It’s Time to Stop Sleeping on The Wizards
Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1
Despite the franchise having been relatively successful at qualifying for post-season runs since the turn of the century, the Washington Wizards’ lack of national media attention and genuine superstar players over the years has left fans stuck with the mentality that they will never be a serious threat come the Playoffs.
Taking a look back at some of the teams this franchise has put on the court, it’s easy to see why for the most part. To start the century, they had a team that featured a rookie Kwame Brown and a young Richard Hamilton lead by Michael Jordan. No matter how great the GOAT is, when a 38 year-old player is undoubtedly your best, there are issues.
Post Jordan, the team revamped with some young talent and were lead by Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison – a squad that looked to have promise. That went down-hill in 2009 when Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton were involved in an incident in the locker room involving a firearm.
Turn the page to the 2011 season, and we were gifted the original meme team, affectionately known as the ‘Knucklehead Wizards’. A squad that featured the likes of JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andre Blatche, this group never failed to land on Sports Centre for all of the wrong reasons. Just take a look here, here or here and try to restrain yourself from going down a YouTube rabbit hole reliving some of the dumbest basketball plays you’ll ever witness.
By now, you get the point. The Wizards have had good seasons and even winning teams that have advanced in the playoffs, but they have never been taken seriously. This season, I think we need to change the way we think of Washington, and stop sleeping on them.
Gilbert Arenas (9) and Nick Young (1) represent an era of Wizards past, one we should stop projecting onto this seasons squad. Credit: David Dow, Getty Images.
The Wizards are currently leading the Eastern Conference with a 10-3 record and while I spoke about them on a previous podcast as having a surprisingly hot start, they have continued to outdo the expectations I had of them. Since November 6th, they are riding a five-game win streak which includes victories against the Grizzlies, Bucks, Cavaliers, Magic and Pelicans. In previous seasons, any Wizards win-streak would’ve coincided with monstrous performances from Bradley Beal, but this hasn’t been the case so far.
Beal started the season slowly, unlike this team, and while he has recently lifted his play and now leads his team in scoring, he is still at a four-year low of just 23.3 points per game. Beal is also converting on a career-low 25% of his shots from deep.
We all know Beal is a certified bucket getter and a guy who can win a game off his own hand, having done so many times in the past. He can also go absolutely nuclear and put points on the board like few others in the league when he gets going. This season, however, Washington simply haven’t needed him to do that as the squad continues to display traits of a team that has been together longer than the matter of months they actually have.
While some look at the aforementioned five-game streak and make excuses such as the Bucks missing Middleton, the Cavaliers missing Sexton or the Magic and Pelicans simply playing awful basketball so far this season, the reality is the Wizards have been taking care of business in a professional manner. This is a team that is arriving to games ready to throw their best punch, regardless of where their opponent is in the standings. A large part of this workman like attitude, I believe, is down to Montrezl Harrell.
Arguably the key piece the team received as part of the Russel Westbrook trade to the Lakers, Harrell has fought and scrapped for everything he has earned in the NBA, including the Sixth Man of the Year Award he won with the Clippers two seasons ago. He’s also not afraid to call-out and confront higher-profile teammates and demand that anyone who suits up with him plays with the same energy and passion he does.
Montrezl Harrell’s energy is infectious and helps elevate his teammates. Credit: Sports Illustrated
Harrell’s teammates have very quickly adopted his passion for the game, tendency to simply out-work his opponents and relentless energy. While none of these attributes show up in the stat sheet, they do lead to the players coming together, doing all the little things and ‘dirty work’, and thus the team becoming something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is evident across several key team stats, all of which the Wizards currently sit in the Top 10 for. The team is first in defensive rebounds per game, showing every players commitment to boxing out their man, covering for their teammate if an assignment is missed and an overall level of discipline to avoid the temptation to run down the court and cherry pick on the fast break. They are number one in the NBA in this category despite their best individual rebounder (Kyle Kuzma) only pulling in enough boards to claim 20th spot in the league.
This is a trend we can see across a number of categories, including free throw percentage, where the Wizards rank 7th, field goal percentage (9th), turnovers (9th), blocks (7th) and overall plus-minus (7th). This is a team not afraid to do the dirty work, and it looms as likely resulting in a high seeding come playoff time as others in the Eastern Conference struggle to find their rhythm and define roles for their players.
Bradley Beal had a slow start to the season, but will likely be their most important player as the season goes on. Credit: Fadeaway World
There have been teams like this who have made the playoffs over the course of the last 20 years. Teams who have won games by committee and whose players have banded together to make the team greater than the sum of its parts.
Most of those teams are an easy first-round beat come the post-season because they don’t have a player with enough individual talent to put the team on their shoulders and get a bucket down the stretch.
The Wizards won’t suffer this fate, because, as described above, they have Bradley Beal. A man who can go nuclear and win games off his own hands.
It’s time to stop sleeping on the Wizards.
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