We've officially reached the quarter mark of this NBA season. The Wizards have been a rollercoaster of emotions to watch so far and there's really no reason to think that that is going to change anytime soon. This team can beat the Cavs or Heat on the road, but has also shown they can lose to bottom-feeders like the Pelicans and Lakers on any given night. The Wizards are currently sitting at 10-12, last in the Southeast division and 11th overall in the Eastern Conference. Here's what we know about this team:
It took a month, but John Wall is finally breaking out
November was a month to forget, but Wall is firing on all cylinders now. He's currently in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career as he's averaging 27.3 points, 10.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in the past eight games. He's shooting 55 percent from the field, 46 percent from three, and he's knocking down 84 percent of his free throws.
John Wall is the sole reason this team is sitting at 10-12 rather than 4-18. Wall has been more aggressive as of late, taking 4.5 more shots this month and averaging two more free throw attempts in December.
Most importantly, he finally looks confident shooting midrange jumpers and three-pointers. He's put in countless hours on his jump shot and we are finally seeing the results of his work.
The guard play off the bench has been very good so far
I thought Gary Neal was a very nice addition this offseason and his play thus far has confirmed that. Neal is averaging 10.6 points on 47 percent shooting including 43 percent from three-point range. Neal has also had a nice start to the month of December where he's upped his average to 12.6 points per game highlighted by a 21-point output on 9-12 shooting in the win at Miami.
Neal is the first player probably since the Nick Young/Jordan Crawford era who can instant offense off the bench for the Wizards. Yes, Rasual Butler had a hot start to the season last year but cooled down as things rolled along. I don't get the feeling that Neal is going to fizzle out.
Ramon Sessions has also proved to be a reliable player off the bench so far for the Wizards this season. When Sessions comes in for Wall, the pace doesn't slow down all too much. Sessions' game is getting out in transition and attacking the rim or pulling it back out to run a half court set if the team doesn't have numbers. Sessions isn't great around the rim, but he keeps the defense on their heels and gets to the free throw line.
Sessions has benefitted from the small ball mentality as the Wizards often opt to go with three guard lineups, especially in the second halves of games. Like Neal, Sessions has also increased his averages in December. He's scoring 10.9 points on 60 percent shooting so far this December.
The injury bug has hit this team hard
It was reported over the weekend that Bradley Beal is going to miss a minimum of two weeks with a developing stress fracture in his leg. Beal has already missed five games this season with shoulder problems and if history repeats itself; he's going to be out longer than the two weeks initially reported.
Nene and Drew Gooden have already missed 10+ games this year in addition to Kris Humphries who has missed five. Humphries was thought to be this team's stretch-4 going into this season but his poor play and now inability to stay healthy is not going to help Humphries' minutes going forward.
The Wizards thought that Nene would play a pivotal part this year as the backup center to Gortat. Nene was actually playing fairly well averaging 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in just 17.4 minutes. He was shooting a very solid 55 percent from the field and was making the most of his new role.
The Wizards said they wanted to play small ball at the beginning of the year and now they have no option. Aside from Marcin Gortat, the Wizards have Ryan Hollins and DeJuan Blair on the roster as backup big men. Neither of them brings much of anything to the table. Yes, the Wizards want to play small and outrun teams but the lack of size is going to catch up eventually. In the meantime, the team needs to right the ship until at least one of the viable big men can get back into the rotation.
Washington isn't very interested in playing defense
The Wizards are currently giving up 105.3 points per game to their opponents. That number balloons to 111.1 in their losses. And this isn't just a byproduct of playing at a faster pace. The Wizards are 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions. Additionally, the Wizards' opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from the arc and making 10.5 three pointers per game; both marks are the worst in the league.
It's easy to point at defensive schemes, blame the coaching staff, and blame the small lineups, but the small lineups should help this team's three-point defense as they can switch positions 1 through 4. Defense still requires a level of commitment and grit and this team hasn't committed to giving just yet. Last year, the focus was locking teams down but as a result, their offense struggled. This year the tables have turned.
You're not going to get very far if you're good on one side of the ball and bad on another. Aside from Otto Porter and John Wall, the Wizards don't dive for loose balls, win very few 50/50 balls, and give up way too many wide-open shots.
Until the Wizards develop some toughness and take defense a little bit more seriously, it's hard to see their record improving much when every game is being played in the 110's. Also, like we've seen in recent games; no lead is safe when you don't play defense down the stretch.
With 59 games to play, there's still a lot that can and will change. Even with this change in philosophy, the Wizards are just five games out of first place in the jumbled up yet much improved Eastern Conference. The injuries don't help, but it's clear that the Wizards can go on the road and beat top-notch teams with key players out.