At the end of November, the Wizards were 6-11, with embarrassing losses to Miami, Philly, and Orlando. They also had disappointing games against the Grizzlies and Thunder where they let winnable games slip away in the closing minutes. But after a month and a half of mediocre basketball, the Wizards are suddenly one of the hotter teams in the NBA, having won three in a row and five of their last six, including wins over the Bucks, Hornets, Pistons, and Clippers. Washington is now within striking distance of getting back into the playoff picture, and they’ve got road games this week against several of the teams just ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
So how did the Wizards get here after things seemed so bad in October and November? Let’s take a look at what has changed for Washington since the calendar turned to December.
1. John Wall is back to doing John Wall things on both ends
After getting multiple procedures in both knees, Wall’s availability for the season opener was up in the air. After two bad games to start the season, Wall was able to find his groove and put up some of the best numbers of his career in November. He averaged 23.5 points, 9.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds in 13 games while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from the arc.
But even though he was playing more efficiently, it didn't feel like it was translating to much on-court success for the Wizards. In December, Wall has taken his game to an even higher level that’s helped take the Wizards to that next level. This month, he’s averaging 26.1 points, while posting 48/37/78 shooting splits, a 2.4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and most importantly, he’s ramped it up on the defensive end, where he’s averaging 2.9 steals per game this month.
2. Beal is showing why he’s a max player
After inking a 5 year $128 million contract this offseason, expectations were high for him to take the next step. Things started to look bleak when Beal was hurt into the fifth game of the season, but since he’s returned he’s been on fire. In the month of November he averaged 23 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from the arc in twelve contests, which was great, but he was still missing something.
In December, he’s started to show how he’s become a better offensive threat in ways that go beyond scoring. He has had 4 or more assists in six of the Wizards’ nine games this month, including a 9 assist performance against the Hornets. His improved passing has lightened Wall’s load and made the Wizards’ offensive attack more versatile, which has paid dividends for everyone this month.
3. Otto Porter rounding out his game
Porter got off to a fast start to this season. In his second year as a starter, he’s becoming a force on both ends of the floor. In November, he averaged 14.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists while shooting 52 percent from the field and 42 percent from the arc.
This month, Porter’s numbers are down slightly, but you could argue he’s making an even bigger impact because of the new role he has taken with the team. He has become a force as the team’s power forward in smaller lineups. His efficient shooting from outside is opening up the floor for the rest of the team, and he’s showing he can still hold his own defensively against bigger players. He’s on his way to being the versatile threat the team expected him to be.
4. The bench has found a rhythm
Washington’s newly revamped bench has been disappointing for most of the season, but they’ve slowly been getting their act together over the past few weeks thanks to a few changes.
Kelly Oubre Jr. started his sophomore season sluggishly, even getting a DNP at one point this season , but he’s found his rhythm in December. This month, he’s averaging 9.0 points, 1.3 steals, 5.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. His development into a steadier player this has allowed the Wizards to go with more of the small lineups that have shown themselves to be effective, thanks in large part to his outside shooting and above-average rebounding for his position.
Trey Burke has also slowly started to find his place on the team after a slow start. He’s averaging 5.3 points and 1.7 assists in 12.6 minutes of action per game in December. Better yet, the team is scoring 112.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this month, after averaging under 100 before the start of the month.
Finally, we have to give some credit to Jason Smith. He was the most annoying Wizard on the court for most of November, but he’s quietly found his rhythm before he got injured on Friday against the Pistons. After shooting 34.8 percent from the field in November, Smith is shooting 63.3 percent in December. The Wizards brought Smith in to be a capable midrange shooter, and now that he’s finally starting to show it, things have opened up for the rest of the offense, which has allowed everyone the bench take a big step forward.
Now, the big test comes as they face an important road trip with games against the Pacers, Bulls, and Bucks. The conventional NBA wisdom says role players tend to play well at home and struggle on the road. We’ll see if they can buck the trend to keep their winning ways going this week.