Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I tried to make an effort this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This last time around, Alan Jenkins of Bullets Forever was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for him to help preview Wednesday’s match-up between the Magic and the Washington Wizards.
1) The Wizards, losers of four straight and eight of their last ten, seem to be trending in the wrong direction at an unfortunate time. Currently sitting in the eight spot in the Eastern Conference (one game behind the Heat and Bucks), what kind of chance do you give the Wizards of advancing in the playoffs? Is there an opponent out of the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers that you think the Wizards match-up more favorably with?
Alan Jenkins (@AJenks24): If they don’t figure things out and quickly, it doesn’t matter who they play, they’ll be a quick out in the playoffs. With that being said, if I had to rank potential matchups based on who I’d want to play it would go Philadelphia, Boston Toronto. Yes, Philly has won 14 straight and is the hottest team in the NBA right now but they are still very young and outside of J.J. Redick, no one in their rotation has significant playoff experience. Boston has to be second as they’ll be without Kyrie Irving for these playoffs. And I have Toronto as the team I’d least want to see of those three. People around here like to joke about Toronto’s shortcomings in the playoffs, however, this year’s team feels different. They are really deep and really, really good. You don’t win nearly 60 games in a season by accident.
But like I said before, all of this is moot if the Wizards don’t fix their issues internally first.
2) From the outside, it hasn’t seemed like things have gone very cohesively in Washington this year. How long do you think the Wizards will give the John Wall/Bradley Beal/Otto Porter Jr. core before they look to go in a different direction? Is there any chance you think the organization looks to make a significant move to change things up this summer, or do you think they will just look to upgrade some of their complimentary players?
Jenkins: Yes, it has been a super frustrating and disappointing year for the Wizards for various reasons. Management is about 1-2 years behind the curve in making tough decisions so unless Washington gets swept or looks equally as embarrassing in a 5 game series, I don’t see the front office chopping up the core of Wall, Beal, and Porter this summer. Additionally, the Wizards are already a tax team and John Wall’s super max deal for ~40M/Year kicks in during the summer of 2019 so I don’t see the team making any splashes in free agency as they don’t really have the money to. It’ll likely be an offseason very similar to last where the Wizards will have to sign aging veterans on minimum to mid-level deals.
3) Assess the job Head Coach Scott Brooks has done this season with the Wizards. What do you think are some of his strengths and weaknesses as an NBA coach?
Jenkins: I’d give him a C+. As for his strengths, In my opinion, Brooks is a very underrated coach in drawing up after the timeout plays. Almost after every timeout, Washington either gets a basket or a very good look at the hoop. As for his weaknesses, Washington’s late-game execution isn’t very good and that’s because the Wizards play too much iso-ball down the stretch; very similar to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in OKC. Washington led the league in assists per game for about 2 straight months this season but for some reason when the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter arrive, the ball stops moving. This isn’t all on the coach as the players ultimately decide whether to run a play or override the coach but yeah, end of game execution is not a work of art for this team.
4) In your opinion, who has been Washington’s Most Valuable Player this season?
Jenkins: Otto Porter has been outstanding and the advanced analytics love his game as well. However, I don’t think the Wizards would have been able to stay afloat during John Wall’s absence without the All-Star play of Bradley Beal. Beal’s numbers last season were actually slightly better but that’s because he’s been forced to carry the load this year for Washington and the opposition knows that. Even with the opposition game planning for Beal, he’s still scoring nearly 23 points per game and has become more of a facilitator as he’s upped his assists to 4.6 per contest.
So I’d give the slight edge to Beal as the MVP of this team so far but make no mistake about it, Otto Porter is a very, very, close second.
Big shout out to Alan for helping us preview Orlando’s last home opponent of the season, the Washington Wizards. Game-time is Wednesday at 8 PM.