With multiple rotation players still injured, on the last leg of a four-game road trip, the Wizards never left first gear on Thursday. Washington lost by 30 to a Detroit team that entered the game at nine games under .500. With star forward Blake Griffin playing through injury, and breakout guard Luke Kennard out, the Pistons were paced by Christian Wood, who poured in 22 points in 23 minutes on 7-9 shooting and 2-4 from three.
Anzejs Pasecniks had another nice outing for the Wizards, leading the team in scoring with 17 points on 7-11 shooting. Bradley Beal added 15 points on 5-14 shooting, missing all five of his threes. He left the game in the 3rd with an injured leg.
For much of the first half, the Wizards were the more active team. Despite a clear size and length disadvantage, Washington was +7 on the offensive glass. They had two more steals and two fewer turnovers than the Pistons. All these are signs that would point to a win, barring a bizarre shooting performance.
Well, folks, that’s exactly what we got.
The Wizards shot just 41.3% from the field and 29.2% from three. For a team that’s run an efficient offense all year (not a small sample size, mind you), those numbers indicate a team that’s fatigued. The Wizards also shot just 19-27 (70.4%) from the charity stripe, after entering the game as one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league.
Given how many minutes Washington’s top rotation guys have had to play with all the injuries — Beal is among the NBA leaders in minutes played — I think the “tired legs” hypothesis is a reasonable, if not probable, explanation for the poor shooting numbers.
Don’t Blame Brad
As the injuries have piled up, Beal has taken on a Harden-level load this season. He’s playing over 37 minutes per game, and averaging 28.3 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game. Those are staggering numbers — especially given his supporting cast — even if his efficiency has suffered. For those who say Beal can’t close out games, perhaps see the “tired legs” section above, or recognize that not a single player in the current rotation is a career double-digit scorer.
There’s no sugar-coating it: Beal had a bad night, but I’d contend that no player, not even Harden, has shouldered a bigger load for his team this year, given the circumstances. In what may be a lost season, appreciate the greatness of a true star who chose to be here, leading this young, rebuilding team, when there are far greener pastures.
The Wizards need more offense in the starting lineup. Beal can’t keep this up forever without other guys that can create for themselves. I’d replace Isaac Bonga with either Troy Brown Jr. or Jordan McRae, depending on whether they feel Brown Jr. can thrive with other dominant ball-handlers. If the Wizards prefer Bonga’s defense, then replacing Ish Smith for Isaiah Thomas would give Beal another player who can score in bunches with some playmaking ability. As much as Thomas’ defense is maligned, I think it can be tolerated as long as he’s on the court with better defenders like Bonga or Ian Mahinmi.
For positive takeaways, Gary Payton II put up his second straight 10/5/5 line, and looks like a keeper. None of the G-League players look uncomfortable or outclassed at this level, a testament to the fantastic developmental work being done on the Go-Go. I’ll say it now: Having the G-League squad and NBA club practice in the same facility will be huge long-term for the franchise’s player development. I think we’re already beginning to see the fruits of that labor.
Next up, the Wizards come back home on Saturday night to take on the Knicks, who are looking to avenge Washington’s 121-115 comeback win at the Garden. This upcoming stretch of eight of nine games at home should tell us whether we’ll be competing for a top-five pick, or a top-eight seed come season’s end. I still think 30 wins is possible with everyone back healthy, but we’ll see very soon.