play from their big men will not help them win very many games at all.
The Wizards have a multitude of issues. The heath of Beal has to be monitored along with the play of their bigs. But the good thing for them is they are close to the playoff picture. And looking at where they currently standings, the Wizards have some time to get it there. The big task is to get more guys to consistently show up every night. Beal could be that guy, but he has been in and out due to injury. As far as Gortat, he has to show up every night as well. The Wizards paid big money to keep him and so far he has not produced to the level they paid him to. And to go along with that, there has not been consistent production from the power forward position. It will be interesting to see what they attempt to do to solve these issues because right now, they are looking like a team that is falling apart more than coming together.