As we await the announcement of the All-Star game reserves on Thursday, one team that will likely not have one of their players going to New Orleans are the Washington Wizards. John Wall has been playing great again this year, but the competition for this year’s guard spots couldn’t be tougher. Regardless of whether Wall makes it into the game, things are looking good in the nation’s capital. After a year in which they missed the playoffs which eventually cost Randy Whitman his job, the Wizard seem to have found themselves and are back in the East’s playoff picture. A big, maybe the biggest, part of their success is connected with the long awaited emergence of Bradley Beal. In his fifth year in the league he is more than just Wall’s sidekick.
Stuck in the middle
The worst position to be in with a team, even worse than losing, is the middle of the league. Most of the time mediocrity means that you neither get a decent pick in the draft nor play when proof is in the pudding in the postseason. With a perfect 41-41 record Washington managed to be the blueprint for teams in this dull category. As their always reliable defense had slipped and reported cracks in the relationship of John Wall and Beal began to surface, the Wizards couldn’t help but take a step back from two consecutive playoff berths and a trip to the second round. Not only then head coach Whitman’s ability to help the team was questioned, but also Beal’s future as a potential high-impact star. Admittedly, the Shooting Guard played a decent season, but battled injury, forcing him to play the lowest game total since his rookie year.
Flip the script
This year started out in similar fashion, Washington won only two out of their first ten games under new coach Scott Brooks. But after a bad loss to Milwaukee on December 23rd the tide has notably changed: The Wizards are 12-5 since and find themselves at fifth in the East’s wide open standings. While they are on a good way to return to the postseason, Bradley Beal is quietly having an absolute breakout season. His scoring is way up, from 17.4 to almost 22 per game and so are his three-point makes (1.9 vs. 2.7). Also, he averages career highs in assists, minutes, free throws and field-goal percentage. However, the most important aspect is that for the first time in career he has not missed significant time and, hopefully, will be able to play in nearly all games.
A combination that works
Health certainly plays a role in the rise of the former 3rd pick out of Florida, while his talent was always undeniable. Especially as a pure shooter he is more gifted and natural than his backcourt mate: Wall came into the league with a nearly broken jump shot, featuring a couple of dreadful shooting percentages in his first years. Today, Wall has improved his stroke notably, but he will never be near Beal’s caliber, whose three-point percentage has been at or around the magical 40% for all his five years. This year marks his breakthrough as a volume shooter, as more than 40% of his attempts come from beyond the arc. When looking at the offense of this new Wizards team, this development is crucial: Beal’s improved range shooting lifts Washington’s spacing to a new level and opens up enough room for Wall’s drives – which are the best part of his game – and consequently his excellent passing.
The future is bright
For the first time in their careers, Beal and Wall form the backcourt they were designed to be. Complementing each other’s skill set they are poised to get All-Star honors back to DC in the years to come. Fortunately, they will not have to wait this long for a return to the playoffs. Some already saw Scott Brooks on a hot seat after his team’s shaky start, instead, Washington has successfully turned around their season and they now have their true backcourt of the future, as Beal comes into his own. After all, they are wise not to have panicked after a year of stagnation and placed faith into their existing core. This faith is now being paid back big time.