The Wizards were in a great spot going into the All-Star break. They had won 15 of their last 17, and if it wasn’t for a LeBron James fade-away-banked-buzzer three and a buzzer-beating tip in by Markieff Morris evil twin, they would have won 17 in a row. 17 is not just a good streak, that’s an all-time streak. Riding high at 34-21, Wizards fans had a high level of optimism heading into the final stretch of the season.
Then the All-Star break happened. The Wizards have been 8-7 since then – and have 6 of those 8 wins against teams that are below .500. Otto Porter has been 19-55 on threes in those 15 games (34.5 percent). The defense has looked bad. Markieff Morris is reverting back to his sluggish, early season form. The Wizards are integrating three (I count Mahinmi because he wasn’t healthy until recently) new players. Everything is starting to look bad.
Have the Wizards’ peaked this season? Probably, but it shouldn’t be a cause for panic. Here’s why:
1. It would be very hard to top what they did before the All-Star break
First and foremost – let’s talk about why it was the peak. This was the best the Wizards have played, and better than they will play, for a long time. That’s not to say they will be bad, that’s a testament to how good they were. 15 wins in 17 games is Warriors (who the Wizards are undefeated against!) and Spurs level. That’s historically good. That is peak skill basketball, and the Wizards won’t be better than that this season.
2. Several players were playing at unsustainably high levels
Almost every player was shooting exceptionally well during their run. From the start of January until the All-Star break, Otto Porter, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat all posted true shooting percentages over 62 percent (compared to a league average around 53%). Every rotation player except Trey Burke had a true shooting percentage over 50 percent. That’s almost impossible to maintain for 82 games.
3. The schedule does them no favors
Washington has a very road-heavy schedule the rest of the way. John Schuhmann recently analyzed the schedules of each team in the East and the Wizards have both the fewest home games and most road games remaining in the east.
East remaining schedule update: pic.twitter.com/FtR7pqfMQ7— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 20, 2017
That means more hostile crowds and more fatigue the rest of way, which will undoubtedly have an impact on the team (especially the starters) moving forward.
So the Wizards may have peaked, but that’s okay.
The Wizards are still going to be a top-four seed. FiveThirtyEight projects the Raptors – the team immediately behind the Wiz, to finish with 48 wins. The Wizards would have to go 7-5 the rest of the way to reach that record, something they should be able to do regardless of their tough schedule. If they only want a top four seed, they just have to hold off the Hawks, who are projected to have 42 wins at seasons end. For the Wizards to finish the season with more than 42 wins they need to win.... just one game (looking at you, Nets at home this Friday). The Wizards may have peaked, but they’re still going to finish the season in a fine position thanks to their impressive run in January and February. So let’s look ahead to the playoffs.
Teams cut down on their rotations in the playoffs and usually stick to 8 or 9 players. We have seen throughout the season that the Wizards’ best 8 or 9 guys can perform at very high levels, especially when guys 6-8 are limited to spot duty. With everything on the line we know this team can play well. As long as the Wiz can hold on to home court advantage in the first round (possibly even the second), they’ll put themselves in a good position to do well in the playoffs.
Once Bojan Bogdanovic, Brandon Jennings, and Ian Mahinmi are fully integrated and the team gets out of their late season malaise, we should see the Wizards get back to something closer to what we saw when they were peaking. So don’t panic if the Wizards look a little sloppy in the meantime, it’s going to be okay.