The Washington Wizards have been rolling lately. Following their disappointing 2-8 start, the Wizards have fought their way to the 3rd seed in the Eastern conference with a 32-21 record, and they have gained a lot of respect from media, other teams, and fans as a result.
— CSN Wizards (@CSNWizards) February 7, 2017
There are plenty of reasons for this seemingly meteoric rise that has ended up putting the NBA on notice. Some would attribute it to the solid coaching of Scott Brooks, and the players now fully buying into the system that he has installed. Some would say the emergence of a couple of solid bench pieces in Kelly Oubre, Jr., and Jason Smith has largely contributed. And still others may say it’s just a product of their schedule thus far appearing somewhat easier, despite the fact that they’ve gotten quality wins over teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics during this run.
While all of those may be factors, the biggest reason has to be the starters and their phenomenal play this season. All five starters average double figures in points, while point guard John Wall and center Marcin Gortat are each averaging a double-double this year – Wall in points and assists, and Gortat in points and rebounds. That’s huge, as it shows not only that they are all contributing to the team’s success, but also that they continue to be a great fit together.
The Wizards’ starting backcourt has easily made their case for being one of the best backcourts in the East, if not one of the best in the NBA. Even beyond their high scoring outputs, Wall and Bradley Beal are making strong contributions on both ends of the court.
At the beginning of the year, Wall was coming off of surgeries to both knees, and we was relatively out of shape. In addition to his shot being fairly rusty, his poor conditioning heavily effected his performance on the defensive end, with even Scott Brooks saying after an the third game of the season, a loss to the Toronto Raptors at home in DC, that Wall looked like “the worst defender out there,” to which Wall himself replied that he agreed after watching video of his performance (according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report).
— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) November 27, 2016
Since then, the four-time All-Star has slimmed down, and become much more heavily engaged and locked-in on the defensive end. As Wall appears to be the fastest and most athletic he has been in his entire career, this appears to make things even easier for his Washington teammates. His speed allows him to get wherever he wants on the floor, forcing multiple defenders to try to guard him at once, often leaving the rest of his teammates wide open for shots. The pass-first point knows where each of his teammates is, and he is ready to find them at a moments’ notice.
— CSN Wizards (@CSNWizards) February 5, 2017
Backcourt mate Beal has made good use of this, and he and Wall have been clicking as a result. It’s clear that any “issues” that may have been reported between the two are primarily just noise that they have to continue to tune out. Beal has had three 40-point games this season, the most in his career, and he surely knows that he has Wall to thank for a lot of his shot opportunities. When the two are on the same page, either one or both of them can take over a game at a moment’s notice.
The Wizards guards are not the only ones that have improved their games this year. Small forward Otto Porter, Jr. is also having a career year this season, which is also convenient given that it is the final year of his contract, and Washington has some big decisions to make this summer regarding the future of their small forward. Porter is shooting 53.2 percent from the field, second on the team behind Gortat, and whopping 46 percent from three-point range, which is not only a team-high mark, but also tops the league in three-point field goal percentage. He has also already made over 100 three-pointers this season, which is the best for his career.
Going deeper into the frontcourt, power forward Markieff Morris is having an outstanding year. When the Wizards traded for him last February at the trade deadline, there were a lot of questions as to how it would work out, especially given the turmoil that enveloped his final days with the Phoenix Suns. However, he has proven to be a very essential piece with this Wizards team, largely as a very important glue guy for the rest of the team. Along with Porter, he also ranks as one of the team’s best defenders, and the Wizards lose a significant bit of their edge when he is out of the game.
Finally, Marcin Gortat has quietly become one of the best centers in the Eastern conference. As previously mentioned, he averages a double-double at 11.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game. Not super high numbers that you might find with other centers, but he has been incredibly consistent for this Washington team. Also worth noting: Gortat and Wall have the most combined double-doubles among teammates in the NBA at 63.
John Wall: 32 Double-Doubles
Marcin Gortat: 31 Double-Doubles
— Jake Weingarten (@JakeWeinNBA) February 11, 2017
The success of this starting lineup could not have come at a better time. Given that the Wizards’ bench is still noticeably lacking, the starters are still required to play heavy minutes on a regular basis. But they have seemingly figured things out after a slow start, and together, they continue to display on a nightly basis why they deserve to be considered among the league’s elite. The Wizards are winning the games that they should be winning, and playing hard against teams they know they need to play hard against.
This Wizards lineup is clearly working. And with a pretty tough schedule ahead in the latter half of the season, it’s a good thing that Scott Brooks has figured out how to make things work with this starting unit sooner rather than later. The team may not be a top-tier team yet, but with the way things are looking now, the future certainly appears very bright.