Get used to repeats of that old Wizards pattern — keeping the score tight (even holding a lead in the fourth quarter) only to lose in the end. The problem isn’t that Washington lacks a mystical “ability to close,” it’s that their bench can’t hold the leads its starters provide, and its starters wear down at the end of competitive games.
This is not the fault of Randy Wittman and the coaching staff. Most of the failing bench players are producing at levels consistent with career norms. Eric Maynor, a fan whipping boy so far this season, is playing worse than usual, but not abnormally so. He’s been unproductive throughout his career — that’s he’s even less productive should surprise no one. The same is true of Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Garrett Temple. They’ve established themselves as unproductive. There’s little reason beyond hope to imagine them becoming productive.
With the “make the playoffs or else” mandate, Wittman has little option but to play his key players heavy minutes and pray they don’t get hurt. And that’s exactly what’s happening. John Wall and Bradley Beal lead the league in minutes per game at PG and SG. Among SFs, Trevor Ariza ranks eighth and Martell Webster sits 15th. Marcin Gortat is second in minutes per game among centers. The fragile Nene plays the 12th most minutes per game for a PF.
If this was the playoffs, there’d be little reason for concern. But there are 62 games remaining in the regular season, and they’ve already sustained injuries to Ariza, Webster, Nene and Beal. Another injury could put the playoffs out of reach. That would be a shame (as would limping into the playoffs) because at full strength, it’s core rotation players could at least put a scare in a post-season opponent. They’ll need to get (and stay) healthy to do that, however.
For a further demonstration of Wittman’s lack of options, peruse the table below, which shows the (approximately) weekly update of Player Production Average (PPA). PPA is a player rating stat I developed. It credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.
Ariza is playing a lot like he’s in a contract year, which is to say — superbly. His production is All-Star level, though it would astonish me if he actually received the honor. But, with Lebron more a PF these days, it’s arguable that Ariza has been the East’s second best SF so far this season (behind Paul George).
Recovered from injuries last season, Gortat is producing at a good level again. Like Ariza, his timing is superb — he’s in a contract year as well.
Wall seems to have settled in at All-Star level production. PPA currently has him rated as the top PG in the East, and fifth most productive overall behind Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley.
This week’s update shows Vesely’s production dropping off. Hopefully he can turn things around. Whether or not he does, the coaching staff would be wise to give more minutes to Booker, who continues to be an “about average” producer. That’s nothing to get excited about, but it makes him a solid reserve.
Finally, note that the Wizards have seven players who rate below replacement level so far this season. Collectively, they’ve played 823 minutes — nearly 17% of the team’s total. This is a direct result of the front office’s persistent failure to properly assess players, and their inability to address the team’s glaring need for depth. This misjudgment is costing the team wins now, and could cost them even more as the season wears on.