- The Washington Times
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Washington Wizards may not be able to stop anybody on defense. They may not win many games this season. They could be years away from seriously competing for a title.

But the Wizards right now have one of the league’s best offenses.

That’s right. The Wizards can score. Through its first 11 games, Washington ranks third in offensive rating, averaging 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Only the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks are better.

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“It’s crazy, right?” veteran Wizards guard Ish Smith said.

Over the first month of the season, the Wizards have scored more than 120 points in five games. Remarkably, they’re just 1-4 in those outings. But the way the games have unfolded captures an element of the Wizards’ approach this year: If they can’t stop opponents, they might as well try to outshoot them.

Under coach Scott Brooks, the Wizards are pushing the pace. So far, Washington has averaged 105 possessions per game — seventh most in the league, and the franchise’s highest since at least 1996. Teams tend to slow down as the year drags on, but as of now, the Wizards are making the extra pass and attacking.

Asked about his team’s offensive output, Brooks said his players are “playing the way we want” and compete with good energy. He noted how Washington’s younger stars are sharing the ball, which can be a rarity in a league where players know scoring is the surest route to endorsements and shoe contracts. The Wizards have recorded an assist on 62.3% of their shots, 10th leaguewide. Washington also ranks seventh in effective field goal percentage (53.5).

Brooks, though, is surprised they’ve been this efficient.

“We knew all of our guys that we brought in, but you didn’t know how they were going to play and how they were going to gel together offensively,’ Brooks said. “It’s hard when you’ve got a lot of younger players, there’s a lot of things to learn. … I give our guys a lot of credit.

“It’s been fun to watch, fun to coach,” he added.

The Wizards’ offensive ranking has them rubbing elbows with some of the NBA’s elite.

Houston, for instance, has James Harden and Russell Westbrook — two of the league’s best guards who are routinely named All-Stars. Dallas has Luka Doncic, a former top five pick who has taken a massive leap this season, and coach Rick Carlisle, who is regarded as one of the game’s top tacticians.

Washington, with nine of 15 players on the roster under the age of 25, doesn’t have as much star power as some NBA super teams. What it does have is Bradley Beal.

Beal is playing so well, he might be enough to keep Washington among the best offensive teams.

After a career year last season, the 26-year-old is off to a roaring start — averaging 30.1 points per game, third behind Harden and 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The two-time All-Star has been particularly good lately. Last week, Beal averaged 40.7 points in three games — shooting an eye-popping 58.7% on 25 attempts per game.

Beal’s output not only raised his season averages, it vaulted Washington from 11th in offensive rating (108.5, as of Nov. 12) to third (112.4).

“It’s funny because everybody was, what, freaking out about a little slump?” Smith said. “Brad’s a scorer. Brad’s a shooter. So I don’t see nothing but him getting better and better as the year continues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The Wizards, of course, realize they need to play better defense. At halftime in last week’s win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Beal lamented his team’s lack of defense, telling NBC Sports Washington: “Every game is like this. We’re just trying to outscore teams. … We’ve got to be able to get stops and defends, man.”

Speaking to The Washington Times on Tuesday, Smith said the hope is for the Wizards to patch their defense enough to rank in the teens by season’s end.

Right now, the Wizards have the league’s second-worst defensive rating (114.4), trailing only the Golden State Warriors.

“We’re on the two opposite ends of the spectrum,” Smith said.

Even with the defensive lapses, and a lack of wins — just three in 11 games — owner Ted Leonsis appears happy with the Wizards’ progress. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Leonsis took a jab at those who doubted Washington’s ability to score before the year.

“We’re doing better offensively than I thought we would be doing,” Leonsis said. “I think most of the experts said ‘how are you going to score the ball?’ That’s what I heard going into the season. Well, that’s not an issue.”

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