The Wizards have begun the 2013 NBA season in familiar fashion, having lost their first five games for the third time in four years. The team's struggles have largely been tied to a league-worst offense that averages only 93.5 points per 100 possessions.
You'd think that the absence of franchise-point guard John Wall would have torpedoed the team's ball movement. You'd be wrong. Despite a point guard rotation of two players who could very well have wound up in Europe if the Wizards hadn't picked them up, the team is averaging a superb 24 assists per game, good for third in the league on a per-possession basis.
Unfortunately, while the Wizards' ball movement is as good as it's been in years, the rest of the offense has fallen off a cliff. Largely a result of the team's active roster rather than any particular scheme being run by coach Randy Wittman, Washington's offense has under-performed in a few key areas.
The team's scoring woes can be tied in large part to poor shooting, primarily as a result of the lack of easy looks that the team is used to having Wall and Nene create for the role players. The Wizards struggle when Price in particular is on the court (-14 points in 168 minutes), as he tends to both over-dribble and rarely show any kind of creativity with his passing. Both Wall and Nene will drastically help the team improve in this area once they recover from their injuries, as should Beal as he continues to improve as a ball-handler and playmaker. For now, though, Washington just doesn't have the personnel necessary to shoot a high percentage, especially in the half court.
The Wizards' free throw rate has also fallen off a cliff without Wall in the lineup. No one on the active roster is able to consistently get all the way to the basket and draw contact. Rookie Bradley Beal is crafty, having drawn a surprising number of fouls in college, but he's currently at best average at drawing contact. Kevin Seraphin, the team's most natural go-to scorer, has a largely finesse-based offensive game. And primary ball-handlers Pargo and Price are averaging fewer free throws combined per game (1.2) than Wall used to average per quarter. Until Wall comes back, this free throw disparity is very unlikely to change.
Offensive rebounding has been a very surprising weakness for the Wizards this year. Offensive rebounds can lead to a lot of easy buckets, the kinds of dunks and tip ins that players like Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely desperately need in order to put up any points. Despite last year's relative success (the 2012 Wizards were 17th in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage), the Wizards have struggled to pick up offensive boards this year, ranking only 24th in the league. Surprisingly, the team's struggles can't be chalked up to injuries, as the players receiving minutes in Nene's absence (Booker, Seraphin, Vesely, and Okafor) were all superior offensive rebounders last year.
Tuesday's game against Charlotte should allow the team's offense to pick up some momentum. Charlotte had the NBA's worst defense last year and, despite the addition of future-stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is largely unchanged through their first five games. Beal in particular should do well in this matchup, as the Bobcats' poor rotations and weak help defense should make it easy for him to get free for a lot of open jumpers. Price should be able to get anywhere he wants on the court, too, which should help to open things up for a few of the team's shooters and finishers.
No matter how things go against Charlotte, though, Washington's long-term outlook is very bleak, at least until Wall and Nene return to the lineup. The team's lack of a true shot-creator on the wing is enough of a handicap as it is. Add to this their current lack of a dynamic point guard, though, and the odds of Washington breaking the 100-point barrier become almost negligible.
For more on Tuesday's game, check out the game preview from our content partners over at Monumental Sports and Entertainment, as well as the "Fast Break" video preview with Dave Johnson and Glenn Consor. Also, former University of Connecticut teammates A.J. Price and Kemba Walker talk about facing each other in the NBA.