You know a team has issues when a seen-it-all leader speaks out in frustration after only eight games. And when the coach and other veterans chime in, you realize the Washington Wizards are in trouble again.
There’s no question about that after Nene, Coach Randy Wittman and others criticized the team for its knuckleheaded performance Wednesday night in another embarrassing road loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs’ 92-79 dismantling of the Wizards wasn’t surprising (Washington has lost 15 straight in San Antonio). But for the most established members of the locker room, it was troubling to watch a third-quarter collapse after the Wizards had whittled a huge deficit to three points. Although no one was singled out to The Post’s Michael Lee, the main target of the harsh critiques seems clear: struggling point guard John Wall.
Second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal is the only other young player in a key role. Does Beal have a lot to learn? Absolutely. In his position running the offense, however, Wall is hurting the Wizards the most. Against the Spurs, Washington was rudderless at the worst time. It’s a familiar story for the Wizards, who at 2-6 are last in the Southeast Division. At the start of his fourth season, Wall has some impressive career stats, which Wizards officials surely would cite as proof the former No. 1 overall draft pick deserved the $80 million contract extension he received in July. At the time, Wall said his “main goal” was to win a championship for Washington. Unfortunately, he has yet to prove he can play the right way to achieve that objective.
Nene hammered the point about the Wizards’ failure to play high IQ basketball in comparison with the selfless Spurs, who are as sharp as it gets in the game. “They kicked our butts in the most classy way — playing the right way,” Nene fumed. “It’s crazy. That’s what makes me mad. Our young guys think they’re so smart.
“But if I was young, I would watch video of that game for one week to see if I could learn something because the way they play is how you’re supposed to play. . . . They don’t think about stats. We still think about stats. Our young guys must take their heads out their butts and play the right way because I’m getting tired of this.”
The Spurs took the Wizards to school in the third quarter. They led by as many as 19 points, but the Wizards cut the lead to 60-57 on Martell Webster’s turnaround jumper with a little more than three minutes remaining in the period.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, Wall seemed to forget what he’s paid to do. Over the next 2 minutes 38 seconds, the Wizards took six bad shots, including three by Wall, and missed all of them. The Wizards had rallied by moving the ball, making the extra pass and finding open teammates. They lost the formula during Wall’s worst stretch in another bad outing. “We’re continually running around like a chicken with our heads cut off,” Webster said.
When an offense stalls, coaches look to point guards first. Judging by Wittman’s comments, it’s pretty clear he was staring in Wall’s direction.
“We came down and took six of the worst shots you could possibly take,” Wittman said. “Zero or one pass. All of a sudden, we’re going to play hero. We can’t do that. We don’t have a hero here. We have to play five guys.”
Wall is shooting a career-low 37.9 percent from the field. During the third quarter Wednesday night, he missed eight of nine shots from the field and made only 5 of 19 field goal attempts in the game. Wall’s vanishing act as a scorer would have been easier for the Wizards to handle if he had at least run the offense well. But the combination of his awful shooting and poor decision-making — he didn’t even look at his teammates on some possessions — was too much for the Wizards to overcome against a group with know-how.
For the Spurs, it’s all about team. The Wizards would benefit from the same approach. For that to happen, Wall, at a minimum, must do what Wittman asks of him. Wall still plays as if the fastest guy with the ball wins. Sometimes, you have to slow down to move forward. Spurs point guard Tony Parker is great at reading road signs. Parker knows what San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich expects, and he thinks of his teammates first. The best point guards are conductors.
“It was like listening to Mozart,” newly acquired Wizards center Marcin Gortat said of the Spurs’ long-running hit. “It’s just ridiculous how they play. If we’re not going to learn how to play like these guys play . . . we’re going to have a tough season.”
The Wizards veterans and their coach said a lot about what’s wrong with this disappointing team. They can only hope Wall was listening.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.