43 games into the season and a couple of weeks away from the All Star break, the Washington Wizards look like the most exciting team in the Verizon Center. Consistent leadership by John Wall, clutch jumpers by Bradley Beal, and solid contributions from the role players have the Wizards in the middle of a weak eastern conference playoff race with a .488 mark (21-22). The road woes of the past are now gone as they’ve looked comfortable in opposing arenas, sometimes even more so than at home. Going forward, the Wizards need to show they are more than a benefiter from the pathetic eastern conference and improve their 5-14 record vs. teams above .500.
John Wall is the team’s most valuable player and it’s not even close. Wall now looks like the franchise player he was predicted to be and is as talented as almost any point guard in the association. His 20 points and 8.5 assists per game averages isn’t even the most impressive thing about him this year. The leadership he has displayed is invaluable and rare for a 23 year old. It is apparent everybody in the locker room respects and trusts him. Wall’s shooting percentage hasn’t taken much of a leap but he has become a timelier shooter. Late in games, he has been reliable.
I’m tempted to go with Jan Vesely here. After just two seasons, it seems people gave up on Vesely prematurely. Now in his third year, Vesely is taking advantage of his minutes. He has been terrific finishing around the rim and defending it on the other end. With that said, head coach Randy Wittman has equivocally not been utilizing the progressing forward. Considering his limited minutes, it would be a stretch to say he has played a role in the success of this team. Therefore, Trevor Booker has to be the biggest surprise. His toughness and rebounding got him in the starting lineup and bolstered the frontcourt.
It started with what appeared to be a minor hamstring injury in the offseason and went down hill from there. With 21 professional games under his belt, third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. has shown zero improvement. His praised mid-range jumper has been spotty and he has shown no interest in driving to the basket. With a 1.8 points per game average and minutes dwindling, d-league rumors have begun to circulate. At the same time, people need to be cautious with the bust label. He missed a lot of key practice time in the offseason and still hasn’t filled out his 6’8” frame.
What to Expect the Rest of the Way
Currently sitting two games out of the third seed, expect the first playoff appearance of the Wall era. The east is a mess outside the top two seeds but odds are it will clean up a little bit. The Brooklyn Nets have finally found their groove and will finish above .500, the Toronto Raptors will finish at or above .500, as well as the Atlanta Hawks who have dealt with the Al Horford injury well. If the Wizards want to compete with those teams then Beal and Nene Hilario must stay healthy. Otherwise, the Wizards will get the death sentence as the seventh or eighth seed with a first round matchup against the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.