John Wall scored 52 points last night in a mostly empty arena against the Orlando Magic, who defeated the Wizards anyway, despite not being good or playing all that well. Below is the full highlight reel, if you’re into seeing one of the NBA’s most thrilling players deliver the best scoring performance of his career to the sort of smattered polite clapping you’ll recognize from the announcement during this past Monday’s staff meeting that someone you’d never heard of in a department you’ve never visited won Employee of the Month.
(What these highlights will not show, of course, is Wall’s almost total no-show at the other end of the court. In lieu of video, know that the man he spent much of the night guarding, Elfrid Payton—who came into the game averaging a robust 10 points per game and posting shooting numbers that would make Reggie Evans blanch—went for 25 on 9-for-12 shooting, including hitting all four of his three-point attempts, and dished out 9 assists to boot.)
The Wizards are 7-13 now, down near the bottom of the weak Eastern Conference, among such bozo-ass clown teams as the Nets, Heat, and Sixers. It’s where they belong. Or, well, okay, yes, in the aggregate, it’s where they belong, as a collective, the Wizards, yeah, they are bozo-ass clowns. Here, though, is a fun chart, brought to you by the NBA’s stats website:
That’s a list of the 10 most-used five-man lineups in the NBA to this point in the season. If you look at the NETRTG (net rating, a measure of a lineup’s point differential per 100 possessions) column, and ignore the Wizards, you’ll notice a tidy and completely unsurprising pattern. The Clippers’ most-used lineup has played a ton of minutes together, and has a whopping 20.7 net rating, and the Clippers are 16-6. Detroit’s most-used lineup has a less impressive but still positive 1.4 net rating, and the Pistons are a less impressive but still positive 12-11. The Timberwolves’ most-used lineup has a hideous minus-9.1 net rating, and the Timberwolves are extremely bad. Oklahoma City: positive net rating, 14-8 record. Cleveland: excellent net rating, 14-5 record. And so on.
You get the idea. It makes sense: if a team gives an especially large chunk of minutes to a given lineup, its fortunes should tend to echo that lineup’s fortunes. And there’s information in the negative space, too: If a team’s most-used lineup is winning its minutes (like, say, by a hearty 8.7 points per 100 possessions) but the team has a losing record (like, for example, 7-13), you know some shit is going badly awry when that lineup isn’t on the court.
Oh, hey, speaking of which, here is another fun chart!
This is the ass end of a list of everybody in the NBA who has played at least 10 games and averages at least 10 minutes per game, sorted in ascending order of net rating; in effect, it is a list of the worst players in the NBA so far this season. It features four—four!—members of the Wizards’ rotation in the, uh, top (?) 11: Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, and Marcus Thornton.
Somewhat mindbogglingly, that rotation also includes two other players: Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. Oubre’s Net Rating is minus-8.7; Satoransky’s is a perfect zero. It would include a seventh player if Ian Mahinmi, the one-dimensional 30-year-old itinerant backup center upon whom the Wizards dumped a four-year, $64 million contract this past summer, had not missed all but 14 minutes of the season with injuries to both knees. (The Wizards went minus 11 in those 14 minutes.)
That’s the Wizards’ bench. To call it bad would be to heap undeserved insult upon other things that are bad. In a pinch, the shortest possible explanation for the Wizards’ 7-13 record is: “In those 20 games, Marcus Thornton and Jason Smith have played a combined total of nearly 600 minutes.”
The fact that a list of the NBA’s worst active players in 2016 would include Burke, Nicholson, Smith, and Thornton is no surprise. For that matter, that the Wizards would not only employ but actually use—depend on!—literally all four of those players isn’t all that surprising either, if you’ve paid attention to the Wizards at any point in the 13 years Ernie Grunfeld has been the team’s president of basketball operations. Hell, if you really wanna get bleak about it, that an incompetent NBA lifer like Grunfeld has kept his job all this time, despite a job performance that would need something like a three-year streak of brilliant summer and trade-deadline personnel coups to earn its way up to the descriptor “putrid,” isn’t really surprising either, if you’ve paid attention to the Wizards at any point in basically their entire history. The point, here, is not to call attention to anything surprising, but only to say this: the Wizards are purgatory.
I like to make a somewhat unfair but nevertheless illuminating contrast between the Wizards and the Golden State Warriors, because I am a lifelong Wizards fan and thus most familiar with misery and shame. Bear with me for a minute.
At the beginning of the 2014 offseason, the Warriors had made two consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in a very long time. They had a very gifted and exciting young point guard: Steph Curry. They had a sweet-shooting but kind of weird and robotic young shooting guard: Klay Thompson. They had a versatile young forward whose game was wobbly in a few places (shooting, most especially) but included some very useful guard skills: Draymond Green. They had a big macho doofus of a center for whom they’d traded some valuable stuff when they were ready to get serious about things: Andrew Bogut. And they had one of these tough-talking swinging-dick Leader of Men asshole coaches, who’d helped stabilize and professionalize the young team but who’d long since exhausted his reserve of actual basketball ideas worthy of his team’s blossoming talent: Mark Jackson.
The Warriors had a crack at adding a (putative) superstar that offseason, remember: the Timberwolves had an offer on the table that would have landed Kevin Love in Golden State in exchange for Thompson and Harrison Barnes. They were also a year away from a much-anticipated free-agency bonanza that would include two genuinely great players, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, at the peak of their powers. But instead of piling all their eggs into some other team’s superstar’s basket, the Warriors mostly stood pat, made smart improvements to their depth and stability, replaced their dumb coach with a smart one (Steve Kerr), and here we are, a little over two years later, and they’ve been to two consecutive Finals, set the record for most wins in a season, and revolutionized the sport. (They also, not for nothing, have Kevin Durant on their team, ahem ahem.)
Now let’s look at the Wizards. At the beginning of the 2015 offseason, the Wizards had made two consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in a very long time. They had a very gifted and exciting young point guard: John Wall. They had a sweet-shooting but kind of weird and robotic young shooting guard: Bradley Beal. They had a versatile young forward whose game was wobbly in a few places (shooting, mostly) but included some very useful guard skills: Otto Porter. They had a big macho doofus of a center for whom they’d traded some valuable stuff when they were ready to get serious about things: Marcin Gortat. And they had one of these tough-talking swinging-dick Leader of Men asshole coaches, who’d helped stabilize and professionalize the young team but who’d long since exhausted his reserve of actual basketball ideas worthy of his team’s blossoming talent: Randy Wittman.