Washington Wizards' Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses in Playoffs so Far
After the Washington Wizards finished Game 5 in the opening round of the playoffs on April 29, their confidence was at its highest point all season. Washington had just dispatched the Chicago Bulls, a team that many national NBA analysts had picked to win the series.
John Wall and Bradley Beal were showing up in a big way in their first ever playoff games, and they were primed to go up against either the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks or the struggling Indiana Pacers in the second round.
Since then, things have really changed. The Pacers got past Atlanta, and they're no longer the struggling team that had a center who wouldn't score a single point or pick up a rebound. They are back to playing as a top seed in the East.
John Wall is now in a huge shooting slump, and the Wizards enter Tuesday night down 3-1 in their series against Indiana on the brink of elimination.
So, what went wrong? The Wizards have had a number of things go right for them this postseason, but some weaknesses are showing through (especially in this second round series) that are holding the Wizards back from living up to expectations set after the series win against the Bulls.
Here are three strengths of the Wizards that have gotten them this far in the playoffs, but three weaknesses that are preventing them from moving past Indiana.
Note: All stats used are from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.
Strength: Nene's Play After Returning from Injury
There's no doubt about it: The Wizards are a much better team when Nene is healthy and on the floor.
After sitting out a good chunk of the season, the power forward came back just in time to finish out the last few games of the regular season and get back in the flow of things before the playoffs.
Without Nene, it's tough to say exactly where the Wizards would be right now. The big man was one of the main reasons the Wizards were able to dispatch Chicago in the first round, and he's still being productive in the Indiana series, despite the rest of the team falling behind.
In every game that he's appeared in (remember, Nene missed Game 4 of the first-round matchup because of his altercation with Jimmy Butler) he's scored double-digit points except Game 3 against Indiana.
Nene opened up the Chicago series by going 11-for-17 for 24 points, and he has continued to find space around 12 feet from the basket to take a mid-range shot.
Despite dropping Game 2 of the series to Indiana, Nene still shot 50 percent from the floor, and he scored 10 in the most recent game on Sunday.
With John Wall and Martell Webster struggling to score, Nene has stepped up as an offensive option for Washington, showing the options this offense has when everyone is healthy.
Weakness: John Wall's Shooting
In the offseason, John Wall was given a max contract to stay in Washington. In the regular season, he lived up to that contract.
However, in the playoffs, Wall has really fallen off, especially on offense. Although Wall isn't the primary scoring option for the Wizards (that role falls to Beal and the big men) he still should be playing like a max contract player in games that really matter.
Instead, Wall has only shot 34.4 percent from the field in the two series so far, including 18.2 percent from three.
In Sunday night's game, Wall gave up a wide-open potential game-tying three and instead dished the ball to Beal, who did get off a good shot but missed it.
His confidence just isn't there right now, and this is something that goes back to the Chicago series and isn't just because he has to play the strong Indiana defense.
Even in Game 1 against Chicago, Wall only made four of his 14 shots, and in the Game 4 win of that series for the Wizards, he shot just 26.7 percent.
In Game 3 against Indiana, when the Wizards scored the fourth fewest points in a playoff game in the shot clock era, Wall played 40 minutes and still only put up 15 points, which Wall told The Washington Post could be chalked up to having a scratched eye.
Even before that, Wall was struggling to consistently score, and he would slow down the offense at times by taking poor shots.
Now, Wall is obviously inexperienced in the playoffs (we'll get to more on that in a minute) but he has to be better than this if the Wizards want any chance of digging out of the 3-1 hole.
Strength: The Emergence of Bradley Beal
Sure, Wizards fans knew heading into the playoffs how good Bradley Beal is and how much potential he has.
Now with nine playoff games under his belt, more people are getting to know Beal and what he brings to the table.
Beal is averaging about two points more in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, and with John Wall struggling, he's become the top offensive option.
He's made almost 43 percent of his three-pointers, and his lowest point total for a game was 13 in Game 1 of the first round. Since then, he hasn't scored less than 16 in one game.
His shooting percentage hasn't been that great, but Beal is the stereotypical volume shooting guard who needs to keep shooting to heat up and get confidence, which pays off for the Wizards late in games when they need a big shot.
Beal is still having a strong scoring series in the conference semifinals, and the Wizards are looking for him at the end of games to either get them back in the game or ice it. Even if they can't get out of this series, there's no way the Wizards don't like the idea of playing Beal and Wall together for years to come.
Weakness: Marcin Gortat's Offense
Marcin Gortat has been great down low on defense alongside Nene, but his offense has been disappointing this postseason, and he has struggled to score all postseason.
After shooting 54.2 percent in the regular season, Gortat has failed to even shoot 42 percent in the playoffs.
Down low, which is where Gortat excels, he is shooting just 45.61 percent from inside eight feet, and he's missed all five of the shots he's taken between 12 and 16 feet.
Gortat has never been this huge, offensive force but against the Pacers, the Wizards have had to settle for mid-range shots that they're just not making, and Gortat hasn't been able to establish an offensive presence inside.
Instead, he is settling for these awkward 10-foot shots that just aren't going in.
In a series in which the Wizards have struggled to score, they need Gortat to start making these close baskets if they want to give Indiana some troubles.
Strength: The So-Called "AARP Unit"
When John Wall and the rest of the starters need a rest, head coach Randy Wittman has felt comfortable turning to his veterans on the bench in the "AARP Unit" that has really helped take the pressure off the first unit in terms of scoring and minutes.
Toward the end of the Bulls series, it became far more about the starters than the bench for Washington, but in the second round, the second unit has played a big role in keeping the team in games.
Led by Andre Miller at the point and including Martell Webster, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden with Bradley Beal patrolling the perimeter, the Wizards have been able to do some good things.
It's not always the most consistent lineup (Gooden dropped a pass from Beal Sunday night that would have been an easy layup and Miller missed some easy close shots), but Miller has played in double-digit minutes in four of the nine playoff games for Washington.
Gooden is also pulling down 3.8 rebounds and Harrington is shooting 45.5 percent.
Despite the crushing Game 4 loss, Wittman still had good things to say about the bench, saying after the game, "They kinda saved the day for us, in the first half and the second half," according to Bullets Forever.
Weakness: Inexperience in the Playoffs
Individually, there is playoff experience on this Washington team. Marcin Gortat and Drew Gooden have both played in 50-plus playoff games in their careers, and Andre Miller just wrapped up his 61st game in the postseason.
But, as a team, this is an inexperienced team and it's showing through in the second round. After getting blown out Friday night, the Wizards couldn't rebound on Sunday and blew a huge lead to the Pacers down the stretch and eventually floundered in the back end of the fourth quarter.
Bradley Beal and John Wall are both in their first playoffs, and as a team, this Washington has no experience playing together in the playoffs.
This really showed up last night. Wall passed up a wide-open three that would have tied the game, Beal missed a free-throw that would have brought the Wizards to within one with nine seconds left, and Trevor Ariza had a bad pass to Beal at the end of the game that sealed it for Indiana.
It's never good to blow a 19-point lead in any game, but fans have to be accepting of the outcome at this point. The Wall/Beal backcourt is only going to improve with time, and this Wizards team needs to jell with more playoff experience as time goes on.
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