Washington Wizards Rise A Product Of Schedule

Mar 12, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards are better than .500 at the halfway point of the season after starting 7-13, but it may not be because they’ve turned the corner.

The Washington Wizards  had a tumultuous start to the 2016-17 NBA season as questions about the team’s chemistry and the decision-making (or lack thereof) by the front office were beginning to trouble the Wizards faithful.

However, after starting the season 7-13, the Wizards have managed to swing things around and have gone 14-6 since, slotting them in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings at 21-19.

The Wizards appear to have jump-started their offense while also slightly improving their defense.

If we split the Wizards season so far in half and look at the first 20 games and compare them to the last 20 games, the Wizards have improved in almost every category.

Their offensive rating has gone up from 106.8 (which would rank them tied for 20th in the current ORTG standings) to 111.8 (which would be the sixth highest) while their defensive rating has gone down from 109.7 to 108.6.

The Wizards are scoring just more than three points more per game since they started their 14-6 run while limiting their opponents to almost three points less per game.

Ever since the loss to the Orlando Magic back on Dec. 6 (the game that sparked their 14-6 run), the Wizards have improved in total assists per game (up 3.1 per game), field goal percentage (up 3.6 percent), 3-point percentage (up 1.3 percent) and even free throw percentage (up 2.8 percent).

On paper, the Wizards are playing much more efficient basketball, but it hasn’t been the result of one player.

John Wall, who will most likely be an All-Star next month, is averaging slightly more assists per game (only 0.6 more) after the 20-game mark, but he’s also averaging 2.2 fewer points per game and shooting more than 12 percent worse from 3 than the first 20 games.

Bradley Beal is having a career year, yet there isn’t much difference from his first 20 games to the last 20. Same thing goes for Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat, who are both having incredible seasons, but their production has remained consistent throughout the season.

That’s impressive when you look at their numbers.

Beal is averaging career-highs in points (22.2 per game), assists (3.5), FG percentage (45.9), and FT percentage (81.3) while also shooting better than 40 percent from 3.

Porter is averaging career-highs in just about every category, from points to rebounds to shooting percentages (shooting 45 percent from 3) and his numbers have remained constant all year long.

Even 32-year-old Marcin Gortat is having his best rebounding and shooting year (percentage wise) of his career, but once again his averages have been the same through the first 20 games as they were the next 20.

If it isn’t because of one person, then what’s the reason behind the Wizards’ recent success?

It might be something as simple as who they’re playing.

In the Wizards’ first 20 games (in which they went 7-13), they played both Atlanta and San Antonio twice, Memphis, Toronto, Houston, Cleveland, Boston, and Oklahoma City. The Wizards went 2-8 in those games, with their five other wins coming against teams that are currently not in the playoffs–the Knicks, Suns, Magic, Kings and Nets.

They actually played the Magic (who are currently 17-26) three times in their first 20 games, winning only once.

The overall (most updated) record of the Wizards’ opponents through the first 20 games is 432-404, or a winning percentage of .517.

If we take a look at the second half of their first 40 games, the schedule lightens up tremendously.

The overall (most updated) record of the Wizards’ opponents through their second 20-game stretch is 392-445, or a winning percentage of .468, nearly 5 percentage points lower than the first 20 opponents.

They only played one game against a team with a top-five record (Houston), which they lost.

The Wizards have rattled plenty off of wins against teams that are currently out of the playoffs such as the Nets, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Pistons and 76ers.

Granted, they did beat the Clippers when both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were healthy, but bad losses to the Heat and Mavericks don’t help make their case as a team that has turned it around.

In short, the Wizards are playing much better against lesser competition, but that isn’t their fault. They’re taking advantage of their situation and it’s working in their favor.

Luckily (or unluckily, however you look at it) for the Wizards, there is still another half of a season to play for them to prove they can maintain their current hot streak and create some havoc in the playoffs.

With games against the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder, Celtics, Hawks, Grizzlies, Jazz as well as back-to-back games against the Raptors all within the next 20 games, they could sink back down into the bottom half of the league that they were accustomed to a quarter of the way through the season.

Don’t get it confused, the Wizards are definitely passing the eye test in recent games when you watch them on the court.

The ball movement is immensely improved from just a couple months ago and going into another rough stretch in their schedule doesn’t worry me as much as it might have in November.

If the Wizards want to prove to the league that they are a threat in the East, they’ll have to win at least a couple of those high-profile games or risk slipping back into irrelevancy in what is already an extremely mediocre Eastern Conference.

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