Rolling Wizards Searching for What's Next | Wizards Blog Truth About

Rolling Wizards Searching for What’s Next

Updated: January 31, 2017

john wall, bradley beal, washington wizards, detroit pistons, nba, truth about it, adam mcginnis

The Wizards are on a roll, you might have heard. And such circumstances make it easy to keep the pedal pressed against a team like the Pelicans, which they did on Sunday evening. Washington jumped out to a 9-0 advantage and only had to fight a few cold spells before taking a 17-point halftime lead, and later the game by 13, 107-94.

The Wizards, in all their recent glory, were even real enough to falter and relinquish a relatively commanding lead over New Orleans — the Pels led for 35 seconds late in the third quarter. It came down to this: Anthony Davis, superstar, scored 16 of his 36 points in the third period. Jrue Holiday, former all-star, scored 11 of his 26 points in the third. They were at home and they fought, majorly, with a 33-17 period over Washington after intermission. But the Wizards: they countered with a 33-21 fourth quarter, and it wasn’t all about their stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Each Wizards starter scored at least 13 points on the game, Beal leading the way with 27 and Markieff Morris following with 21 (12 in the fourth quarter). And while Wall didn’t sink any of his 3-point attempts, Beal, Morris and Otto Porter each made three 3s (Washington shot 10-21 from deep, compared to New Orleans’ 10-32). There were a few positive contributions from the bench, and there were some lulls. Washington was outscored 20-11 by the Pelicans reserves.

It comes down to this: outside of fully healthy starting squads in Cleveland, Golden State, Los Angeles (Clippers), and San Antonio, there’s not a more well-rounded opening five-man unit than Washington’s. Statistically, the case is made — season NetRtg starter ranks (min. 250 minutes):

  1. Warriors +23.0
  2. Clippers +16.2
  3. Wizards +11.1
  4. Spurs +10.0
  5. Pacers +9.5
  6. Cavaliers +9.3
  7. Hornets +8.9
  8. Rockets +8.5
  9. Lakers +7.6
  10. Celtics +7.3

And the NBA’s top starting lineups since the Wizards have won 11 of 13 games (Jan. 6 to 30):

  1. Warriors +28.3
  2. Wizards +17.5
  3. Celtics +13.4
  4. Cavaliers +13.3
  5. 76ers +11.7

In one sense, even though the Wizards got off to a very poor start, team brass could not be happier with how their investment in this starting unit has worked out.

Washington went 17-13 in 30 games after trading for Morris last February. Of course, Wall sat out the last five games of the season and the Wizards went 4-1 (each Wall, Beal, and Morris missed the last two games, both wins). The starters played together 197 minutes during 2015-16 and fielded a NetRtg of 5.6 — ranked 13th in the league over that time frame (min. 150 minutes).

After losing out on Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and any other prime free agent they targeted this summer (Ryan Anderson, really?), the Wizards settled on their core. The hope was that Wall and Beal would take a next step, as well as Porter; that Gortat (turning 33 in February but with relatively low NBA mileage on his body) would continue to be a solid contributor; and that Morris would find the comfort and maturity level to be a difference-maker. Ernie Grunfeld’s team has been extremely lucky — not only has all of this happened through 47 games, but the Wizards have also been healthy.

According to Man-Games Lost (thru Jan. 29 games), the Wizards have lost 88 man-games due to injury (46 claimed by Mahinmi). This ranks 10th-most in the league; through Jan. 29 of last season, Washington ranked first with 197 man-games lost due to injury. According to the website’s IIT-VORP metric (Injury Impact to Team – Value Over Replacement Player), the Wizards rank 26th this season in terms of significance of injuries. Last season that ranking was 20th. Which, if you are metric-ing at home, while injuries were the excuse battle cry last season, the volume of such for the Wizards had less comparative impact. Nonetheless, what drives home the point in the present day: Washington is finally healthy (so far, knock on wood, count your lucky stars, etc.).

It’s nice to see plans coming together, or rather, the horses designated to carry the stable working together. On Sunday in New Orleans it was Gortat’s determination to be more physical versus Anthony Davis, in each attacking him on offense, relying on help defense, and otherwise keeping Davis far away from the basket. Morris continued to display a renewed commitment to defensive rebounding (or perhaps newfound if we are thinking about his career in total). In 13 games since Jan. 6, his Defensive Rebounding Rate is 20.1 percent, a skyrocket from his 16.8 percent through his first 33 games. Porter continues to scorch the nets while even using fewer possessions. And Wall and Beal have been relatively consistent in their output on the season, seeing minor upticks in various advanced stats while making major strides in overall NetRtg. They, too, are standing taller on the shoulders of better performing teammates.

Even when the Wizards hit droughts versus the Pelicans — sinking one field goal over the first four minutes of the second quarter, or allowing several runs in the third (11-4 to start and 22-6 midway till the end), they didn’t show a ton of panic. Scott Brooks inserted Beal to play more with the second unit in the second period, and that helped trigger a 6-0 run in 70 seconds to push Washington’s lead back to 10. And while the Wizards settled for too many jumpers in the third quarter (5-15 outside the paint, 3-5 at the rim), as Davis and Holiday took turns scoring 27 of their team’s 33 points in the period, they forged ahead with mere confidence of knowing they were the better team.

A corner has been turned, TAI’s Conor Dirks claimed after Washington’s recent win in Atlanta. And that’s OK to wholeheartedly believe while proceeding with some trepidation. The bench has been better, by all means, but they still lack that playoff punch. NetRtgs over the first 34 games versus the last 13: Trey Burke: -11.5 to -3.1; Kelly Oubre: -4.5 to +10.3; Jason Smith: -10.3 to -0.4; Tomas Satoransky: +2.1 to +8.2; and Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson, given plenty of opportunity along the way, have justifiably fallen further and further out of the rotation.

There are 35 regular season games left — plenty of time for a squad that has stayed together to further gel, plenty of time for other imperfections to show, and a glimmer of time to smoothen any issues (including roster moves, as likely as they are to be minor or not even at all). The Wizards are fun to watch, the hottest team in the NBA, and have experienced enough at the midway point to not lose focus on chunks of games in their immediate vision.

The only question: Where can they take us next?

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.