The month of February has been an unmitigated disaster for the Washington Wizards. Since Jan. 19, the team has plunged from a 29-13 record and a top-three spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference to a 34-26 record that leaves them in fifth place. In February alone, the Wizards lost nine of their 12 games by an average margin of 10.2 points.
The poor stretch of results is not because of the team’s schedule. While some of the Wizard’s losses came against the likes of the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, others were against the league’s bottom dwellers. The Wizards lost twice to a weak Charlotte Hornets team, suffered a 20-point drubbing to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and, most recently, fell to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The lesson of the month is that the Wizards’ roster is simply not deep enough. Shooting guard Bradley Beal struggled at the beginning of the month. In the four games he played in February, he shot 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. But for an eight-game stretch that comprised the majority of the month, he was left out of the lineup. Leg and toe injuries kept the standout perimeter shooter on the bench and left an already struggling offense
down from the team’s season average of 98, as the team was forced to depend on Rasual Butler and Garrett Temple to fill in on the first team.
Therein lies my biggest gripe with this team. The Wizards’ front office has assembled an impressive group of starters — a dynamic group that was built to be able to adapt to the changing cast around it. Beal and John Wall, at their best, are one of the top backcourts in the game, with some pundits arguing that Wall and Beal are as good as or better than the Warriors’ standout backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Months later, that suggestion sounds like a joke. Golden State left Verizon Center Feb. 24 with a solid victory over a struggling Wizards squad, as Curry burned Washington for 32 points while the home team turned the ball over 26 times.
The reality is that a subpar roster cannot be sustained by a couple of hotshots in the backcourt. Paul Pierce led the Wizards in that game with 25 points. His veteran presence is fantastic, something that any professional team needs to be successful at the highest level. But at his age, he cannot be the guy the team relies on to step up when one player goes down with injury.
Despite personnel problems, the trade deadline passed with very little action. It never appeared that the Wizards were ever in any serious trade discussions. Point guard Ramon Sessions, who is averaging a mere 5.5 points per game on 33.6 percent shooting from the field, was the sole pickup, shipped over from Sacramento.
My attitude toward this team has been nothing but positive. This is a fun team to watch, a memorable group of NBA talent.
Despite all of this, it is hard not to wonder where it goes from here. For some, the answer lies in a certain future free agent who is currently playing in Oklahoma City. I do not want to enter that conversation; I think it is fantasy to do so.
Others say that Head Coach Randy Wittman needs to go. To me, that is a discussion for the offseason, and it would be impulsive to make that decision now.
Instead, I join with the critics who believe that this team needs to deal with the very real problem of what the rest of its roster will look like in coming seasons. The roster feels cobbled together, and players like Nene and Pierce will not be contributing for much longer.
This team still has the chance to prove itself this year. There are two months left to play, Beal is back and the Eastern Conference is weak. However, the month of February has proven that the Washington Wizards still have a lot of hurdles to jump to be considered part of the upper echelon of the NBA. Rather than flying through a breakout season, the Wizards now must prove that they have mettle, and that they can bounce back. What happens will have serious implications for the identity and composition of this team.
Matt Raab is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. AROUND THE DISTRICT appears every Tuesday.