The Washington Wizards Are Officially Soul-Crushing, But Can They Turn Things Around?


The Washington Wizards played on Tuesday night. The Washington Wizards lost on Tuesday. One of their players called out the team’s effort.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

In what’s becoming an unfortunate — or hilarious, depending on your mileage — pattern this season, the Wizards got blown out by the Dallas Mavericks, 119-100. This time, offseason acquisition Dwight Howard joined the ongoing media circus by criticizing his team’s effort level and saying Washington just has to get better.

Mind you, this is the same player who did … this.

Howard now joins John Wall and Bradley Beal in publicly lambasting Washington. The entire team warranted being called out after another putrid performance — the Mavericks entered the game with a 2-7 record, their high offseason expectations taking an early hit. Nevertheless, the Wizards were down by 20 points at the end of the first half and couldn’t fight back from the deep hole they had dug for themselves. Not a single player had a positive plus-minus, not even in garbage time.

It was a microcosm of how bad Washington has been all season. There aren’t many bright spots to be found, not even on the margins. Wall and Beal are generally performing at the individual levels they have for the past few years, but it hasn’t translated into making the game easier for their teammates. Wall has clearly lost some burst from his knee injuries and age-related regression. He no longer has the pace to break down defenses regularly, leading to some unwatchable half-court possessions where he can’t really move and throws up a jumper off of an isolation. Wall’s assist percentage is down to 34.5 percent, still excellent for a point guard but not in the league-leading 40s range where he spent most of his prime.

Beal hasn’t found his stroke from beyond the arc yet, though his fantastic finishing at the rim, excellent mid-range game, and volume shooting from three insures that he is always an efficient offensive player. He became a better ball mover running the offense in Wall’s absence last season, but has reverted to his normal assist rates with his point guard back in the flow. Even with Wall and Beal playing like All-Stars (at least in the Eastern Conference), however, lineups featuring the two have a negative-6.8 rating, per Cleaning the Glass. The problem is that without the pair on the floor, the Wizards have a negative-45.1 rating.

Austin Rivers hasn’t provided any help on the perimeter. The 37 percent three-point shooter from his Clipper tenure has disappeared, and his turnover percentage is higher than his usage rate. Jeff Green has reverted to being Jeff Green after a LeBron-aided boost in the postseason last year. Otto Porter looks like someone who is no longer playing for a contract, while Kelly Oubre looks like someone who has forgotten that he is playing for one.

Getting rid of Marcin Gortat was supposed to improve the team chemistry, yet the infighting has continued. When Markieff Morris took an elbow on defense and landed on the floor with a concussion — against Gortat’s Clippers, ironically enough — the Wizards elected to run the offense 4-on-5, leading to a steal and fast-break dunk, all while Morris was lying on the floor. The officials were forced to call timeout, and every Washington player headed to the bench instead of checking on their teammate.

Head coach Scott Brooks doesn’t have many cards left to play, but something has to change. Splitting up his perimeter duo is drastic but may be the best option, if only to reduce the amount of toxicity on the floor at any given moment. The starting lineup is fine, both the current iteration featuring Howard (plus-3.0) and the unit with Ian Mahinmi (plus-6.9) that started the season; it isn’t nearly good enough to play big minutes and risk the bench hemorrhaging leads. Lineups with Wall and without Beal are scoring incredibly well, even if they can’t defend. The Beal units without Wall have the opposite dynamic, but are also above average.

The Wizards have plenty of time to revert to their playoff form from the last few years. Washington has never had a calm locker room and probably has too much talent to continue laying an egg night after night. But the team’s problems have been festering for a long time now, and it’s fair to wonder if there’s enough magic left to salvage what the Wizards have become.