Ten games into the season, the Washington Wizards seemed destined to repeat mediocrity. They sat at a disappointing 2-8, dampening the excitement around a rejuvenated roster led by newly hired Head Coach Scott Brooks. However, the Wizards have lately been the hottest team in the NBA, boasting a 28-13 record over their last 41 games, including a 17-game home win streak prior to their loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Much like the Houston Rockets, an active offseason left fans expecting a competitive team but. perhaps, not to this level. In addition to bringing in Brooks, the Wizards improved their depth by signing guard Trey Burke and center Jason Smith while resigning guard Bradley Beal to a $130 million five-year extension.
Despite the roster improvements, the Wizards’ success can be attributed to something much greater: They are finally unlocking talent on the roster that had been dormant the past few seasons.
It is no secret that guard John Wall is the Wizards’ best player. The four-time all-star player currently averages a career-best 10.4 assists per game while shooting a career-best 46 percent from the floor. Wall has long been the quickest player in the league, but this season has refocused his speed to force defenders to commit and set up his teammates. His selflessness is not only reflected in his assist totals but also in the shooting percentages of his teammates.
Forward Otto Porter is averaging a blistering 47 percent from three — first in the association — after shooting 37 percent last season. Porter has matched his shooting from deep, with career bests from the floor and the charity stripe at 54 percent and 77 percent. Rounding his game out with a modest 6.6 rebounds per game, Porter has been a major contributor to the Wizards’ success.
The complement to Porter’s development has been the health of Beal. The fifth-year Florida product missed 27 games last season due to injury and has yet to stay healthy for an entire season. Because of the questions surrounding his health, the move to re-sign Beal was perceived as a bit of a gamble for Washington. So far, the gamble has paid off as Beal averages a career high 22.2 points per game on 47 percent from the floor and 39 percent from deep. Much like Porter, Beal has also been a major beneficiary of Wall’s athleticism and vision.
Behind the leadership of their talented backcourt, the Wizards’ role players have quietly improved their game to help spark such mid-season success. Center Marcin Gortat averages a career-high 11.5 rebounds per game to match 60 percent shooting from the floor. Burke is seeing a resurgence in his shooting with a scorching 42 percent from deep. This success comes without center Ian Mahinmi, a notorious rim protector who has appeared in only one game this season.
Of course, none of this is possible without the presence of a new head coach. Brooks, who boasted a 338-207 record during his
time in Oklahoma City, helped develop guard Russell Westbrook and forward Kevin Durant into perennial All-NBA players. His experience with the Thunder has undoubtedly contributed to the success of John Wall and the growth of Otto Porter. Brooks brings with him playoff experience, including a trip to the NBA finals in 2012. He has made Washington the cohesive unit it is today, something that never came to fruition under previous Head Coach Randy Wittman who was fired after five seasons and a 131-199 record.
The Wizards have only made the playoffs twice in the last eight seasons and have not made the conference finals since 1979. The talent has been there but was never properly harnessed. This season has the potential to change that, as the Wizards join the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors in the fight to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It remains to be seen how far Wall and a healthy Beal can take this team, but, for the first time as teammates, the star-studded backcourt has found the missing pieces necessary to make a playoff run. No one will choose the Wizards over the Cavaliers to make the finals, but, with the talent on the roster and Brooks at the helm, the Wizards are finally taking steps in the right direction.
Evan Couture is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. At The Buzzer appears every other Friday.
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