Is it too early to call the Washington Wizards a cursed franchise for point guards? Long-time fans recall the Mark Price saga, in which the one-time star point guard came to Washington and never quite managed to kick plantar fasciitis. Gilbert Arenas was arguably the best point guard in the team's history, yet the former Agent Zero's career was destroyed by recurring knee injuries and occasional bouts of insanity. Franchise cornerstone John Wall, the player turned to as the new face of the franchise in the post-Gilbert years, is battling a knee issue that's kept him out of the lineup for the first two months of the 2013 season. And now Wall's backup, A.J. Price, is out with a hand injury, while his other backup, Shaun Livingston, appears to be unable to play heavy minutes. What's a team to do?
Coach Randy Wittman has been forced to play combo guards Crawford and Beal next to each other for long periods of time while Price and Wall heal up. The team has been bad, really bad, when they share the court. Over the 232 minutes that the young backcourt has played together, Washington has been outscored by a whopping 14.8 points per 100 possessions.
Washington Wizards Backcourts, Offensive and Defensive Ratings
(all data via NBA.com/stats)
Washington goes from a bad team to a terrible one when Beal and Crawford check in at the same, with the team's overall performance 6.7 points worse than normal when the two youngsters see the floor together. At first glance, the fault would appear to lie with Beal, as the team has been far worse with the rookie off guard on the court. That simplifies things just a little too much, though.
Washington Wizards When Bradley Beal is On, Off the Court
Washington Wizards When Jordan Crawford is On, Off the Court
The Wizards score at a far more efficient clip when Beal is out, largely because his inability to create offense on his own is more obvious due to being part of so many of the team's offensively-challenged starting lineups. The Wizards get to the line more and takes more threes when Crawford is in the game because of his ability to break down defenses off the dribble. JCraw may not always take good shots himself, but he at least helps his teammates get into positions where they can.
Unfortunately, Crawford isn't a pure point guard, and his focus isn't always getting his teammates the high percentage shots that they should feast off of. Crawford has been a phenomenal individual player as a point guard this year, putting up a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 23.3 when he plays the point, as opposed to a PER of 14.8 when he plays shooting guard. As happened last year, Crawford at point guard tends to not work out too well for the team as a whole. Nonetheless, he's the only player on the roster right now who can break down a defense off the dribble, so the team needs to find ways that it can play to his strengths.
There's not much Washington can do to improve its results when Crawford plays the point. Their best bet is to do what they've been doing, playing Beal and Crawford with Webster and Singleton at the forward positions and Nene or Seraphin in the middle. This gives the team shooting at every position, creates space for Crawford's drives and makes it easier for Beal to attack the basket. At the same time, Washington's ability to run the offense through Nene takes pressure off of Crawford to set everyone else up, allowing him to function as more of a traditional shooting guard. When Nene checks out, Washington's offense is going to devolve into isolations and poorly-executed plays anyways, so Seraphin should be brought in and paired with Crawford, giving the team two credible scoring threats to draw defenses away from Washington's spot up shooters like Webster and Singleton.
Washington is going to struggle mightily as long as Crawford and Beal are forced to play heavy minutes next to each other. How much, though, is going to be determined by how clever the team is about playing to their strengths and masking their shortcomings.