Twenty games into their season, the Washington Wizards were sitting at a very Wizardian 7-13. It would have been entirely understandable if the team’s fanbase – comprised entirely of my friend Justin – had abandoned ship. But he stuck it through, mostly because if there is anything that Justin has gotten used to in his time as a fan, it is the Wizards being simultaneously underwhelming and tantalizing.
Since that poor start, the Wizards suddenly rewarded Justin’s fandom with a 22-7 run, pushing their overall record to 29-20, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference and, given the ongoing struggles of the Toronto Raptors, the possibility that the team will climb even higher.
What is going on?
The most obvious place to begin is the team’s health. Previous seasons have seen the team routinely undermined by the fact that its arena and practice facility are built on an abandoned graveyard full of broken mirrors and black cats. But this year’s team is currently healthy. It’s a funny thing but as it turns out, having all of your best players available to actually play in the games turns out to be hugely beneficial. The Wizards have been built around a ferocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal – easily a top-five NBA backcourt, and for even more funsies, maybe a top-two NBA backcourt – but the team has rarely been able to put the twosome on the court together, owing to Beal’s body having been built out of balsa wood.
Beal has only missed four games this season* and, after a relatively unimpressive start to his season, one in which he was likely playing himself back into the shape necessary to contribute at a routinely high-level in actual NBA games, Beal has cooking. He is averaging 22pts/3.5ast per game since the start of the new year, and he is looking like every single bit of the player that fans have thought possible.
And then there’s Otto Porter. Long the subject of “What if this guy gets better?” type conversations, the former third pick’s fourth season has seen him getting career highs in points (14.2 per night), rebounds (6.5 per night), and three-point shooting percentage (a staggering .463, up from a previous high of .367). This is the kind of development that gets fanbases excited, especially because he is still relatively young.
Which brings us to perhaps the team’s most important piece: John Wall. Although Colin Cowherd (a bag of utter garbage) would have his listeners believe otherwise, the fact of the matter is that Wall is one of the NBA’s best players and, perhaps more importantly, one of the league’s fastest players. He is, simply put, a blur.
Speed isn’t everything of course – Wall’s shooting is…uhh…well, it could be better, let’s say – but his ability to get to the tin in the blink of an eye makes the missed jumpers slightly more tolerable. Meanwhile, like Beal and Porter before him, Wall’s game is sharper than ever: he’s averaging career highs in points (23), assists (10.3), steals (2.1) while fouling at a career low. Dude is good.
What this means for the Wizards’ outlook is hard to say. This team functions so well when all of its pieces are operating at full pace, but that happens so rarely that it is impossible to imagine the team being able to maintain its momentum if an injury inevitably occurs, especially since we have seen what happens when all of its players aren’t available.
But thinking of the bad is no fun at all. So for the time being, let’s not do that, and let’s instead a Wizards team that finally – FINALLY! – looks like a genuine threat to be as good as the one that we have all imagined for so long.
* -knocks so hard on a piece of wood that it literally turns into sawdust-