Wait, the Washington Wizards are actually… good?
The Wizards bullied Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on their own home court Sunday night. All-Star John Wall nearly had a 20/20 game, while frontcourt sparring partner Bradley Beal snagged 27 points of his own in the 107-94 victory. That was Washington’s fourth-straight win and 11th in its past 13 games.
With the All-Star Game approaching, the Wizards currently sit seven games over .500 at 27-20, just a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks for first place in the Southeast Division and good for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. For a squad which floundered badly to start the season, the Wizards turned their fortunes around at a Wall fast-break-like speed.
I’d love to admit that I thought Washington would be in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture in January, but it’s time to eat some crow.
Back in December with the Wiz six games under .500, I wrote the following in an article titled “The Washington Wizards are doomed and there’s nothing John Wall can do about it.”
“With no bench, no supplemental scoring outside the starting five, Washington is in a nasty position.”
“Washington is going nowhere fast.”
and worst of all..
“The Wizards are fucking doomed.”
Washington is not, in fact, “fucking doomed.” (Well, at least not the basketball team.) While I stand behind some of the assertions I made in the column, Wall has certainly done something to change the Wizards luck.
The 26-year-old Kentucky product has improved his efficiency in almost every facet of his offensive game. Wall is shooting a career-best 46 percent from the field and 23.0 points per game. His three-point shooting is nearly identical to his mediocre 32 percent average, but Wall’s increased potency on offense led to a steady uptick in scoring.
Averaging 10+ assists for the third consecutive season, Wall’s drawing more attention than ever due to his scoring spike. When he’s on the fastbreak, look how easy it is for him to dish it to Kelly Oubre for a slam as two defenders both try to guard him.
Wall is especially crafty around the rim. With his mid-range game falling, he’s putting good defenders on spin cycle with a variety of nifty moves near the painted area.
It’s no surprise Wall is playing great. But his increased production is a nice result of a more fluid Scott Brooks offense. It’s kept opposing defenders constantly on their feet.
Under Brooks, in his first season behind the bench, the Wizards starting five has emerged as a league-best unit. Washington’s starters are averaging a staggering 83.0 points per game, second only to the Kryptonian Golden State Warriors.
Wall and Beal are both consistent scoring threats, averaging 20+ points per game. Markief Morris remains an effective stretch-four. Marcin Gortat, aka the Polish Hammer, is a bitch to play against and good for a double-double.
Perhaps the most surprising offensive catalyst is third-year forward Otto Porter Jr. The forward leads the NBA in three-point percentage, with his 46 percent nearly 10 points better than his rate a year ago. On top of that, Porter, like Wall, is shooting the ball at a career-best percentage. Brooks, who developed Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant into elite pros, has been a godsend for his development.
Washington’s starting five ranks third in the NBA among lineups with at least 400 minutes in plus/minus, with a +4.8 differential, second only to the Warriors and Clippers starting five (with Blake Griffin). That’s elite company to keep. The starting five is enough to keep the Wizards firmly entrenched among contenders.
But Washington’s Achilles heel remains its bench. The group averages 23.7 points per game, 29th league-wide. No reserve averages more than seven points, which is a huge problem for their championship aspirations.
It’s nice to see Oubre develop a scoring touch, but depth remains a problem. Marcus Thornton, Trey Burke, and Jason Smith aren’t going to keep up with the starters. General manager Ernie Grunfeld will have to address the bench for the Wiz to contend. Adding a player with scoring touch (such as Jamal Crawford or Brandon Knight) would go a long way.
But again, the Wizards aren’t doomed. I’m not convinced they’re a championship contender without an upgraded bench, but things aren’t as dour as they once appeared. Washington’s a legitimate playoff team with a killer starting five. Give credit where credit is due.
New #NBA Power Rankings!
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) January 30, 2017