Considering everything that’s transpired this season this may be hard to believe, but back in September there was actually a fair amount of optimism about the Washington Wizards.
There were some people who even thought they might sneak into the playoffs. Then John Wall got injured and the Wizards quickly collapsed. They got off to a dreadful start and their playoff hopes were basically finished before Thanksgiving.
Now though, Wall is back and the team is on a bit of a hot streak. Monday night they manhandled the Orlando Magic in a 120-91 rout in which the offense looked as good as it has at any point so far this season.
Wall didn’t play too many minutes since the Wizards are still easing him back into the lineup, but when he was on the court he was very effective, racking up 12 points and six assists. It was a reminder that despite all the setbacks the Wizards have had with Wall, he is still an extremely talented player who could yet become one of the deadliest point guards in the league.
Of course, Wall wasn’t the only player who shined in Monday night’s victory.
Indeed, the entire team was stronger than it had been all season. Emeka Okafor–in the midst of his worst season–reminded us why he was such an attractive free-agent pickup when he went for 19 points and 11 rebounds. Okafor has been extremely underwhelming for much of this season, but lately he’s had some of his old form back.
The Wizards are on a three-game winning streak and Okafor has had double-doubles in each game of the streak. If the Wizards wish to be a respectable team the rest of the way they will likely need Okafor to play like the solid center he was for years with the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets. He’s an integral part of the team’s makeup and where he goes, the team will likely follow.
Rookie guard Bradley Beal also shined Monday night, going 7-for-10 from the field and putting up 17 points.
Beal’s rookie campaign has been something of a mixed bag. His 13.3 points per game indicate that he is more than capable of being an NBA scorer, but the rather inefficient way he’s accomplished that has presented a bit of a problem. His shooting percentage is a mere .375, which ranks among the lowest in the league.
Beal has recently been brought up in trade talks, specifically for Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. While that may seem like an attractive move and a good way to get a proven player on the Wizards roster, it would be more ill-advised than people realize. Yes, Beal has had problems, but historically speaking, this will likely be his worst season as a shooter. Plenty of rookie guards struggle to adjust to the NBA level, especially someone as young as Beal, who is just 19.
Consider the Bobcats’ Kemba Walker; he was a dreadful shooter in his first season, but he’s improved considerably this year and is now one of the most promising young point guards in the NBA. There’s a good chance that if Beal is given a chance, he too will flourish and become one of the scarier two-guards in the game. He certainly demonstrated that potential Monday night.
One interesting facet of the Wizards winning streak is who hasn’t been around for it; third-year guard Jordan Crawford–the team’s leading scorer–has missed all three games. Crawford has looked great at times this year, but as with Beal, inefficiency has been a problem.
He’s a shoot-first type guard if there ever was one and that tendency may have been hurting team chemistry, just like it did with Nick Young last season. Considering how good the Wizards have looked without Crawford, he would be a better player to include in trade talks than Beal.
He’s not a bad player and in the right situation, he could certainly do some damage. The Wizards are just the wrong team for him and if he were a sixth man on a playoff team, he’d likely fit in a lot better than he does now. Admittedly his trade value is a lot lower than Beal’s, so the Wizards wouldn’t be able to drastically improve their roster in one fell swoop by trading him, but for the sake of improving team chemistry and building a logical roster for the future, shipping out Crawford could be a very smart move.
It’s too late for the Wizards to be a playoff team, but this recent run lets us know that they aren’t the all-time awful team we thought they were. They were simply submarined by a myriad of injuries that made it impossible for them to achieve any cohesion in their starting lineup.
With Wall back, that won’t be a problem anymore. They have the team they expected to have at the start of the season and now it’s time to see what they could do at full strength. If they become one of the tougher outs in the NBA and rack up a few wins against elite opponents, it would hardly be a huge surprise.
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