Washington Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal have propelled the team to five straight home wins against some of the NBA’s best.
After an up-and-down start to the season, it looks like the Washington Wizards have begun to make a turn for the better just in time for Christmas, when the casual NBA fan begins to actually pay attention to the league.
The Wizards have won five of their last six, all at home.
Much has been made early on about how disappointing Bradley Beal has been after receiving the $128 million contract this summer, but he has been outstanding over the last month.
Since the 2012 drafting of the now 23 year-old shooting guard, it’s been well-known that for Washington to be a contender, the backcourt duo of John Wall and Beal would need to play like All-Stars.
About a quarter of the way through the season, the backcourt seems to be fulfilling its potential, even with plenty of room for improvement.
At this point, the Washington starting backcourt ranks fifth in the league in scoring at 46.7 points per game. This trails only Portland, Toronto, Golden State and Oklahoma City – all likely playoff teams.
This season, the Wizards’ backcourt has taken on much more responsibility than in past years.
Due to a variety of reasons, including poor bench play and coaching strategy from Brooks, Wall and Beal are combining for 41 percent of the team’s field goal attempts, which is up from 37 percent from last season.
Additionally, Beal has taken on more of a creator role in the offense. Along with his consistency, this has helped the team stay afloat when Wall has been on the bench.
The off-season training he did with Drew Hanlen seems to be paying off in more ways than just shooting, as Beal has the lowest turnover rate of his career, while posting the highest usage rate in his five seasons.
The starting guards have led the team in many ways, but most importantly with their aggression. Wall continues to drive to the basket even when he doesn’t get obvious foul calls, while Beal continues getting to a position for a quality shot, or drive.
Another area of success for Wall and Beal early in the year is getting production out of areas they usually didn’t in the past. Take the above play, for example.
Too many times in the past Beal would pass back to Marcin Gortat when he’s seemingly trapped. Instead, Beal maintains his dribble, uses a slight hesitation and drives for a tough reverse finish.
Wall loves to mention how he didn’t make “the leap” until he signed his first post-rookie contract, and it seems Beal is on his way towards making a successful leap as well.
23 games into his season, Beal is shooting two more 3-point shots per game (up to seven attempts), making one more three per game and getting to the line two more times per contest.
These are all measures of him staying aggressive and confident.
Wall, on the other hand, is still scoring at the rim and in transition, two of his strongest areas offensively, and two reasons he was the top pick in the draft just over six years ago.
This season, however, Wall has expanded on his offensive repertoire.
24 games into his season, Wall is shooting a career high 36.4 percent on three pointers, including 4-4 from three vs. Detroit, decreasing the amount of attempts by 0.6 per game, and is also shooting more shots below the free throw line.
Getting more quality shots closer to the basket has led to an uptick in free throw attempts (4.5 to 6.7), and helped him improve his overall field goal percentage (42.4 to 45.6 percent).
Additionally, Wall is currently 13th in the NBA in points per game (23.9), 0.1 points better than Kyrie Irving, third in assists per game (9.7), 0.2 assists ahead of Chris Paul, and tied for first in steals per game (2.3) with Paul.
I can’t say I ever thought Wall would average 24 points per game and he very well may not if the bench can improve and Beal can be consistent with his high scoring outputs, but he’s shown time and time again that he will do whatever it takes on offense to help the team win.
One disappointing measure early in the season, and certainly a reason for the poor start, is the team struggling to stop opposing guards, which troubled them last year as well.
While Washington allowed 110 points on 49 percent shooting in the win on Sunday, it was one of the best defensive showings of the season.
Chris Paul, a usual “Wizard Killer,” scored only 13 points on 6-15 shooting and zero makes from the free throw line on one attempt. He came into the game averaging 17.6 points this season and almost six free throw attempts.
In his last six meetings with the Wizards, over four seasons, Paul was averaging 26.5 points per game.
Holding Paul and J.J. Redick to 30 points allowed Washington to stay in the game long enough to end the game on a 22-8 run and earn its best win of the season.
Additionally, the whole team did a great job defensively in the fourth quarter, not allowing Blake Griffin to score in the period, after scoring 26 points in the first three quarters.
The offense of Wall and Beal can take the Washington Wizards to the playoffs in an uninspiring Eastern Conference, but maintaining a high level of defense is what will make this team dangerous.
Looking back at the offense, though, the backcourt has improved on its solid season averages over the last two games.
On Friday, against a Detroit Pistons team second in opponents points per game (95.7), the Wizards scored 122, propelled by 54 points from Wall and Beal.
The duo, which shot 60 percent, 50 percent from three (6-12), and made 12 of 15 free throws, managed to control the flow of the game from start to finish, and combined for a seemingly impossible zero turnovers.
While Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did score nine more points that his season average, limiting turnovers and shooting efficiently allowed Wall and Beal to post plus minuses of 15 and 14 respectively, offsetting the usual immediate scoring run that opponents go on when the Wizards’ bench takes the floor.
In the win over the Clippers, Wall and Beal combined for 59 points on 19 for 39 shooting. This game marked the seventh time in the last 15 games that Wall and Beal have scored at least 50 points.
Of course, the scoring was mostly propelled by the play of Beal, who had 41 points, one point shy of his career high.
Beal, who had six three pointers and made nine free throws, is now averaging 24.6 points per game in December, and 26 points per game in 16 games since returning from his hamstring injury in November.
Pairing his high point totals with success from the Wizards has taken a lot of the pressure off him. He’s come a long way from his early season struggles after signing the max contract and the league is taking notice. He has earned high praise from other star players and coaches and begun to have his name mentioned as a potential first time All-Star in February.
Meanwhile, the Wizards still have 56 games left in the season. There are obviously plenty of issues left with the roster.
Yet, the recent stretch has to have fans feeling truly optimistic for the first time this season, and for the success to continue Washington will have to continue to get this type of output from John Wall and Bradley Beal.