The Wiz season is following a depressing pattern. I projected the Wiz to win 45 games, that is until we outplayed a 50-win team from last year, on the road, in the season opener. 50 wins definitely looked like a distinct possibility. Eh, not so much..........we then won only 1 of our next 8, and that 1 win was over the Nets, who may end up as the worst team in history. Those 9 games were the ones where we were without Cybertawn.
The Cybertawn portion of the season commenced with a win over the Cavs in game #10, so all is good again right? As in the season opener, it turned out to just be a tease, because since that win, we have gone 4-5 and currently stand at 7-12. So what's the problem and what does the rest of the season hold?
Bullets Forever beat me to it with this nice article, but the problem is that the star players aren't performing. Jamison has been good, so has Haywood, Blatche, Miller, but Agent-0 and Tough Juice have not been good enough. Yeah, they've been good, but we need them to be All-Stars. As I wrote in my season preview, "As much as I'd like to talk about X-factors and other improvements, this team will only go as far as Agent Zero will take it." There have been a lot of positives this season, but the poor performance is on the shoulder of Gil and Caron, that's the end of the discussion as to what the problem is. How to fix it or why this problem exists is a different story.
I think the reason for the struggle is the new coach/system and that these guys have not played together for awhile (remember, Gil has missed almost 2 full seasons). Caron is clearly struggling to find his role in this offense; he understood his job as the #1 guy the past couple years, but is having trouble being as efficient and productive as a #2. Gil, meanwhile, seems to be lacking some of his aggressiveness. I understand that Flip Saunders wants him to be more of a pure PG, and Gil is making an effort to curtail his boyish personality, but I don't like it. A hobo in Chinatown once told me, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Who cares if he is a fun-loving guy with a big mouth? I don't know who told Gil that 'acting mature' would make him a more valuable player, but right now that advice is looking terrible. I want the blogging, aggressive, Hibachi-calling locker room prankster back, and the Wiz are probably thinking the same thing too.
Gil and Caron have never been great defenders, but it is actually on the offensive end where they are struggling. John Hollinger has us ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, and 24th in offensive efficiency. Although the 20th best defense is nothing to brag about, we are certainly improved on that end of the floor, and enough so that if we had the offensive efficiency of the healthy Hibachi years, we'd be looking at a dangerously good team. As a comparison, Atlanta is ranked 4th in offensive and 17th in defensive efficiency and have been one of the top-5 teams in the league thus far.
As for the bright spots other than the defense, let's start and end with Young Sushi. After writing him off early in the season, he was given a 2nd chance and has clearly thrust himself back into the rotation. The Wiz are 4-3 with him as a starter, although I will say that the good record probably has more to do with Jamison being back than Young Sushi in the starting lineup. The highlights of these 7 games include 3 20-point performances and, more importantly, great defensive performances. He's held Andre Iguadala to 2-10 from the field, D-Wade to 6-19, and Stephen Jackson to 4-12. The defense is particularly interesting because his metrics have indicated that Nick is an above-average defender, but the 'eyeball test' has said otherwise. Well, maybe our eyeballs are deceiving us; just because he doesn't have a mean streak and isn't pesky like Bruce Bowen does not mean he is not performing at a high level. Nick isn't a defensive stopper by any means, but is proving that the metrics are right.
Nick still needs to learn to pass a little more often, holding a 10:11 assist to turnover ratio in these 7 games, but Deshawn Stevenson should not leave the bench for anything other than garbage time at this point. I don't think Nick's a versatile defender, but against perimeter shooters and slashers, he can be effective enough to take some of Mike Miller's minutes. The interesting thing now is that with the Wiz needing offensive help more than defensive, Miller may actually be the better fit. Even if Nick does lose some minutes in the near future, he can still provide moments like this:
So where is this team headed? John Hollinger thinks we will be shedding salary at the trade deadline, but I'm not so sure. After the top-4 teams in the East, the 5th seed in the East is a mere 3.5 games ahead of us, standing at 11-9, and may never be that far ahead of us. That said, we will need to win at least 43 games to get that 5th seed, and we are already 2.5 games under .500. With 63 games left, that means we will need to win at least 36 of those (36-27) to be .500. Even though we look like a .500 team since Jamison's return, and certainly have room for improvement, going 36-27 the rest of the way is not realistic at this point. A more realistic 40-41 wins will likely get us into the playoffs, but just make us first-round cannon fodder for the Celtics, Magic, or Cavs. Ummmm, I'll just pretend I didn't do that math and replay the belt slap video a few times........
(Image courtesy of media.nowpublic.net/)