It’s beginning to look a lot like the NBA regular season is effectively over. Rather than sit around and wait for basketball to come back into our lives, let’s reflect on what the season has dished up to this point.
We’ll take a look at each and every NBA team over the coming weeks, assessing what went right, what didn’t go to plan, and where their journey took them as well as where the team hoped it would take them.
Today, we’ll examine three teams that all finished next to each other in the Eastern Conference, despite vastly different pre-season expectations: the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards.
Record: 24-40 (9th in the Eastern Conference)
82 game pace: 31-51
The Wizards didn’t exactly have high hopes coming into this campaign. John Wall was again injured and was expected to miss the whole season. As a result, the team became a facilitator, taking on cap filler and draft picks, allowing other teams to make their big moves. Those transactions picked up some of the Wizards surprise contributors this season: David Bertans, Mo Wagner, Ish Smith, Jerome Robinson and Isaac Bonga all contributed to various degrees to a surprisingly entertaining Wizards season.
The expectation was that Bradley Beal was the Be All and End All for this team, with precious little in the way of support. Whilst he was the main man, his teammates stepped up manfully.
What went right
In short, offense. Washington’s 115.6 points per game was good for 6th in the NBA. Coach Scott Brooks had his team fly up and down the court, launching shots from every conceivable angle. Beal led the way with 30.5 points, 6.1 assists and three made treys per game in what should have been a third consecutive All-Star campaign. He got great support at that end from Bertans who’s 15.4 points per game almost doubled his previous career high. The Latvian shot 42.4% from deep on 10.7 attempts per 36 minutes. His gravity allowed some of the less gifted shooters like Thomas Bryant (12.1 points per game) and the rookie Rui Hachimura (13.4 points) to get to their spots on the floor.
Shabazz Napier was an astute mid season acquisition, giving the team 12 points, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals in a tick over 25 minutes a game after coming over from Minnesota via Denver. He’s a nice insurance policy if Wall, upon his return, either takes some time to find his feet or just straight out doesn’t have it anymore.
What went wrong
For all that was good at one end of the floor, was horrible at the other.
The Wiz tied with Atlanta, surrendering a league worst 119.7 points per contest. Their defensive rating of 115.8 was outright last. This defense was awful, no matter which way you slice it.
Isaiah Thomas was a nice story at the start of the season, but his defense was non existent even at his peak. A turnstile provided more resistance than Thomas, and he was out of the league by the time the season finished. Beal is a reasonable defender, when he tries. This season, he most certainly didn’t try. Bertans is physical and mean, but too slow. Hachimura made more than his share of rookie mistakes. Thomas Robinson might be the worst starting centre in the league on the defensive end of the floor. The only Wizards to play 500+ minutes this season and not have a negative Defensive Box +/- were Ian Mahinmi and Bonga – they’re 10th and 13th respectively in minutes per game. Both players rating: 0.0. If they’re your best defenders, that’s horrifying.
This Wizards team was expected to be Bradley Beal and a huge pu-pu platter. Instead, Washington provided the league with one of it’s most entertaining outfits. The Wizards scored 130 or more points on nine occasions this season; they conceded the same amount in fourteen games, including five where both teams scored over 130. These games were like All-Star games, but with consequence. The most bonkers game I’ve seen in many, many years was a late October game versus Houston that finished 158-159. This game DID NOT go to overtime.