Depending on how you personally define success, Scott Brooks’ time as the head coach of the Washington Wizards can be summed up in one of two ways.
On one hand, you could choose to see the last two seasons as positive. The Wizards have been a playoff team for both of Brooks’ seasons in DC, and they came within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals. They have one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA and have cultivated a competitive roster that is built around their two best players.
On the other hand, you could look at things from a more negative perspective. Brooks has yet to achieve more than former coach Randy Wittman, the latter of whom was seen as an underachieving coach who failed to get the most out of the talent he had on the roster. The Wizards have two All-Star players in their prime and have never performed well enough to be considered one of the elite teams in the league or even in the East.
Brooks’ tenure so far can be described in multiple ways, but everyone who is in some way invested in the Washington Wizards can agree that it’s time for him to produce results. He was hired partly because of his success with a young Thunder team, taking them to the 2012 Finals. To be fair, Brooks did have three former MVPs on that Finals roster (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden), but what is perhaps more important is how those players bought into his style and philosophy.
James Harden, for example, was the third pick in the NBA Draft. Many teams would have expected him to be the leader of a franchise. Instead, Harden (through Brooks’ guidance) took a role off the bench that proved to be successful for both the team and for him personally, winning the Sixth Man of the year award in 2012.
The Wizards aren’t as talented as that Thunder team was, but they still have several very good players who can contribute in various aspects of the game. For Scott Brooks, the challenge is getting enough out of those players to be reasonably competitive.
It seemed that the Wizards were well on their way in his first season as head coach. They won 49 games that season and finished fourth in the East. They beat the Hawks in the first round and lost a grueling seven-game series with the Celtics in the second round. If a couple of things go their way, it’s not unreasonable to say that they would have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, something the Wizards haven’t done as a franchise since 1979.
Under Brooks, John Wall had his best season as a pro in 2016-17. He scored 23.1 points per game, making him a top 20 scorer in the entire NBA. Wall also averaged 10.7 assists per game that season, which was good for second in the league behind James Harden’s 11.2. Wall led the league in steals in the 2016-17 season as well.
Otto Porter is another player that has flourished under Brooks in the last two years. Porter went from a good defender with average offensive potential and output to one of the better 3-and-D players in the league. He’s been near the top of the league in 3-point percentage over the last two years and had the second highest offensive rating in all of basketball in 2016-17.
The play of Wall and Porter shows that Brooks can do well from a coaching standpoint with a good starting lineup. The problem with the Wizards is generally what happens when those starters aren’t on the floor or aren’t healthy.
John Wall battled injury for the majority of the 2017-18 season and the Wizards’ record and playoff standing suffered as a result. The Wizards dropped to eighth in the East and were disposed of by the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. Losing your best player is a situation that would create adversity for any team, but the most well-coached teams in this league know how to adapt to adverse conditions.
The Celtics went through long spells without some of their best players, and they played above anyone’s reasonable expectations. The Celtics nearly made the Finals without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, something hardly anyone would have expected them to do. John Wall is undoubtedly the Wizards’ best and most important player, but the responsibility of keeping the team afloat without him largely falls on the shoulders of Scott Brooks.
This season, Scott Brooks has arguably the best roster of talent to coach since he’s been in charge of the Wizards. A healthy John Wall, an All-Star caliber player in Bradley Beal, the imposing presence of Dwight Howard and solid role players throughout the team should make the Wizards a formidable opponent for any team hoping to make their mark within the East.
Scott Brooks made the conference finals in his third season as the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. If he can do that with this Wizards team, there will be no reason for the front office to look for his replacement. If he can’t, he may find himself out of a job.