|This was truly an exasperating season for the Wizards and their fans.
The controversial trade of Chris Webber remained controversial as CWebb helped SAC make the playoffs while Mitch Richmond suffered through the worst
season of his career.
Although the Wizards have only made the playoffs once in
the 90s, the 97-98 season they at least were over .500 at 42-40, just missing the playoffs
by 1 game. Considering that several EC teams were expected to be much worse, making the
'99 playoffs seemed a reasonable proposition for WAS fans. But this team never played up
to fan's, or their own expectations. Why? I'll try to lay out some of the contributing
First though, thanks once again to Doug Steele for his great stats
Defense and rebounding. The
Wizards went from being a seriously large team a couple years ago when they featured a
frontline of Ghoerghe Muresan,
Webber and Howard to an
undersize one. Muresan hasn't played in 2 years (until late in the year when NJ signed and
played him a few minutes), Webber is gone......WAS now is starting Terry Davis or Ben
Wallace at C. At the beginning of the season, their starting
frontcourt was Davis, Howard and Cheaney. Relatively early on that changed to Davis,
Howard, Thorpe before finally becoming Wallace, Howard and Thorpe until Howard got hurt
for the final 12+ games. So they never had any real size at C even though a forward tandem
of Howard and OT is not undersized. Overall, the Wizards were not big.
Defensively they ranked 20th in pts allowed, 20th in
DefFG%, not nearly good enough for an EC team. In rebounding differential, they ranked a
miserable 25th with a -2.7/gm. In blocks, they ranked 28th. Ouch. Think Wilkins would take
Juwan for Dikembe? Sorry, just asking.
Offensively, the Wizards were mediocre. They didn't turn
the ball over much (more on this later) at 8th in the league (14.16/gm) but their shooting
(FG%, FT% 3pt%) was nothing to write home about ranking 11th, 22nd and 23rd respectively.
This from a team that on paper, looks like it should have some firepower with the likes of
Howard, Richmond and Strickland with Murray off the bench.
Their bench was a serious problem. Murray, hobbled by a
bad hip, was a major disappointment here as was Calbert Cheaney (even in his contract
year!). Legler missed a major part of the season, again. Their 2nd rnd draft pick, Jahidi
White missed a major part of the season after getting his knee scoped. Coach Bickerstaff
inexplicably switched to Jeff McInnis as his 2nd PG for much of the season. While he had a
couple of decent games early on, he fizzled and hurt the team with his lack of offense and
untimely TOs. Randell Jackson, a undrafted rookie who made the team in training camp,
played well in a few spurts raising the hackles of several on our list who couldn't
understand why he wasn't playing more.
Even though I think of both Strickland and Richmond as
aggressive offensive players, the Wizards shot over 200 fewer FTs than their opponents for
the season. Juwan Howard has a nice array of low post moves but most of them seem to free
him up for shots where he doesn't draw contact. But there were many times I felt
Strickland and Richmond got no respect from the zebras when they drove. Lots of "bad
teams" would like an answer of how to get zebra respect. I see unfair, inconcsistent
reffing as one of the biggest long term problems in the league. But WAS' problems are
deeper than just this.
Execution. This team just didn't execute well. It's hard
to say who is truly to blame here. Bickerstaff is a convenient whipping boy but at some
point the players have to take at least some responsibility, especially since they are
now, with Rock n Rod, Juwan and OT, a veteran team with youth unavailable as a viable
Finally, it just seemed as though the Wizards would
always fold under pressure. A review of boxscores for the season reveals that the Wizards
were outscored by 130 points in the 4th Q (for the year), an average of 2.6/gm! Their
overall pt differential was -2.2/gm so simple math says that in an "average
game" the Wizards were ahead by 0.4 pts after 3 quarters. They outscored their
opponents in the 4thQ in only 13 of the 50 games. Ouch. There were a number of truly ugly
late game collapses. This made for some exciting finishes for opposing team's fans and
some exasperating one's for WAS fans. Consistency was a consistent problem. Even when they
played well, they would screw up enough to leave windows of opportunity for their opp and
had very few blowout wins.
Coaching and smarter team play would help tremendously
here. Strickland and Howard in particular seem to play just fine until they are
double-teamed. Then they _and their teammates_ repeatedly failed to react and make their
opponents pay for the gambling. This just fueled opponents and encouraged them to do it
more. I hesitate to say that the players are dumb or lack the necessary skill set to
execute the appropriate reaction, but clearly something is amiss here. Poor coaching gets
the blame from many observers but again, these are pro players who should know how to
handle these situations so it's probably not all coaching.
|Center- Terry Davis, Ben
Wallace, Jahidi White and John Coker.
