Washington Wizards might be better than their record indicates and need to find their own version of the Washington Redskins’ Josh Norman.
The Washington Wizards are a talented basketball team – or, at least, they are more talented than their current 6-10 record indicates.
The team’s starting lineup is among the most well-rounded in the league, meaning that among those five players, there is no glaring weakness or hole.
Still, the Wizards hover near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and all signs point to the team struggling to reach the playoffs. There are some very tangible, on court reasons as to why this is the case.
The Wizards’ bench, for example, is among the worst second units in the league, and has hampered the team’s ability to reach its full potential. However, there are equally important, not quite so apparent, issues that are holding the Wizards back.
To find the solution to one of these problems, Washington may want to look to their football counterparts in the nation’s capital.
Last season, the Washington Redskins were a perfectly average football team.
They were above-average on offense and below-average on defense. They beat the teams that they were supposed to beat and lost to the teams that they were expected to lose to.
They finished the season with a 9-7 record and lost in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
This season, their record doesn’t indicate that they are all that much better.
They are again sitting at slightly above .500, currently at 6-4-1, and will battle for their playoff lives for the remainder of the season.
However, something has changed in DC.
The Redskins are now able to beat good football teams and they go into every game thinking that they a good chance at coming away victorious.
And that is due to a single change from last year.
Despite what he may want to believe, Josh Norman is not the best cornerback in the NFL.
That, however, is irrelevant to the fact that he has become the team’s most important player and is worth every penny of the five-year, $75 million contract he was given this past summer.
Like all great cornerbacks in today’s pass-happy league, Norman is intensely self-assured. He doesn’t believe that any wide receiver can beat him one-on-one. He exudes such a high level of confidence in his own abilities that it spreads throughout the locker room.
The Wizards desperately need this kind of player on their roster; the one who can spread confidence within his own team and instill fear in the minds of their opponents. All great NBA teams have this player.
For some, there is an obvious choice.
Players can be so great and intimidating on the court, that their game itself creates this aura. Think of guys like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. These kinds of players are extremely rare.
The Washington Wizards clearly have nobody of this stature.
Other times, a very good, though not all-time great, player can supplement on-court ability with a specific, confident, off-court attitude, like Norman does.
In the NBA, this kind of player is perfectly exemplified by this season’s version of Russell Westbrook.
Markieff Morris is an upgrade over Nene, given the transformation of NBA basketball.
Otto Porter has also improved, and, on the court, has essentially matched Pierce’s production. He may be a downgrade offensively, since he struggles to create his own shot, but in terms of defense and rebounding, Porter is an improvement over Pierce.
The bench has unquestionably weakened, but the second unit was not the strength of the 2014-15 Wizards, either.
Still, the team has tried and failed to emulate their success from two years ago. The most obvious problem is the more intangible hole that Pierce left.
No player in this past NBA generation (save for Kobe Bryant) was as confident as Pierce, especially late in games.
Pierce demonstrated this ability over the course of his one season as a Wizard, particularly in the playoffs. He hit countless important shots for the team, and, more importantly, Washington knew that they had someone to go to late in games.
Similarly, Norman has made plays this season late in games to help preserve a number of Redskin wins, most notably his late-game interception against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 and his game-sealing, brilliant forced fumble against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
Without Pierce, the Washington Wizards no longer have that go-to guy when the going gets tough.
Washington blew a late eight point lead with multiple consecutive empty possessions, culminating in an ill-advised missed fadeaway from Wall at the buzzer that sent the game to overtime.
Wall has made a bad habit of taking, and missing, bad shots late in the shot clock or late in games.
Pierce, and Norman, also help the team’s case with their off the court trash talk.
Pierce famously claimed that the Toronto Raptors didn’t scare his Wizards because they didn’t have “it”, whatever “it” was, before Washington easily swept a seemingly equal Toronto team in the playoffs.
Norman has beef with virtually every number receiver in the league.
The Wizards, this year, have played scared. Even against teams they should be beating easily, like the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic, the team has played as if it’s afraid to lose. Very few of the players seem confident in their own abilities.
The Wizards are better than their record shows.
This team should have no problem making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. But they very well might not.
They lack the leader who can create confidence and instill fear in their opponents. Perhaps the Wizards lack the “it” that their former hero was referring to. Either way, they must find this missing piece. The Washington Wizards need their Josh Norman.