Okay, so once again, you’ve been busy. You had that annoying dinner party at your boss’s house that you couldn’t afford to skip because you’re afraid he might give the promotion to Steve. Your middle child had ANOTHER three-hour dance recital. Your second cousin, the boring accountant from Connecticut, was in town and wanted to catch up. And honestly, the NBA season is just so long that you forgot about a couple of games along the way. So let us catch you up on what you’ve missed over the last 8 games!
So how are they?
As of this writing, the Wizards are 6-10, which is good for 9th place in the Eastern Conference (up 5 spots from our last State of the Union). That leaves them half a game back of the Magic for the final playoff spot.
What about lineups?
Most frequent starting 5: Isaiah Thomas, Bradley Beal, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant. Scott Brooks seems pretty sold on this group starting things off so I don’t see this changing for a while. Sorry to disappoint all of the members of #TeamIsh.
The “maybe we’ve got something here” lineup: Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, Jordan McRae, Davis Bertans, either center. I have done no actual analysis to confirm this but it always seems like this lineup immediately goes on a 10-0 run. This lineup is seriously more dangerous than letting your drunk Uncle Rick deep-fry the turkey on Thanksgiving.
Most confusing lineup: The one where Ish Smith, Isaiah Thomas, and Bradley Beal all play together. Seriously, Scott, what’s that one about? Does anyone want to try to defend this lineup? I’ll wait.
What about the roster?
Who has earned more minutes: Jordan McRae. Here are his last 4 stat-lines: 11p/1r/3a vs Phoenix in 24 minutes, 21p/4r/3a vs Denver in 24 minutes, 12p/3r/4a vs Sacramento in 24 minutes, and 13p/1r/3a vs Charlotte in about 20 minutes.
Give this man minutes and he will get buckets. It’s that simple. And he’s had to play a lot of those minutes at small forward because of how ineffective the other options there have been.
Who is playing too much: See above under “most confusing lineup.” You could make an argument for either Thomas or Smith as the starting point guard spot (I’m in the Smith camp, personally). Either way, each brings something valuable and different to the table. But both are on the small side and not great defensively so why play them together? Staggering them as much as possible seems like a much more logical move to me. But hey, this is why we pay Scott Brooks the big bucks! He must see something there that I clearly don’t.
Rookie watch: After a blazing start, Rui Hibachimura (patent pending) looked like a darkhorse rookie of the year candidate. However, he has cooled off considerably recently, which is not unexpected for a rookie.
His last three stat-lines are 6p/6r vs Phoenix, 7p/4r vs Denver, and 7p/4r vs Sacramento. He has scored single-digit points in five of his last seven games. He has struggled to finish through contact at times and has looked lost on defense even more times.
The good news is, he’s a rookie and he will get stronger, understand tendencies of opponents better, learn to finish at the rim, expand his shooting range, and not pick up as many cheap fouls. This is all typical stuff. You’d obviously prefer to see him continue to torch people from the mid-range and average something like 14p/8r throughout, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Roster needs: Small forward depth. Having to rely on Isaac Bonga to play spot minutes when C.J. Miles is out is scary to me. If there were other options after Miles it would allow the Wizards to send Bonga to the G League. He just needs as many minutes as possible at this point in his development and the Wizards can’t (and shouldn’t) give them to him for as long as they are trying to actually win games.
Is Moritz Wagner still risking his life to take charges?
Asking if Moe Wagner is still taking a lot of charges is like asking, “Is Stephen A. Smith loud?” Or “was Michael Jordan good at basketball?” The clear and obvious answer is an emphatic “YES!”
The official WizardsXTRA “Moritz Wagner Charge Counter” (brought to you by IcyHot) is up to 14 total charges or .88 per game. That’s good for first in the NBA. Montrezl Harrell is in 2nd with 12.
The decision makers
Thoughts on the coaching staff: Scott Brooks still does Scott Brooks things. He tinkers with weird lineups and his rotations can be confusing at times. But somehow that seems more palatable this year. Might as well test out all of the options available to you now so you know what can work in a pinch in the future.
Something for the organization to keep an eye on: Hopefully someone from the Wizards scouting department was out at the Maui Invitational. University of Georgia’s Anthony Edwards really struggled in a loss to Dayton but bounced back in a big way against Michigan State. Georgia also lost that game but who cares about the outcome when you see a guy drop this stat-line: 37p/6r/2a/4s/3b (7-16 from 3-point range).
The 6-foot-5 guard looked like a sure-fire top-5 pick. If things do go south for the Wizards, I hope they’ve done their homework on guys like Edwards. Especially with the new draft lottery odds, it makes even more sense for teams to thoroughly evaluate all of the top prospects, just in case.
Things to watch for: Buy-low candidates. Tommy Sheppard has already done a great job buying-low on people like Moe Wagner. Can he pull any more rabbits out of his hat?
At this point, any moves he can make to acquire former high draft picks who haven’t worked out in their first stop should be considered. Adding cheap, low-risk talent should be on his mind at all times.
There’s a lot of season left
Updated prediction for the rest of the season: In the previous edition of State of the Union, I said the 12th seed looked realistic. I still don’t think I underestimated the Wizards with that assessment but it seems like I overestimated the rest of the conference. The Hornets are a plucky bunch but do they have the firepower to stick around? The Pistons seem like the walking wounded. And the Bulls are the Bulls.
With two potential losses upcoming against the Lakers and Clippers, the Wizards December 12th game against the Magic (currently the 8th seed) should be pretty telling about whether their playoff prospects are legitimate or not.
Stats as of 11/28: