Heading into the 2016-2017 NBA season, it was tough to get a fix on the Washington Wizards. Scott Brooks was set to begin his first season as the Wizards head coach, while Washington’s two best players in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal were not on the same page.
At first the Wizards resembled a team that wasn’t in sync as they began the season with a record of 3-9. However the tide would begin to turn for Washington and once the calendar was set to shift to 2017, they had climbed back to the .500 mark. But after the Wizards dropped their first two games in January, they’ve gone on to become one of the hottest teams in the NBA as they have won 17 of their last 20 games. And heading into the NBA’s All-Star break, there isn’t a team in the Eastern Conference that wants to face them right now.
The Southeast Division has been up for grabs for the majority of the season, but things are changing since the Wizards have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse. The Wizards currently hold a 2.5-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks for the top spot in the division as they appear to be the most complete team there.
Wall has been one of the better point guards in the NBA since the Wizards made him the first overall pick in 2010. And this season has seen Wall earn his fourth consecutive trip to the All-Star Game as he is averaging a career-high in points per game with 22.9, while his 10.6 assists per contest are second in the league. Wall has 34 double-doubles to his credit this season which includes him recording one in each of Washington’s last eight games.
Like Wall, Beal is averaging a career-high points this season with 22.3 per contest which included going for a career-high 42 points on November 21 in a victory over the Phoenix Suns. Beal is showing that he is worth every penny when he and the Wizards agreed on a new five-year extension that is worth $128 million during the summer. This contract initially caused a rift between Beal and Wall, but now they’ve combined their forces to be one of the better back court duos in the NBA. And the fact that Beal and Wall are both healthy and on the same page is fueling the Wizards surge, along with several other factors.
The Wizards appeared as if they weren’t going to grow anymore under former head coach Randy Wittman which resulted in his termination and the hiring of Scott Brooks. Prior to joining the Wizards, Brooks was the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons where he compiled a record of 338-207 which was highlighted by guiding them to an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Brooks also knew how to deal with different personalities as he found a way to get point guard Russell Westbrook, shooting guard James Harden, and small forward Kevin Durant enough shots. And this ability to keep the team’s best players happy is what makes him perfect for the Wizards as he is a breath of fresh air.
Small forward Otto Porter Jr. was the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Wizards and he has been a project for them as his production has increased in each season. This season Porter is averaging 14.4 points per game, while he is connecting on nearly 46% of his three-point attempts which currently leads the NBA. But even with the emergence of Porter, along with the strong play of Beal and Wall, the Wizards now have unity which has fueled their surge.
This NBA season has produced some very intense battles between the Wizards and Boston Celtics. At the end of Washington’s game against Boston on January 11, there was a heated exchange between Wall and Celtics small forward Jae Crowder where both players had to be separated. This was just one of several incidents between these two teams this season which led to Wall and his teammates figuring out a way to respond.
As Washington was set to welcome the Celtics to the Verizon Center in D.C. on January 24, the entire Wizards team arrived to the arena wearing all black as is was dubbed that they were attending a “funeral”. The Celtics didn’t give the words of the Wizards any life, however Washington played inspired basketball throughout which led to one of their best victories of the season as they won 123-108 with them appearing to be a very tight knit group.
With the way that the Wizards are currently rolling, the only thing that can stop them right now is the NBA’s prolonged All-Star break which began for them last night. The Wizards have ascended to the third best record in the Eastern Conference as they are only trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics in the standings. And thus it will be interesting to see if Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld will be willing to make a deal prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline in the NBA as it wouldn’t be wise to mess up team chemistry; especially with front court contributions of power forward Markieff Morris and center Marcin Gortat whose 11.5 rebounds per contest are eighth in the NBA.
But there is a buzz around this Wizards team as everyone is on the same page, while they are eyeing their first division title since 1979 which was the last time that they reached the NBA Finals. And who knows how far that this team can go once the NBA Playoffs roll around.