Are the Washington Wizards Turning Into a Real Threat in the Eastern Conference?
Last year, the Washington Wizards concluded their 41-41 season with an 11-6 record over the last month. But, as hot as they were, their efforts were too little too late. The Wizards finished 10th in the East and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
During the following offseason, the front office decided to keep the core together. Instead, it added depth to the bench, fired Randy Wittman and hired former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks as Wittman's replacement, in hopes that Brooks would bring a winning culture to the D.C. area.
Just 10 games into this season, there was no promise to be found. Washington started off the season with three straight losses and a record of 2-8 through their first 10 contests. Over time, things improved as the Wizards were 10-14 by December 14th.
Nowadays, they're far removed from a substandard start. The Wizards sit at 21-19 and are currently in fifth place among Eastern Conference teams. They've gone 14-6 over their last 20 games, 11-5 over the last month and 7-3 over their last 10. They're rolling.
Where they've been most impressive over the entirety of the season is in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center, where the Wizards are 17-6 on the season. In the East, only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers have a better home record.
So, what's gotten into them?
Right off the bat, the Wizards are healthy. In the first 20 games of the season, John Wall and Bradley Beal missed a combined five games due to injury or maintenance. In the last 20, the two have missed a single game (Beal) between them.
That alone could explain their increase in offensive output. Washington's offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are all on the rise.
|First 20 Game||103.3 (16)||49.9% (16)||53.6% (18)|
|Second 20 Games||109.2 (9)||54.2% (7)||57.6% (7)|
Washington has been Jekyll and Hyde in their first and last 20 games. Their shooting has been better from all spots of the floor and, as a result, they've produced 3.1 more points per game since December 8th than they did prior to that date.
It's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause for the improvement. The Wizards' three-point shooting and rate has been steady throughout their 40 games -- with 36.1% shooting for 8.0 makes on 22.2 attempts per game in their first 20 and 37.4% for 8.8 makes on 23.6 attempts per game in their last 20.
What is obvious is that the team has been much better close to the hoop. Within five feet, the Wizards have gone from 56.2% and 16.4 makes per game to 65% and 18.6 makes from that area.
John Wall has been really good recently and, in large part, is a big reason for the Wizards' offensive success.
On the year, he is averaging 36.2 minutes a game and a career-high 22.9 points on a personal-best 46.4% shooting from the field. He's having an All-Star caliber year, for sure. But, it appears that Wall has taken his game up a notch of late.
In the last 10 games, Wall is averaging less points (21.8) per game, but he's connecting on 48% of his shots and is exceeding his season averages in free throw shooting, assists and rebounds. His offensive rating of 115 in the last 10 games is 5.9 points better than his rating over all 40 games.
The only player with more assists per game than Wall over the last 10 games is none other than the frontrunner for MVP, James Harden. While Harden has posted 11.2 assists per game in that span, he has averaged 6.6 turnovers to Wall's 10.7 assists and 4.1 turnovers per in that same timespan.
At last check, five days ago, Wall placed seventh among Eastern Conference guards in the fan vote. Incredibly, he trailed Derrick Rose by more than 50,000 votes -- something we can be almost certain the players and media will counteract in their segment of the vote. After all, Wall has led the Wizards on a tear toward their current ranking of 14 in our power rankings.
Are they contenders, though? Not yet.
The Wizards first need to keep improving their defense. Over their last 20 contests, they've upped their standing in many categories -- including defensive rating, opponent effective field goal percentage, opponent turnover percentage and opponent offensive rebounding percentage -- but Washington still has room for improvement.
In the last 20, their opponent effective field goal percentage of 52.3% is 20th in the league. Their problem is that, on the season, they've allowed teams to shoot 37.5% from three on 27 attempts per game. They clearly need to improve on limiting opponents' three-point chances and in forcing them to take more difficult shots from all spots on the floor.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, defense isn't the most important change they need to make. That would be their play on the road.
At this moment, the Wizards are the 5 seed in the East, so naturally they would have to take to the road for at least the first two games of a playoff series. For them -- maybe more than any other team -- that's a big problem.
Earlier, we mentioned how the Wizards were awesome at home, but they're just as bad on the road as they are good at home. The Wiz are 4-13 in 17 games away from the nation's capital all the while scoring an average of 102.2 points per road game -- 6.4 less than their home average. And what's even worse is that the Wizards have a back-loaded schedule, with 24 of their remaining 42 games on the road.
Until they become more consistent defensively and, more importantly, show signs of life away from home, the Wizards aren't a legitimate threat in the East. They are almost certain to make the playoffs, and they might even crack the top five, but even with their recent success they're just another good team.