The 2011-12 campaign is shaping up to be one for the ages for the Washington Wizards. Unfortunately, it appears as though it may be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The start of this season has been anything but magical for the Wizards. Entering the week, Washington is on pace to finish the year 6-60. Only four other teams in the history of the NBA have had worse records after the first 12 games of a season.
On a somewhat positive note, since Washington only has 54 games left on the schedule (thanks to the NBA lockout), they won't be able to threaten the NBA's all-time record for futility set by the Philadelphia 76ers, who finished the 1972-73 season with a 9-73 record.
But wins and losses only begin to tell the story of how bad the Wizards have been this season. And as a result of their struggles, none of us still has any idea exactly how good second-year point guard John Wall can be.
Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, has the potential to be one of the top-10 guards in the NBA. But potential doesn't count for anything when most of your teammates aren't committed to a team concept.
Eighty-one games into his NBA career, Wall is fully aware of his current situation. And despite his relative inexperience, he hasn't been shy about making his feelings known.
"You see everybody being selfish on the offensive end and on the defensive end, we're not trusting each other," said Wall after an 18-point loss to the Magic on January 4. "If we don't find a way to play together and win games, it could get ugly this whole season."
Less than two weeks after he made those statements, it's already well past ugly in the nation's capital. And there's no signs of things getting prettier any time soon, much to the chagrin of head coach Flip Saunders.
Washington is last in the NBA in scoring at 84.6 points per game. Three weeks into their schedule, the Wizards are one of only three teams that hasn't scored 100 points in any game so far this season.
No team in the league allows opponents to grab more rebounds per game than the Wizards, who give up an average of 47.2 boards per contest. And Wall's gripes about his teammates being "selfish" are clearly evident in the box scores: Washington is 29th in the NBA in assists per game (15.9).
Wall himself isn't completely absolved from any blame. His own numbers have taken a hit as he's adjusted his game in response to his teammates — forcing ill-advised shots instead of initiating the offense from the point.
Not only are Wall's assist totals down this year (7.1 per game this season vs. 8.3 APG in 2010-11), but his shot selection — which wasn't a strength to begin with — has left much to be desired. Through 12 games, Wall is shooting an abysmal 34.8 percent from the field.
We all know how this is likely to play out. At some point in the near future, the hammer — and the blame — will inevitably fall on Saunders. And perhaps rightly so, especially since Wizards players have already begun tuning out their head coach.
"Flip is definitely doing his job," said Wizards forward Andray Blatche after a 21-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 8th. "I just don't feel like guys are listening and following behind what he says and what he wants us to do."
The Wizards' performance this season has been somewhat disconcerting, considering that after trading Gilbert Arenas to the Orlando Magic last December, the team appeared to be headed in the right direction. However, in return for Arenas, Washington received forward Rashard Lewis — a player whose production (9.1 PPG, 2.5 APG) is in stark contrast to what the Wizards are actually committed to paying him (two years, $45.94 million).
The fact that Lewis doesn't even start for Washington means that his presence represents little more than an albatross around the neck of the Wizards' salary cap. Next season, Lewis (who is slated to earn $23.79 million in the final year of his deal) is scheduled to make more than the seven other Wizards currently under contract for the 2012-13 season combined.
Making matters worse, Lewis allegedly clashed with Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell prior to the team's January 8th game against the Timberwolves — a game Lewis reportedly missed because of a sore right knee. All parties involved deny any sort of disagreement, but the drama surrounding the incident is nothing more than white noise for a team trying to focus on winning basketball games.
In an effort to develop some team chemistry, Lewis was one of three Wizards who organized a team dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Philadelphia last Thursday. The next night, Washington promptly lost to the 76ers by 31 points.
The result, while disappointing, is understandable. Something as intricate as chemistry takes quite a bit of time to develop. But with nearly a quarter of the season already in the books, time is not a luxury that the Wizards currently have.
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