TD is a banger and a tough guy but has no vertical and little or no offense to his game.
His greatest strength is he plays smart position defense and picks up alot of charges. Ben
Wallace was the most exciting developing player on the team. He is short for a C at 6-9
but has tremendous hops and good quickness for a his size. He is very active and did a
good job cutting down on silly fouls as the season wore on and he became the starter.
Ideally, I think he should be a PF but in the absence of an acquisition at C, he'll remain
the Wizards starting C. Ben is an aweful FT shooter at 36%. On the positive side, Ben has
nice defensive versatility and is getting much better offensively around the basket.
Jahidi White, a rookie, was quite foul prone and did not demonstrate very good hands but
still could develop into a servicable enforcer type C. As reported last year, he has a
great NBA body if slightly short for a C. No one will push him around and if he fouls you,
you'll know it. Coker is your classic BWS (with apologies for the racial stereotyping).
Lorenzo Williams once again made essentially no contribution due to injuries (sigh). The
Wizards drafted a 6-11 european C a year or 2 ago. No word on his potential as a player or
liklihood of his coming over.
|Forwards- Juwan Howard,
Otis Thorpe, Randel Jackson, Calbert Cheaney, and Tracey Murray.
You might immediately notice a lack of depth with respect to size. Once OT moved to the
starting lineup, the Wizards basically had no backup PF so Juwan would swing between PF
and SF. OT had a very solid year for WAS finishing 3rd in the league in FG%. His
acquisition was one of the reasons I felt that the CWebb trade wasn't _that_ bad. But he
is now a FA and it's unclear how much interest he has in returning. Juwan put up his usual
solid numbers scoring 18.9 on 47% w/8 rebounds. If not for his contract, I think people
would have more respect for what he /does/ do. Unfortunately, he seems to have an ankle
problem which has cause him to miss a significant number of games over the last few years.
His game is really better suited to being a PF but he is not the classic banger/ enforcer
type that many successful teams have. He does not have SF shooting range either. A nice
player in many ways, but kind of a tweener between SF/PF. His contract makes him basically
untradable. Randel Jackson, a undrafted rookie SF showed some potential but still has some
developing to do. He has good shooting range and handles as well as height but is quite
thin. Cheaney is a mystery to me. I can't help but believe there is a pretty good player
lurking in there somewhere and I worry he'll find himself if and when he changes
teams/coaches. But how he can shoot only 49% on FTs is beyond me. I think he needs a
sports shrink or something. So while I worry about him leaving, he has failed to provide
much of a reason for the team to keep him around. I've no idea whether he'll be back.
Murray's hip limited his mobility and his effectiveness all season. He was a serious
defensive liability and shot only 35% for the year. WAS mgmt can only hope he gets
whatever he needs to rehab himself and return to his 97-98 form. He could be a nice scorer
and 3pt threat off the bench.
Richmond, Legler, Whitney, McInnis. Well maybe the team would've done
better if the highly touted guard tandem of Rock n Rod played a bit better. While
Strickland did finish 2nd in the league in assists, he shot a career low .416 and
subsequently scored a WAS career low of 15.0 ppg. Mitch had a career worst year fueling
the critics of the Webber trade. He shot a career worst .412 and scored a career low of
19.7. His previous careers worsts were .445 and 21.9. I was quite surprised by this. One
might have expected Mitch to flourish alongside a top flight PG and his physical style
would appear to be well suited to the EC after spending his entire career in the west. So
much for theories. Mitch is a FA and given his league tenure, is eligible for up to
$14M/yr. One wonders whether he'll be back but at worst, WAS should get something in a
sign and trade. Few teams would be able (or willing after last season) to offer Mitch the
max $$$. Chris Whitney and Jeff McInnis were the backup PGs. As mentioned above, McInnis
had a couple of flashes but failed to provide much consistency. I would have prefered his
minutes to have gone to Whitney who is a servicable backup PG who even did a respectable
job as a starter late last season when Strickland went down. Legler missed some time with
injuries but lacked for playing time. There were a number of times when Mitch was
struggling where I felt Legler could have been called upon. But Legler is not as effective
as he was in the days when WAS had the Muresan inside threat. Still, he could be a capable
backup. He shot 40% on 3s but only shot 6 FTs all year in 30 gms.
