Wizards Find Themselves in Early Season Slump

Shaun AhmadSenior Analyst INovember 8, 2009

Over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season, every team in the NBA is bound to hit a rough stretch of games.  Murphy's Law of "Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong" takes a firm grip of a team's psyche as it seems that every ball bounces the wrong way or rims out, and every whistle or break is in favor of the opposition.  It happens to every single team.

However, it is a bit alarming when that stretch rears its ugly head in the first juncture of the season, as has been the case with the Washington Wizards.  Following Sunday's home loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Wizards found themselves losers of four straight and bottom dwellers in the Southeast division with a 2-5 record. 

There are several factors that need to be taken into account before pressing the panic button on Washington's season. 

For one, they have had some early injuries to key players.  Forward Caron Butler has missed a few games while fellow forward Antawn Jamison has yet to suit up for the 2009-10 season, as he recovers from a shoulder injury.  At the earliest, Jamison will return to the lineup in a few weeks.  Forward Mike Miller has also been sidelined for 7-10 days with a sprained shoulder. 

Second, the Wizards are playing under a new head coach with a new system, much different than one they've had in years past.  This Wizards ball club is supposed to stress defense while letting the offense flow through star guard, Gilbert Arenas—as opposed to the run-and-gun idea Washington fans had grown accustomed to. 

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Lastly, there are several new additions to the rotation, including newcomers Mike Miller and Randy Foye.  There has to be an adjustment period for the team to mesh and hit stride together.

That being said, it is worrisome that a team that was routinely in the top five of scoring for the past several seasons suddenly finds itself breaking the century mark only twice thus far (both in victories).  In fact, the Wizards are having trouble breaking the 90 point mark, as they have scored 90, 86, 89, 90, and 89 in five of their last six matchups.  They currently rank 21st in the NBA in points per game. 

It is difficult to figure how such a low offensive output is possible by looking at the statistics of the players with the most minutes per game.  Arenas, Butler, Andray Blatche, Foye, and Brendan Haywood are all averaging double figures with Arenas leading the way at 25.2 ppg.  Miller isn't far behind the bunch with 8.4 ppg.  The issue of team scoring appears to be deeper than what meets the eye.

Many of the Wizards' possessions have started and ended with Arenas.  There has not been consistent flow in the offense, leading to many one-on-one matchups with the shot clock down to single digits.  Such possessions lead to bad shots.  There have been some nice spurts here and there, but consistency on the offensive end has been a major issue.  While Arenas has been the setup man, dishing out over five assists a game, the movement on offense has been stagnant. 

So what gives?   

The problem may be that Arenas is being asked to do too much.  Coaches have always struggled to find the perfect fit for him between point guard and shooting guard, since he is such a scoring threat when he has the ball,  but he has never relished as a traditional point guard in setting up teammates. 

Similar to LeBron James in Cleveland, the Wizards offense struggles when Arenas is given the responsibility of bringing the ball up the court and being the primary scoring option while also having to keep teammates involved.  It's simply too much to ask of one player. 

Foye would be a better fit for the traditional point guard role, while allowing Arenas to be selective of when he will be in attack mode and when he will be a decoy, opening up opportunities for fellow teammates to score.

Defensively, the Wizards have been mediocre at best.  While they are ranked 14th in the league in points allowed per game (99.1), they have given up over 100 in five games, four of which were losses.  Until the Wizards' offense gets into a groove, spotting the opponent 100 points will be way too much to overcome.  Factor in that each time the opposition has crossed the century mark and the Wizards have lost, it has been by double digits.  Jamison's return will help, but in the time being, Washington needs to help themselves offensively by becoming a more stout team defensively.

All that being said, the Wizards need not hang their heads just yet.  They can take solace in the fact that they have likely not played their best ball, have not had their optimal starting lineup or rotation, and have not gelled as a team yet.  There are still 75 games left to be played, and plenty of time to make adjustments and improvements. 

The key, however, will be to understand the problems now and adapt quickly.  While there are many games left to go, it is much harder staring at a daunting 6-18 record than a manageable 12-12.  Avenging a recent loss against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night would be a start.

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