Barring an epic collapse, Scott Brooks’ Washington Wizards are going to make the play-in tournament. The Wizards just need to beat either the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers or Charlotte Hornets at home, or have the Chicago Bulls lose one of their three remaining games. The Bulls finish the season against the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
Qualifying for the play-in tournament, or even getting through to the playoffs, doesn’t mean Washington shouldn’t pull the plug on Brooks after this season.
Yes, Brooks just won Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for April. Yes, it’s a miracle Washington is in position to clinch a play-in spot considering the 17-32 record on April 5. Yes, Brooks seemingly has the support of stars Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
However, the Wizards can do better. Wednesday night’s collapse against the Atlanta Hawks perfectly illustrates the point.
Even without Beal in the lineup again, Washington was in position to clinch that playoff spot and eliminate Chicago. The Wizards led by as many 13 points in the fourth quarter and had numerous opportunities down the stretch to seize the game. Instead, they fell apart and suffered a 120-116 loss to give the Bulls the slightest glimmer of hope.
Brooks’ inability to make adjustments on the fly cost Washington the game, and it has been a theme of his tenure. Perhaps the biggest sin was failing to reinsert Daniel Gafford into the game over Alex Len.
Gafford had 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench and is a perfect lob partner for Westbrook. He’s also a solid rim protector. But as the Wizards floundered in crunch time, Gafford was stapled to the bench because of fatigue, at least according to Brooks.
Brooks’ usage of an effective player in Gafford has been questionable since acquiring him in a trade from, ironically, Chicago. The head coach likes to cite that Washington has three centers (Gafford, Len, Robin Lopez) who need to play. The conditioning thing is probably legit to a degree, but Gafford had checked out with over seven minutes remaining. After playing only 17 minutes to that point, he couldn’t come back in for the last few? I call hogwash.
The Gafford situation wasn’t Brooks’ only misstep.
Brooks went with a trio of point guards down the stretch in Westbrook, Raul Neto and Ish Smith. The latter was spotting up in the corner despite being a terrible 3-point shooter, which only clogged up the lane for Westbrook. Smith had just six points on 3-of-9 from the field and was a team-worst minus-12 in 28 minutes. He bricked a crucial 3-pointer with the Wizards up two with just under two minutes to play.
Why not have Garrison Matthews — a 38.5% 3-point shooter this season — out there to help space the floor better for Russ? Matthews was only 1-of-4 from 3 in this game, but he’s still much more of a threat from outside. Or perhaps one of the supposed young cornerstones in Rui Hachimura should have been out there.
Either way, Brooks should have done something as his offense floundered when it mattered. The Wizards were almost bailed out by the Hawks’ own scuffling offense, but a clutch John Collins 3-pointer after Clint Capela blocked Westbrook on a drive gave Atlanta the lead for good.
While the Wizards did need to execute better in general, fans were quick to point the finger right at Brooks for this collapse:
Ish over Neto
Three pg lineup
Scott Brooks is always late to obvious adjustments and it costs the team wins. This roster isn’t good enough to withstand that. Those decisions could be the difference between the play-in and the playoffs.
— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) May 13, 2021
Scott Brooks had Russell Westbrook kicking it to Ish Smith in the corner in crunch time. I need a warrant for Scott Brooks today
— Dialante (@Deetalksalot) May 13, 2021
The margin between winning NBA games is so thin and coaching plays a significant role in tilting the balance in teams favor. The Wizards have constantly come up short in the Scott Brooks era at making winning adjustments when it matters most.
— Troy Haliburton + (@TroyHalibur) May 13, 2021
Also this https://t.co/zO5H9MQSZg
— Mike Prada. (PRAY-duh) (@MikePradaNBA) May 13, 2021
Again, the Wizards will likely clinch a play-in spot as soon as Friday with a win over Cleveland. If Beal comes back healthy, they’ll be a dangerous team in the play-in with Westbrook playing at such a high level. They’ve been a fun story to watch over the last month, especially with so many crazy games.
But this team can do better than Scott Brooks as head coach. Hilariously enough, somehow blowing this play-in spot would almost certainly result in his dismissal, so maybe that would be for the better.
In all seriousness, Washington should be looking for any possible upgrade and use it as a selling point for Beal in an attempt to get him to stick around for the long haul. They shouldn’t settle for mediocrity.