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Underachieving Wizards could hit reset button in New Year

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Washington is a sharply talented team that hasn’t put it all together yet. The New Year could bring them a much needed reset.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are 82 games in a season. Before the New Year, many teams will have nearly completed half of their season, playing about 36 games. This allows for teams to critically evaluate where they stand during the season. Are they contenders or are they pretenders?

Sitting at a 20-16 record and sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards are severely underachieving right now. Despite the 121-103 win on Friday against the Houston Rockets, Washington can ill afford to have another letdown game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, like they did in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

“We just lost to the Hawks and it doesn’t sit well with us,” Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said on Wednesday, via Josh Vinson of FOX Sports 1340 AM. “We just gotta lock-in more. Stats don’t lie. I think we are below .500 against .500 teams.”

He is correct about that particular stat against .500 and below teams. Washington has lost 10 games to teams that are .500 or less. That is unacceptable for a team that has two top-10 players at their respective positions in John Wall and Bradley Beal, a small forward in Otto Porter, who can score and get boards, a high-energy/high effort forward in Oubre. Jr. coming off of the bench, a stretch-four in Mike Scott who can score, plus Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, who hold down the posts.

You should get the gist of the argument right now. They shouldn’t be this inconsistent of a team. The Wizards are quite too talented to allow teams like the Hawks to beat them by double digits. It’s unacceptable. Though that is the case, Washington can turn the tide of their season, just as they did last year.

Last season before the New Year, Washington was sitting at 16-16. They struggled mightily in the first month of the season, going 6-11 during the month of November. This team that Washington has today, is much better than that team that played a year ago. They are a more cohesive unit, but they still have their flaws.

At the turn of 2017 into 2018, Washington can put the burners on. They will have 45 games left during the season after January 1 and many of the games will be against clubs that aren’t part of the upper echelon of teams. If Washington could win 15-20 of those games, they will be in great shape to make the playoffs and finish with a higher seed.

This begins with getting more rebounds and creating opportunities to score. Currently, the Wizards rank 19th in total rebounding rate (49.6), 13th in offensive rebounding rate (22.6) and 17th in defensive rebounding rate (76.9). They also have to get more efficient at putting the ball in the cup, ranking 18th in effective field goal percentage (51.5) and 16th in true shooting percentage (55.2).

Maybe their scoring efficiency comes in time with advent of Washington’s offense, which has gone more to the pace-and-space style of play or the rebounding can come from the bench more with Ian Mahinmi (3.7 rebounds per game), as well as the aforementioned Gortat (8.3) and Morris (4.5) crashing the boards harder while playing.

The big three could also afford to pick up their play on a consistent basis as well. Though their per game stats look very solid, Wall, Beal and Porter have had some stinkers in there as well. It’s not to say that bad games won’t happen, but the best three players set the tone of the game. If they don’t hustle or play with fire and tenacity game in and game out, the rest of the team won’t feel that same jolt of energy.

They are a better team than what they have shown and they cannot just keep “playing for stats”, as Wall said after Wednesday’s defeat. The New Year could be exactly what they need to hit the reset button.