|I feel compelled to comment on the team mgmt. Abe Pollin is the longest serving owner in
the league and a guy who wants to do right by his city. He has built a nice downtown
arena. He deserves great credit for this. However, many have criticized Abe for his
apparent unwillingness to delegate. Those critics feel that team mgmt is spread too thin. Wes (Unseld, WAS GM) wears too many hats to
do his full best at everything he is responsible for. Many feel it is time for him to go
(as GM). At a minimum, WAS mgmt should be doing some serious soul searching/self
The hiring of a a new coach
is the most important off season move that the franchise will make. There is talk that
Isiah Thomas is now the front-runner. He is an intriguing choice. As a player, he
epitomized many of the qualities that this team so clearly lacks. He could turn out to be
the wrong choice but for the moment, he is my favorites among the names that have been
floated around. Unseld has mentioned that he might be willing to turn over his duties as
GM to the right candidate. IT has (limited) experience here. But I'll add that IT also
wants to be an owner. While Abe has indicated he's not interested in selling anytime soon,
he is 77. However, the Caps new ownership group headed by AOL exec Ted Leonis has right of
first refusal on a Wiz sale. So IT may have little or no shot here unless Leonis wants to
include him when the time finally does come for Abe to sell.
Other candidates for next coach included: Doc Rivers (now
w/ORL) Mo Cheeks, J Boehiem, Kareem, Gar Heard (highly respected asst). WAS mgmt could do
worse than look at either Cowens or Del Harris as well. Phil Jackson is another
possibility but depending on who you believe, he may not be interested in coming to DC and
could well end up in either NY, NJ or LA. Fratello is another experienced possibility.
|A real center and depth just about everywhere. There are
no C candidates worthy of the 7th overall pick. Perhaps the luckiest thing would be if
Szczerbiak falls to 7. It's really hard to prioritize team needs without knowing what
their FA plans are. Which of Richmond, OT, Cheaney etc will be with the team next year.
|Richard Hamilton -
ideal replacement if Richmond goes. Hamilton could better fill the role that Murray was
plugged into with some question about his 3 pt range compared to Murray. But he has to be
a better defender and all around player than Tracy. Who knows, he could replace Richmond,
Murray and CC but that's a pretty tall order for any rookie even given that Murray and CC
are role/bench players.
- Odom- no way he falls to 7
- Francis - see above; talent yes! Position? Next
- Szczerbiak - poor man's Googs? but prob a
better shooter than Googs. If you're lucky, plug him in at SF then sit back and enjoy.
- Brand - ideal(?) replacement for OT; size? position?
(A _very close call_ between 3-5)
- Andre Miller - groom him while Rod starts to
- Maggette - nice long term upside but how soon can
- Davis - I'd take Miller first; my impression (from
scouting reports) is that he is headier/readier than Davis who admittedly may have greater
upside. (these last 3 are a real close call as well)
- Hon mention- Bender and Artest
|According to Patricia Bender's fine webpage, the
following are possible FAs from other teams (big men/C only):
- BOS- Riley/Schintzius (no thanks);
- MIA- Mills/Conlon (maybe for the right price);
- NJ - Muresan (yes! if healthy??);
- ORL- Bo (sure, but he's no C)
- PHL- Mahorn (maybe as player/coach?);
- ATL- West (seen better days);
- CHA- Shack, Miller (maybe Miller);
- CHI- Bryant ( a possibility);
- TOR - Oak (not a C, but a qual player);
- DAL (Walker/Trent, both undersized);
- HOU- OHarrington (stock has gone up, may not be
affordable, undersized for C);
- SAN- Rose (decent but undersized); Perdue ($$$???)
- UT- Fuller (unproven at best); Foster (a big guy who plays
- VAN- Chilcutt (nah)
- GSW- Cummings (see Oak) Spencer (has size but what else?)
Dampier ( maybe)
- LAC- Wright (maybe)
- LAL- Reid (I'd take him although he's a bit undersized,
- PHO - Kliene (nah) CRobinson (a versatile big guy, not
WAS FAs are: Cheaney, Coker, Davis, Jackson, McInnis,
Richmond, Thorpe and White. If the team is to lose OT or Richmond, hopefully they can do a
sign and trade. None of the others would probably net much in (sign&)trade except for