Five games is hardly a much of a sample size in an 82-game season and the Wizards have not exactly had to beat the elite of the NBA during the 4-game win streak (Magic, Bucks, Knicks, and Pacers). However, there are some positive signs early from the Wizards.
First, for some historical perspective the Wizards are not known for fast starts. They are 4-1 for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Wizards have not had a winning record coming out of November since 2004-05 when they started 7-5.
So seeing the Wizards get out of the gates quickly is a nice change of pace, especially if you consider who is not playing right now. Both starting shooting guard Bradley Beal and their leading scorer off the bench Martell Webster are still rehabbing from injuries. Plus, Trevor Ariza is knocking down 3’s in Houston at an even better rate than his career year last season with the Wizards.
So far the Wizards have weathered the storm, thanks in part to an unlikely hero. Journeyman Garrett Temple, who has seized the moment as the starting shooting guard next to All-Star John Wall. Temple is shooting over 50% beyond the arc so far (14-27) and needs 12 more 3’s this season to equal his season career-high. Temple has never averaged double figures in his career and is the team’s 3rd leading scorer right now at 13.8 ppg.
He has always been a valued role player especially on the defensive end, and now he’s thriving in his expanded role. It also helps that Wall is playing like the franchise player the Wizards drafted him to be. He is averaging 21ppg, with 10 assists and almost 3 steals. Wall has done a great job picking his spots to take over when needed and getting shots for others. Wall also continues to set the tone defensively on the perimeter with Temple.
Let’s be clear: Wall is the engine of the Wizards. He needs to continue to develop into one of the best point guards players in the NBA for the Wizards to shine for the short and long term. Wall continues to take steps in the right direction. One of the most encouraging signs so far this season is Wall has gotten to the line at least 9 times in three of his last four games. He needs to continue to attack the rim because nobody can stay in front of him.
Future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce is still finding his way with his new teammates, but his experience and scoring ability has already been big on a few occasions (Not to mention the example and lessons he is teaching off the floor on a daily basis). Once Beal returns, it will be interesting to see if Pierce’s minutes will drop in an effort to keep him fresh for later in the season. Right now they don’t have the luxury of sitting Pierce for an extended period of time.
Otto Porter has picked his spots in his expanded role after essentially red shirting his rookie year. Porter has scored in double figures in 2 of his 5 games highlighted by a 21-point game against the Bucks on the night Paul Pierce was ejected before halftime. Porter is still adjusting to becoming a catch-and-shot player in the NBA. He is a high IQ player, who can help in a variety of ways besides scoring. His development is crucial for the Wizards moving forward this season and beyond.
Marcin Gortat picked up where he left off, almost averaging double with 15 pts/9rbs so far. Nene continues to be one of the smartest players on the court and productive too at 12pts and 6 rebounds. However, one of the issues with the Wizards right now is rebounding. They rank 27th overall and 26th in differential. If you take it to more advanced numbers, they are last in the NBA in contested rebounds.
That was an area they expected to improve with the additions of Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Neither has logged that many minutes yet. Coach Randy Wittman has been using Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin off the bench. Seraphin has never been a strong rebounder, but gives the Wizards a scoring presence in the post. Humphries has been slowed by his preseason right pinkie injury that required stitches. He still doesn’t have complete feeling in the finger, which could be why his minutes have been minimal to this point.
However, rebounding is not just about the big men. The Wizards perimeter players need to be better with long rebounds. Overall, the team has done a nice job defensively so far — an issue that was somewhat of a question mark with the loss of Ariza this off season.
As usual, health will be a big concern and key for the team’s sustained success this season. The folks in Vegas put the season over/under at 49.5. The team came into the year wondering where the perimeter shooting would come from, especially without Beal. Well, Temple has provided plenty – and if he can do the same coming off the bench later in the season, the Wizards might be on the over-side of that Vegas number.
Regular season success is fine and that sells tickets. However, the real measuring stick will be post-season success. Wittman is still learning his new players, and once Beal returns later this month (or early next), the rotations will get a little more settled. Wittman has the deepest roster he has ever coached. How he handles minutes as the season goes on could be paramount to the team’s health and success in the post-season.