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Nothin' but Net: Wiz are a team to like ... next season
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For the fifth consecutive season, the Washington Wizards will be watching the playoffs on television.
Yet, there is reason for optimism next season.
The Wizards are 22-18 over the last 40 games. That's good for the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference over the same time frame. That would make the playoffs.
It's also worth mentioning that Washington's record during that span coincided with the return of John Wall.
Since the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft returned, the Wizards score 6.9 ppg more and give up 3.3 less ppg. Field-goal percentage is up and Wall has been the main reason.
He is averaging a career-high 17.3 ppg, 7.6 apg and 3.8 rpg. Wall was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week two weeks ago and posted a personal best 16 assists on Mar. 22. Three days later, he dropped 46 points on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Washington won both games.
It was during the Memphis game, chants of "M-V-P" rang out through the Verizon Center.
"Nah, I'm no MVP man, I'm just grateful to be good, be healthy and help change things around," Wall said after the game. "If this team is healthy from the start, we'd easily be a playoff team. That's how we feel, that's how we're playing."
Wall isn't an MVP candidate and he won't finish in the top 20 in voting. He simply hasn't played enough games. But Wall is turning heads and it's important he does so.
The NBA is a perimeter-oriented league, and, more specifically, a point-guard driven one. Derrick Rose and Steve Nash are active former MVPs. Russell Westbrook would be a candidate for the award this season if not for LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Ricky Rubio and even rookie Damian Lillard are the best players on their team. Brandon Jennings isn't far behind on the Bucks.
You need a great point guard unless you are one of these ridiculously overstocked teams like the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs.
Wall has proven he can be the type of franchise point guard half the league covets. Those statistical numbers alone say elite, but the record with him in the lineup speaks loudest.
Wall can score at will and considers himself the fastest point man in the league. He could be right, but I'm not interested in track meets until the Olympics and truthfully, I'm not interested then. What I can see is that Wall is also a great facilitator.
Take Sunday's game against the Toronto Raptors. Wall had 18 points and 10 assists against only one turnover. That's a sensational line for lead guard and it translated into ball movement, open shots and 53 percent shooting from long range.
"I thought he did a great job on controlling and dictating what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint," said head coach Randy Wittman. "I thought this was one of his better all-around games, to be honest with you."
Appreciate the candor, coach, but remember, this is a guy who has been Player of the Week and flat-out dominant.
Wall is obviously the key to the whole stew, but it looks like Washington has found a running mate for him. That position is important in that town.
Bradley Beal is a talented rookie who has emerged as a long-shot Rookie of the Year candidate. Not surprisingly, his numbers increased when Wall suited up and Sunday was a prime example. Beal led the Wiz with 24 points on 6-for-9 shooting from long range. That 3-point shooting percentage could be directly related to Wall's ball-moving skills.
"I knew a lot of teams would key in on me the way I have been playing lately," Wall said. "Doing a great job of taking the shots I had and finding my teammates open."
We have a backcourt of the future, but let's pump the brakes a bit before we start printing playoff tickets next season.
The Wizards are 27-46. That was due largely to an 0-12 start without Wall in the lineup and with Beal dipping his toe in professional basketball. Several other key members of the Wizards were on the shelf, players like Nene.
It's acquisitions like Nene that spoke volumes about a shift for the Wizards in the last 18 months. They jettisoned problem people like JaVale McGee and Nick Young in the last year, then bounced Jordan Crawford to the Boston Celtics a few days after logging a DNP-CD, then tossing his jersey in the crowd.
This shift in philosophy has been a huge component in Washington's second-half turnaround. It's a wise strategy because professionals like Nene, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor can make a large impact on these kids.
And this team needs some veteran leadership because the Wizards' recent draft history has been...sketchy.
The Wiz have four players on their roster they drafted and none before 2010. Wall, Beal, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely are the only players who donned a Wizards cap on draft night and still don a Wizards uniform.
Wall and Beal form what looks to be a great backcourt of the future. Singleton is a capable-ish defensive backup and Vesely is a galactic disaster on the same level as new Coke. Vesely was tabbed No. 6 and that's too early a pick to drop-kick and it's two years into the Vesely experiment and that's too long to see no growth.
This all just speaks to how great Wall is to have this team playing this well. They need to keep it up, and keep Wall and Beal both healthy. Both have shown some injury problems early in their careers.
"You want to end on a good note, make a run to the ninth seed," said Beal. "As a team, we want to go into next year with the right mindset, the right goals and the way we have been playing, finish up strong so we can carry over to next year."
That's what Washington did last season. They went 8-2 over the last 10 games and parlayed that into an 0-12 start this season. Maybe, the Wiz don't want to finish strong.
If Wall is healthy, this finish won't matter. The Wizards will probably be headed to the playoffs.
04/01 11:48:38 ET
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