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NBA Handicapping: the Washington Wizards Poor Start
by Trevor Whenham - 1/13/2012

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Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee

The Washington Wizards are terrible. Really, really terrible. They were the last winless team in the league until they beat the hapless Raptors in their ninth game of the season. They celebrated their much-needed success by setting the franchise record for scoring futility with a 64-point showing in a loss to the Bulls next time out to drop to 1-9.

The betting performance for the squad — 3-7 against the spread — shows that they aren’t performing much better form a betting perspective than they are on the scoresheet. It’s ugly.

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The question for bettors, though, is whether this team is going to get any better as the season progresses. If they are underachieving then they could deliver some nice value because the public certainly doesn’t care about the squad.

If they really are this bad, though, then betting against them could continue to be one of the best ways to cash in on the league. Here’s a look at five factors that determine their chances of improvement:

The coach

Flip Saunders, the likely-soon-to-be-former head coach of this squad, is a smart guy and a good coach. He’s made a career on coaching offenses that are talented and dangerous. It’s stunning, then, that this team is so inconceivably bad at putting the ball in the net.

More significantly, it makes absolutely no sense that management would hire an offensive coach and then surround him with defensive players that can’t shoot. It’s almost as if the management specifically doesn’t want to win.

While Saunders doesn’t have a lot to work with he certainly isn’t doing much of a job of connecting with the players he has. There isn’t a player of note on this team that is playing up to their potential — never mind exceeding it. Motivation is a challenge, consistency is a foreign concept, and focus is fleeting.

Saunders is a good coach doing a lousy job, and I have little faith that he can salvage it this year.

The star

When John Wall was picked first overall in 2010 the expectations were obviously extremely high. His strong rookie season only elevated those expectations coming into this season. By every measure, then, this season has been a disaster.

The list of statistics in which he has shown an improvement this year over last is decidedly short — blocks. That’s hardly a key measure of point guard success. In every other category he is at best flat, and in some cases — like field goal percentage which has fallen from .409 to a dismal .338 — he has plummeted. That .338 is, incidentally, the second worst in the entire NBA.

Last year Wall played like a rookie — not always pretty, but fearless and overrun by potential. This year it is as if he is overwhelmed by the enormity of where he is. You can see him questioning every decision he makes before he has actually even made it. He knows that the team can’t score, so he is trying to do it all himself, but he can’t sink a shot so it just gets ugly.

Leaders need to lead, and Wall’s play is the leading theme exactly to the 1-9 record they have achieved.

Wall needs to be dramatically better the rest of the way if this team has a chance of being respectable. If you put all the guys who snapped out of a sophomore slump mid-season in a room together, though, it certainly wouldn’t be a crowded place.

The shooting

How many teams since 1961 (That’s more than 50 years for those of you who struggle with math) have finished below 40 percent shooting as a team on the season? If you guessed ‘none’ then you are a smart guy.

The Wizards are shooting .397, and an ugly .367 on the road. That’s not this squads’ only shot at infamy, either. No team has ever produced fewer than 92.2 points per 100 possessions. This inept team is averaging just 90.6.

If this team is going to get any better than they simply have to shoot much, much better. Given that essentially every player on the roster is shooting poorly you could argue that they should be able to improve when they ditch this collective slump.

There are two problems with that thinking, though. First, so many of these guys on this team have never been shooters, so they just aren’t going to take a huge step forward. Second, this team is so inefficient offensively that anything other than a massive improvement will be too little to make a big impact.

You probably didn’t need any more reasons to be pessimistic about this team, but you’ve got one.

Depth

Nick Young is the second best player on this team — at least at this point in their collective development. With all due respect to Mr. Young, a team with a guy like that as their second best talent is just not going to be a good team.

The roster is dotted with guys who are either looking washed up (like Rashard Lewis), young and raw, lacking in talent, or just not of star-caliber.

JaVale McGee is the closest thing to a bright spot this year since he’s improved statistically, but his ceiling isn’t particularly high.

Teams that have been as bad as this team has for as long as they have should have stockpiled far more talent than they have at this point. Bleak.

 

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