If the Wizards had started their season on January 7th, they’d be the talking point of the NBA right now. While their 11-32 record still leaves them firmly in the cellar of the league, they’ve gone 6-4 in their past 10 games including remarkable wins over the Thunder, Nuggets and Bulls. Their loss to the Kings put an end to a 5 game winning streak at home, but that shouldn’t downplay the significance of the Wizards’ recent winning ways. More than half of their eleven wins have come in the past months, five of which have come with the return of point guard John Wall.
The new-found stroke of relative form comes as John Wall plays his way back into touch after missing the first 33 games with injury. Wall has averaged a remarkable 14.1 points and 6.7 assists in 25 minutes of action, pouring it in at an efficient 43% shooting from the field. It’s not the breath-taking numbers we know Wall is capable of, but an impressive return from injury nonetheless.
The return of John Wall has reborn the flailing Wizards, adding a brand new dimension to their play. The attention Wall demands on offense, coupled with his brilliant passing instincts, have made him one of the most dangerous young slashing guards in the league.Additionally, Wall’s impact has provided a positive presence for the downcast Wizards locker room, a sign of promise and potential to turn another embarrassing season into a more positive year. Since Wall’s return the NBA’s worst offense has scored a whole 7 points more per game. Over the past 10 games, their scoring average would place them 11th in the league for Points Per Game, an absurdly better position than 30th.
Having Wall back in the line-up has also been beneficial for rookie Bradley Beal, who is embarking on an impressive rookie campaign which has kept him firmly in the Rookie of the Year race. Averaging 15 points on the season, Beal’s been the number one scoring option for the Wizards as Wall and Ariza have sat for most of the season thus far. January has been kind to the 19 year old out of Florida, with Beal dropping five 20+ point games, which makes it seven for the season. Among that was his 22 point effort in the upset win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Beal hit the game-winner off of a pump fake to lead the Wizards, who were without John Wall or Nenê, to the unlikely victory over the defending Western Conference champions. His play has been slowed in recent games due to a right wrist injury, but prepare to see Beal take his game up a notch and find some consistency as he and Wall continue to gel after the All-Star break.
Complementing one of the youngest backcourts in the NBA is the pair of 30-year-olds in the frontcourt, Nenê and Emeka Okafor. Injury has restricted Nenê to a mere 29 appearances thus far, but he’s beginning to find some consistency in January. He’s played every match this month aside from the win against the Thunder on January 7th, and posted his best perfomance of the season in the recent win over the Trailblazers. The Brazilian veteran turned back the clock to put home 25 points while pulling down 9 rebounds, dishing 5 assists and snaring 4 steals. Okafor provides a nice frontcourt partner for Nenê, continuing to dominate the glass. Okafor’s 8.2 rebounds per game puts him at 25th in the league, tied with Roy Hibbert and ahead of David West, Marc Gasol and Chris Bosh. A known defensive specialist, Okafor has managed to benefit from Wall’s return on the offensive end. His average of 10.1 points per game is a welcome boost from his season average of 8.5, his offensive prowess on full display against the Kings as he put it 23 points on 9-13 shooting.
For all that Wall and the Wizards have done well on the offensive side of the ball, it’s their defense that’s causing headaches for rival defenses. The Wizards allow 96.2 points per game, good for 8th in the NBA, which is solid for a team that sits at the bottom of the East. Since Wall has returned, the defense has lifted spectacularly and in victories, has conceded an average of only 92.8 points which would rank fourth in the NBA behind the Grizzlies, Pacers and Bulls. The good defense has become great primarily thanks to Wall. The frontcourt presence of Okafor and Nenê kept the Wizards’ defense in the Top 10, but Wall’s impact has sent it to another level. In the victory against the Bulls, starting backcourt trio Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton combined for only 16 points on 7-16 shooting. Nate Robinson led all scorers coming off of the bench with 19, but needed 19 shots to get there.
With a record at 11-32 and 4 losses over the past 10 games, the Washington Wizards aren’t overnight playoffs contenders by any means. However, with John Wall finding his footing again and Bradley Beal continuing to learn the game, the Wizards are again one of the most fun teams to watch in the league. Whether they edge the Thunder, dominate the Bulls or lose to the Kings, the new-look Washington Wizards only promise one thing – it’s going to be fun to watch, and that’s good enough for me.