The Washington Wizards have emerged from towards the bottom of the East to now the owners of the Conference’s 5th best record at 23-19. Granted, 23-19 is pretty close to .500, and they are only 2.5 games ahead of the 8th seeded Chicago Bulls. Nobody could have really predicted the Wizards making the playoffs. While they featured two all-star level guards John Wall and Bradley Beal and an adequate front court, there seemed to be too many questions going into this season.
For one, Beal has not shown he can stay healthy for a consistent period of time. Between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Beal missed 46 combined games. His effectiveness when healthy is not under question, but 46 games is a considerable amount of time.
Another major issue for Washington has been there defense. After boasting a top ten defense before 2015-16, Washington slipped to a mediocre 14th last season, and currently are even worse with just the 18th best mark in defensive efficiency. With their primary rim protector Marcin Gortat set to turn 33 in under a month, this problem is only worsening for the Wizards.
Washington’s biggest issue, however, has been their depth. Washington’s bench has been terrible these past few seasons. All five of Washington’s double digit scorers are in its starting five, and not a single bench player averages more than the 6.6 points per game by the washed up Marcus Thornton. At least last year’s Wizards bench could compete offensively with other teams, even if they got pummeled by opposition on the defensive end. Gary Neal, Ramon Sessions, Nene, Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Kris Humphries, Alan Anderson, and a few more players on their bench from last season all left.
Now, the bench is run by the likes of Thornton, Kelly Oubre, Trey Burke, Jason Smith, and Ian Mahinmi when he gets back from injury. Washington’s bench is 2nd to last in points per game (23.7,) 4th to last in plus/minus (-2.6,) and dead last in assists per game (4.9.) This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Wizards’ bench wasn’t also dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions (109.9.)
Still, Washington has themselves a 23-19 record they should feel proud to own. John Wall, who’s averaging 23.1 points, 10.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game on 46.4% shooting, has developed into a true franchise player. Beal is averaging a career high 21.8 points per game on 45.6% shooting and 39.4% from three himself, and Otto Porter has been the NBA’s ultimate glue guy this season, fueling his team’s production with offensive and defensive ratings of 129 and 107. Markieff Morris and Gortat have been alright as well, but not to the extent of the back court and Porter. They’ve combined for 5.4 win shares on the season.
Unfortunately for Washington, they have likely reached their peak this season. With Gortat’s age and Beal’s history of injury, and the NBA’s heaviest workload (league-leading 34.7 minutes per game among starters,) their bench is one injury away from being exposed. Washington doesn’t have the assets to acquire a high level bench without ruining their future or tearing apart their high level starting line-up.
NBA seasons are long and grueling, and the Wizards are just past the half-way point in theirs. Looking at Washington’s schedule, they still have two different five game road trips left. They still have two games left against Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Golden State, Indiana, Toronto, and Utah – upper end teams in their respective conferences, and the maority (23/40) of all their games are on the road – where Washington is just 5-13 – the 3rd worst road record in the Eastern Conference.
All of the signs point to Washington having over-performed to this point. The East has remained competitive from last season, and it simply hard to believe that Washington, even being led by a dynamic player like John Wall, will finish above the Bucks with Khris Middleton’s comeback coming up, the defensively robust Charlotte Hornets, the immensely talented Indiana Pacers, or even the streaky Chicago Bulls. All of those teams are currently below Washington in the standings, but own a more efficient defense that will eventually win out over the course of 82 games.