The Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls are at the same spot, looking to go the opposite direction. The Wizards enter the game at 18-19, winners of four of their last six games, including a 102-88 victory over the Bulls early in the week. After trading for Marcin Gortat, giving up a first-round draft pick in the process, the Wizards seemed to reach a different mindset, a “all-in” mindset, letting the chips fall where they may, in efforts to land a spot in this year’s playoffs. So far, a 2-5 start to the new season isn’t ideal. The Bulls are on the same track, oddly enough, winning seven of their last nine, and had a five-game winning streak before the loss to Washington. Jimmy Butler is coming off a 60-minute performance, Joakim Noah snuck under the radar with 26-point/19-rebound performance, and the duo of Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy is giving Chicago a respectable tandem, providing three-point shooting and (mostly Snell) defense.
Let’s get to know our opponent:
Record: 18-19 ( 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Offensive Efficiency: 101.4 (21st in the NBA, per NBA Media stats)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.9 (15th)
Rebounding Percentage: 50.0% (15th)
Pace: 95.13 (20th)
Talk about the middle of the road.
The Wizards are led by John Wall. After a 50-game sample in 2013 that saw Wall’s numbers elevate across the board, the Wizards rewarded Wall with a five-year, 80 million dollar contract. Since then, Wall has taken his game to another level, averaging 19.7 points, 8.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and sporting a PER of 20.04. The shooting is still a concern (41% overall this season), but Wall has worked on different abilities to keep the defense honest. His ability to stop-and-pop off of pick-and-rolls allows Wall to keep defenders honest, and his speed to get to the rim will likely result in a made shot (other than this season, where Wall is shooting 64% at the rim, but 18% in the paint) or free-throws. When you combine his offensive improvement, with his solid defense, and Wall is making all the strides the Wizards wanted from him going into the season.
The development of John Wall did two things for the Wizards: It gives the Wizards a leader, as well as comforts the players around him, creating shot opportunities for them. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza give Wall two excellent shooters on the outside. NBA.com charts their shot percentages by locations, and Beal and Ariza thrive in the corners. From left to right, Beal is shooting 42 and 43 percent from the corners (44% from three overall), while Ariza matches him with 42% and 46% percent (39% overall). When you move inside, the duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene aren’t the greatest on the defensive end, but both are big, mobile big men, who can offer respectable offensive versatility (Gortat working with post-ups and pick-and-rolls, while Nene operates on the sides from 8-12 feet), and that can cause plenty of mismatches against the right lineups.
If anything, the Wizards have a slew of problems to deal with. The first is the coach. I have zero clue what Randy Wittman wants to do on offense or defense. Not only that, but I don’t understand what kind of coach he is. He doesn’t seem like a player coach, nor does he seem like the tough-minded coach, who can draw the most out of his players. He has some fast, young players, but doesn’t want to run, and doesn’t put an emphasis on a single aspect of the team. The second is the bench for Washington. Other than Martell Webster and possibly Trevor Booker, Eric Maynor has been a free agent bust, Otto Porter Jr is still an unknown, and Jan Vesley, while fun, is still a bad player. The Wizards are looking good, but one might wonder if this range – constantly teetering around .500 basketball – is their ceiling for the interim.