The Washington Wizards have had just as bad as a start to the 2020-21 season as anyone could have possibly imagined. The 0-4 start hurts following a 115-107 to a likely lottery-bound Chicago Bulls team and the salt in the wound is that they will still be without Rui Hachimura (eye) for a handful of games, not that he is the secret answer to all of the team’s problems. Here are five takeaways as well as Scott Brooks, Davis Bertans, and Russell Westbrook’s post-game media availability. Bradley Beal did not speak after the game, but will talk to the media after Wednesday’s practice.
More bad defense
It is a simple fact that the Wizards have not been a good defensive team since the Randy Wittman days. For whatever reasons, Scott Brooks has not extracted a team that can play well on both ends of the floor. In the past he has blamed that on a lack of effort, but so far this season that has not been the excuse of choice. Instead, Washington simply got outplayed by Chicago. As Brooks put it post-game, the Wizards were beat by average moves that forced help defense to foul or create voids elsewhere, especially beyond the arc where the Bulls shot 42 percent (15-for-36). Transition defense, whether it is off of a live ball turnover or simply a missed shot, continues to a major weakness.
Unlucky three-point shooting
Over the last two games, the Wizards shot a miserable 18-for-69 (26 percent) from beyond the arc. If the law of averages worked out better for them, we easily could be discussing a 2-2 team because they were simply able to outscore their opponents despite porous defense. The Wizards have been high on Raul Neto for his shooting and despite very good looks, he was 0-for-6 against Chicago. Bradley Beal was 1-for-5 two days after going 0-for-7 from deep. Many of Washington’s 37 three-point attempts against the Bulls were very good and open looks, they simply would not fall. It is an overused cliche because it is absolutely true, the NBA is a make or miss league and when Washington is not shooting to their potential, they are currently not good enough to overcome their other deficiencies.
Davis Bertans receiving extra scrutiny
When things are not going well, it is easy and sometimes warranted by fans to nitpick about every deficiency hurting the team. One of those things could be Bertans’s conditioning that he admits to only be 60-70% of where it needs to be. Sure, he should have been able to run in Latvia to maintain some sense of conditioning during the nine months off he had between playing five-on-five from March to December, but that does not solve everything. Many players indicate that you cannot get into NBA game shape through practice, but only by playing in those games. Regardless, Bertans believes his conditioning is adequate given his still slightly limited minutes and the bigger detriment is his “feel for the game” and rhythm slowly returning. Hopefully, with another week, Bertans’ conditioning is a topic of the past otherwise he will continue to get the ire of the fanbase after signing an $80 million contract.
Russell Westbrook’s mid-range jump shot frequency
At this point in his Hall of Fame career, we know that Westbrook is a 30 percent three-point shooter and he is more comfortable shooting mid-range jumpers. On Tuesday night, he was actually fairly effective going 6-for-11 from outside of the paint and inside the three-point line. In the first game against Orlando, that was not the case as Westbrook went 3-for-10. Many of these shot attempts are coming with Bradley Beal on the bench and Westbrook anchoring the second unit so maybe these are not the worst shot attempts in the world. Scott Brooks is not the least bit critical of the poor analytic shot attempts so don’t expect them to go away.
“This guy is a winning basketball player for 13 years. I’ve been with him going on 8 now,” Brooks said about the volume of Westbrook’s mid-range attempts. “A lot of people that don’t love the competitive spirit that he brings and the tenacity and competitive drive, they want to nitpick on a 17-foot shot. All the great teams spread the ball over the floor. We want to be a great team, we’re going to have to score in different areas not just in the areas that some in the basketball world thinks that’s the only you should take. … Russell is a winning basketball player. What he’s done already, we haven’t won a game, but he’s teaching these young players how important our job is and that’s priceless.”
Hope still remains
At the end of the day, Washington has played four games and have 68 still to go in the abbreviated regular season. Two years ago in his final season in Oklahoma City, Westbrook’s team started 0-4 to go on and finish 49-33, earning a six-seed in the Western Conference. It was in Scott Brooks’s first year in D.C. that the Wizards started 2-8 to also finish 49-33, good for the four-seed in the East. There is still plenty of time left, but it is a matter of getting things turned around ASAP. Brooks, Bertans, and Westbrook all preached after the game that as much as they are pissed off about this abysmal start, they have to continue to be positive moving forward and push through this early adversity together as a team.
“As being a leader, you can’t lead just when things are going well,” Russell Westbrook said. “You have to lead when things are not going your way. We got a group of guys here that wants to win, that’s trying to do the right things. Part of leadership is being able to figure it out. I’ve always believed in when adversity hits, it’s a true measurement of you are as a man. To have a little adversity early on is ok, stick to your principles, stick to what you know, continue to lead, and stay positive. That’s something that I’m going to emphasize to our guys, to our team, coaching staff that it’s a long season and we’re going to figure it out.”