How will team chemistry affect Wizards’ plans? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
WASHINGTON – Team chemistry may be the ultimate intangible when it comes to building an NBA roster. Front office executives have ways to gauge the character, personalities, and background of individuals, but predicting how a group of people will coexist is very difficult to do.
The Wizards found this out the hard way last season, as after starting 10-3 they finished 12 games of the season under .500 with well documented problems between players in the locker room. Players complained openly about it, even after some of the players involved in those disagreements were sold.
Team chemistry, or lack thereof, was a defining feature of the Wizards’ 2021-22 season, but team president Tommy Sheppard believes that from his point of view, with decades of front office experience in the NBA, part of it has been exaggerated. Sheppard has commented on the matter several times, including after making a series of moves for the trade deadline and then again during the off-season.
“I certainly think [chemistry is] an element that you consider every single day, that you control … [but] it’s the same team that started 10-3 and all we heard was how great the chemistry was, “he said in February.
“You’re tied to your record, certainly. I think people approach success a certain way and sometimes success can have a strain on success. Maybe we didn’t do a great job managing success in the beginning.”
After the season, Sheppard seemed satisfied with how the team had come together after the exchanges they had made, most notably Spencer Dinwiddie, Davis Bertans and Montrezl Harrell. In the last two months of the regular season, Sheppard thought some of the locker room problems had been resolved.
“I think at the end of the season we have seen, ok, this is going to be our team. Bradley [Beal], even when he got injured he was with us on several away matches and participated in all our home games. I think those guys really hang out for each other. I think when you go through adversity and come out on the other side, you have a chance to get even tighter. This can only help us in the future, ”Sheppard said.
There were some momentary signs of progress for the Wizards after the trade deadline. Although they went 11-18 during that stretch, the acquisition of the Kristaps Porzingis key expiration was only available for 17 of those matches. While in training, they peaked by winning five of seven games from March 25 to April 5. It was their best series since the start 10-3.
Rui Hachimura thought the Mages were developing some cohesion beyond victory, adding some support to Sheppard’s claim.
“I feel like [those] two weeks we were together and we had better chemistry. We started to win, “said Hachimura.” So, I think we just have to do it for us, in this offseason we need a little more time together and we will have good chemistry so we can come back stronger next season. ” .
Part of the chemistry development is continuity and the Wizards haven’t had much fun this season. They adjusted to a franchise record of 29 different players and underwent two major roster revisions over a span of around six months – one in the off-season and then again when the trade expires. Along the way, Beal was lost for the season due to injury and a string of players were exempted for trouble due to COVID-19.
But there were also some player-voiced issues that Mages may need to pay attention to in order to prevent similar issues in the future. Take Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for example describing what happened after the team got off to a great start.
“I thought when we started 10-3 we would keep doing it,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Everyone was on the same line, everyone had their role that they wanted to play. I felt it was going to be great. Our mindset was that of the playoffs from the start.”
“When that happened, a lot of things – ego and a lot of things – took over, so that changed the dynamic of the locker room and things like that. It was shocking.”
Sheppard himself gave credit to this notion by saying that the team “didn’t do a great job managing success ahead of time.”
What they can do to prevent it from happening again in the future is unclear. Perhaps Wes Unseld Jr. just not being a rookie coach anymore will help, as he will have already gone through the experience.
There is also what Kyle Kuzma said in January when the Wizards were perhaps at their lowest point after a 35-point drop against the LA Clippers.
“We’re still trying to get more guys into the rotation. We’re still trying to figure out the roles after 40, 50 games … You’d think as a collective group we’d understand our roles, but not,” Kuzma said.
This may suggest the need to define roles earlier in the season than the Wizards did. Complicating matters in this regard were the delayed debut of Hachimura, who missed the first half for personal reasons, and also Thomas Bryant, who was out for months due to ACL surgery.
Again, team chemistry is indefinite and abstract. But the Wizards can probably take something from the experience that was the 2021-22 season and, they can hopefully, prevent that from happening again.