The Wizards entered the All-Star break winning their last two games against the Knicks and Cavaliers to pull them within three games of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
If we are being honest, very few, if any of us at all, predicted the team would be in this position when the season started. With a patchwork roster full of rookie and second year players with little experience, it was hard to imagine this team doing much without their all-star point guard John Wall.
But let’s keep some perspective on this. Yes this team is in the 9th spot, but they’re also still 13 games under .500 and have, by several metrics, the worst defense in the NBA. Neither of those is impressive, so it bears the question, should we really be that impressed by what we are seeing so far?
I believe the answer is both yes and no — as complicated as the information we are viewing. It is important to think about both sides of what we are witnessing. The Wizards have some young talent that look like future pieces.
Rui Hachimura, Moritz Wagner, Troy Brown Jr., and even two-way player Garrison Mathews have all contributed this season. For a season to start the way it has, it’s important to walk away with some players that be part of a foundation for the future, and it looks like this team has found some.
We have also seen steady play from Bradley Beal, Ish Smith, and even Ian Mahinmi. Each of them have exceeded expectations this season and have provided strong veteran play to lead this young team.
At the same time, we have to ask is this success changing the projection of this team for the rest of the season? Can a team win a championship giving up 119 points per game? Probably not. Can this team compete and beat the vaunted Milwaukee Bucks in the first round? That’s probably not happening either. What we are seeing is a step in the right direction, but this team has a ways to go.
Going forward, we should consider what making the playoffs really means. It is a marker of improvement and exceeding expectations, but it should no way be what this team should focus on without the proper context. I understand from a team and business perspective, that making the playoffs is important and helpful, but we should not be under the illusion that it fixes anything. If we are being honest, not making the playoffs would probably be more helpful. Yes, playoffs experience would be helpful to the young players on this roster, but a higher draft pick is likely more valuable for the future.
Don’t get me wrong, this team should do everything it can to win games. I don’t believe losing games on purpose helps anyone, but if the Wizards miss the playoffs, all is not lost. As fans, making the playoffs is absolutely in view and realistic, but it should be a byproduct of developing young players.
If the team makes the playoffs because players like Hachimura and Brown play even better than they did in the first half of the season, that is awesome. This team’s success the rest of the way should be strictly because of the successful development of young players. Any plan to rely on veterans to play heavy minutes in order to make a final push to a playoff spot, will do nothing to move this team forward as a franchise and would only reek of some of the old habits of this franchise. This team can absolutely be a playoff team and doing so the right way would be an amazing feat for us to root for. Let’s hope for even more success in the second half, but let’s hope it happens with a strong future in mind.