The season is over, courtesy of the Wizards’ Game 7 loss at Boston last week. That sent the players and coaches off to various ports of call and the rest of us into “What If” mode.
Therefore, here’s a chronological list of the top “What If” thoughts for the Wizards this season.
What if: Al Horford
According to the reporting last July, the versatile big man was THISCLOSE to joining Washington during free agency. Instead, the four-time All-Star picked the storied Celtics franchise. That had the Wizards going with backup plans. Those plans largely didn’t work out (that's an understatement). Then Horford twisted the knife by averaging 16.7 points and shooting an insane 61 percent on 3-pointers in Boston’s 7-game series win. Dagger.
What if: Third guard
Not many in the fan base or the media truly appreciated previous backups Garrett Temple and Ramon Sessions. All did once they got a look at their replacements. Washington traded for Trey Burke last July with the idea he’d serve as John Wall’s backup despite falling out of the rotation with the Utah Jazz. Marcus Thornton, a deep reserve the previous season, hung around on the cheap but with the stepped up role right behind Bradley Beal. Hmmm. Whenever Wall and Beal sat, leads vanished immediately. By late February Thornton was out of the NBA, Burke was benched for newly signed Brandon Jennings and the minutes kept piling up for Wall and Beal.
Finding a viable third guard shouldn’t be difficult. It was equal to solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded this season.
What if: Kelly Oubre Jr.’s actual growth matched perception
The athletic forward had some nice, even starry moments during his sophomore season. There were times when the “3-and-D” role coach Scott Brooks envisioned looked ideal. However, Oubre ultimately just shot 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, often looked lost in team defense concepts and played just six seconds in Game 7 as Brooks went with those he trusted. The ultra-confident Oubre is also only 21 and oozes upside. There may not be a bigger move for the Wizards next season than the stylish kid channeling his immense energy and adding a perimeter touch over the summer. Let’s see it before assuming his role.
What if: Ian Mahinmi’s calf strain
The bench struggles angered the fan base before the All-Star break and during the playoffs, especially Game 7 when Boston’s reserves outscored Washington’s 48-5. Yet there was a 25-game stretch where the second unit ranked 10th in net rating (points per 100 possessions). That occurred with Mahinmi, who missed 50 of the opening 51 games with a knee injury, anchoring the back-line. Then on April 10 the penultimate game of the Wizards’ regular season, the defensive-oriented center suffered a calf strain, which kept him sidelined for nearly one month until Game 3 against Boston. His game never truly returned and Washington’s bench suffered.
What if: Rajon Rondo Injury
Top-seeded Boston lost the first two games of its first round series with underdog Chicago largely because Rondo throttled his former team. That is until the point guard broke his right thumb and the Celtics won the next four games. If Chicago hung on, Washington would have had home-court advantage against the Bulls. Instead, there was Game 7 at Boston.
What if: Bradley Beal’s missed putback in Game 2
Washington had two attempts at a game-winner in the final 13 seconds at Boston, including Beal’s uncontested putback. It, they came up short and with it lost their best chance at a road victory.
What if: Scott Brooks’ Game 7 minutes managing
The head coach’s ability not to lurch from one plan to another based on solely on circumstance was among the primary reasons Washington found itself one win from the Eastern Conference for the first time since 1979. Then he went out and played Beal and Wall 92 of a possible 96 minutes. In the win-or-else scenario, it’s understandable he leaned on his stars, but both guards look drained in the fourth quarter. The following day Brooks acknowledged the minute’s mistake.
What if: 0-for-11
Don’t believe any nonsense about Wall “Not ready for the moment” of Game 7 unless you simply ignore his work in the previous (elimination) game or the point guard’s overall dynamic postseason. However, not scoring for the final 19 minutes of Game 7 while missing shot after shot, that’s not cool. When tired, his jumper falters. See above on the tired. See yourself to the exit if you rip Wall’s intestinal fortitude. Still, 11 consecutive misses, yeesh. Imagine if just even a couple of those shots fall at the right time. What if indeed.