The Ringer noted Tuesday that the just-concluded first week of the NBA season resulted in twice as many blowouts as usual. NBA statistics show players continued to jack up a record number of three-pointers, almost 39 percent of all their shots, which means they clang more shots. And they fumble away the basketball at a rate not seen since the mid-1990s.
All of which should be comfort for the Washington Wizards. Their play is fitting the script. Have you seen them? Yikes!
They fell to 0-4 Tuesday night after a 115-107 loss to what arrived in D.C. as a winless Chicago Bulls club with low expectations. The Wizards led a few times in the first half but not by more than three. In the fourth quarter, they trailed by as many as 19.
They ended Tuesday ranked 24th in the league in points allowed per game, but they were giving up roughly the same number (119.5) as they were a season ago (119.1) when they ranked 29th out of 30 teams. They were 17th in points per game (111.8), averaging almost three fewer points than last season (114.4). They were 23rd in three-point shooting (33.1 percent) after finishing eighth last season (36.8 percent). But they were tops in one category: fouls! Committed, if not odor.
“Film,” Coach Scott Brooks said Wednesday when asked how the team spent much of that morning’s practice. “We watched a bunch of clips on both ends of the floor.”
With one eye closed, probably, wincing throughout.
It is early, of course. This NBA show was rushed into production coming out of the 2019-20 season that the pandemic disrupted, truncated and forced to conclude in October after a restart in late July. A normal season would have ended in June, with players given almost four months to recharge and teams just as long to regroup.
Some Wizards haven’t recharged. Take Davis Bertans. Please! The sharpshooter nicknamed the Latvian Laser was given an $80 million contract in the offseason for his deadly three-point prowess. And it’s killing the team! He made 3 of 9 from long range Tuesday. He made 3 of 14 over his previous two outings. The Laser needs recalibrating.
It was reported that Bertans had visa problems getting back to the United States. And when he was asked a couple of weeks ago upon the opening of training camp how much basketball he had been able to practice since last seen, he replied, “Uh, this week of practice.”
Russell Westbrook practiced with his new team after being swapped with John Wall. But he didn’t play in the preseason until the last game. It has shown.
The point guard and his teammates have no rhythm. His turnovers per game are a career-high 5.7. My phone alerted me at the end of Tuesday’s game that Westbrook, the triple-double machine, had just become the first NBA player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to produce a triple-double in his first three games of the season. At least Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals won one of those games.
What the Wizards looked like after Tuesday isn’t what they will look like after next month. Brooks certainly better hope not. He is in the last season of the five-year contract he signed in 2016. Wall is gone, and Brooks’s old floor leader from Oklahoma City, Westbrook, is here. They won a lot together, with some help from Kevin Durant. Westbrook is a postseason fixture with Hall of Fame credentials. Not having him would be an excuse for poor results.
Help is on the way, too. Brooks revealed Wednesday that Rui Hachimura will play Thursday for the first time this season. The first-round pick from 2019 was out with pinkeye. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a rookie and made the league’s all-rookie second team. Brooks leaned on him for 30 minutes per game. His return means the envisioned starting five can get on the floor and the bench rotation can be established. It should mean that third-year player Isaac Bonga, the German-born son of Congolese parents who is just 21, can come off the bench, and this year’s first-round draft pick, Israel’s Deni Avdija, who has played well as a starter, can dial back a few minutes.
It all should add up to more help for Bradley Beal, who again finds himself carrying so much of this team. He is third in the league in points per game, leads the team in minutes and is playing at the high level we have come to take for granted.
But it can’t be forgotten that it has been four seasons since the Wizards won 49 games and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, in which they lost to top-seeded Boston. That was Brooks’s inaugural campaign here. There was excitement. His second year wasn’t as propitious, but the team made the playoffs, if only to get sent packing in the first round.
The team since then has won fewer games every campaign, which is why this season’s start must change soon. I have seen the end of this sort of opening scene before, and it’s frightening.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Washington Post.