- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 2, 2021

The first quarter of the Washington Wizards’ season has been a surprise to most in the NBA.

When the team traded star Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers and got a handful of role players in return, the expectation was that the Wizards would struggle this season.

Through 22 games, though, Washington is 14-8, tied for second in the Eastern Conference under first-year coach Wes Unseld Jr. thanks to solid defense, several second-half comebacks and an easier-than-average strength of schedule.

But it’s not all perfect in the District.

The Wizards’ offensive struggles, which have already cost them multiple games this season, could end up hampering a team that at the very least has playoff aspirations. The team is in the bottom half of the league in points per game, offensive rating and several other key offensive statistics.

Here are the three problems facing the Wizards’ offense.

Beal’s efficiency

It wouldn’t be fair to say Bradley Beal has been a disappointment so far this season.

He’s the unquestioned leader of a team that, despite having half a dozen new players and a first-year coach, has gelled and performed better than anyone expected.

He’s arguably playing the best defense of his career, and he leads the team in points at 22.7 per game. His 5.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game are both career highs, and the assists figure is tops on the team, as is his free-throw percentage (89.5%).

But his shooting efficiency is way down this season.

Beal is shooting 43.5% from the field — his worst percentage since 2014-15 — and 26.9% from behind the arc — by far the worst of his career. The previous two seasons, in which Beal averaged over 30 points per game, he shot 47% from the field and 35.1% from 3.

“I think he’ll break through,” Unseld said in November. “He’s well aware that he’s not shooting with the efficiency he’s accustomed to. He also understands that he’s an All-Star, an All-NBA player and that teams are going to key in on you. It’s not going to be easy.”

For the Wizards — a team whose only star is Beal himself — to have any ceiling at all, Beal needs to regress to his career percentages.

Poor 3-point shooting

It’s not just Beal who has shot poorly from long distance.

It’s almost everyone on the team, as the Wizards have the NBA’s fourth-worst 3-point percentage at 32.2%.

Davis Bertans may be the best example of a Wizards player struggling with his shooting stroke. The team’s third-highest paid player at $16 million, Bertans is shooting below 30% from 3 — well below his career mark entering this season of 40.7%.

Bertans has only played 12 games this season due to an ankle injury. Upon his return on Nov. 24, Bertans shot 1 of 22 from the field in his first four games back and was minus-34 when on the court in those games. However, against Minnesota on Wednesday, Bertans bounced back, going 5 of 6 from the field and 3 for 4 from behind the arc in the team’s win.

“It felt like somebody took the lid off the hoop finally,” Bertans joked after the game. “Should have probably done that a long time ago. Especially coming off the injury, it takes some time for your legs to get back into it. All you can do is keep shooting in practice and in games and stick with it.”

However, the players who the Wizards received in the Westbrook deal are all shooting well from behind the arc. Spencer Dinwiddie’s 35.2% 3-point percentage is a career-high, while Kyle Kuzma’s 35.4% is above his career mark and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 38.7% is tops on the team.

Too many turnovers

The sloppiest Washington’s offense has looked came in late November when the team lost four of five games. The Wizards turned the ball over 17 or more times in four of those five games.

While turnovers is far from the most important metric in basketball — Golden State is 29th in the league in turnovers per game but has an 18-3 record — it may be more important for a Wizards team that is near the bottom in the league in pace.

The Wizards are 18th in turnovers per game at 14.3 and the team has lost the turnover battle in all but six of its 22 games. That number compares to the 11.3 turnovers teams are committing against Washington, which ranks last in the league defensively in steals.

While the offense has been underwhelming this season, Beal said it’s not time for concern, especially with the team near the top of the standings.

“It’s impressive we’re able to put together the wins we have with the amount of adjustments we’re making on the fly,” Beal said after the loss to San Antonio on Monday. “We’re definitely proud in that standpoint … but we also hold ourselves to a higher standard knowing we can be better, and we will.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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