When the final buzzer went off at the Verizon Center on Monday night concluding the Wizards’ blowout of the Orlando Magic, fans began rejoicing in just about every way except actually throwing a city parade down F Street. For what, you ask? Because the Wizards had officially reached .500 for the first time since Sherman Lewis was calling plays for the Redskins while Jim Zorn was plotting his murder. Oh, and Drake had released his debut album around the same time as well.
Yes I know, to the non-Wizards fan and outsider, this “milestone” is pretty laughable and cause for those unoriginal “you know your team sucks when…” jokes…but for Wizards Nation, to watch their beloved professional basketball team muscle their way out of an unending warp of failure and misfortune and finally close in on being labeled a “winning team” is more serious than any uninformed fan could imagine.
There really isn’t much need to recount the chronology of misery and anguish that we were forced to fight through to reach this current feat. Long passed are the days when our hope had turned into pessimism and words like “promise” and “potential” to describe our young players quickly turned into “regression” and “underachievement.” And all the while John Wall, the guy appointed as the foundation of the franchise quietly endured the wrath of D.C. sports as we know it, suffering from the spontaneous injury bug, peculiar front office tendencies, and a fair-weather, often depleted fan base.
John Wall is a special, special basketball player because despite his team’s failure to supply him with a productive supporting cast, he remained steadfast in his own progression, utilizing the tools given to him, as rusty and inoperable as they may have been. And what can attest to that? How about the fact that through his first 200 games in the league, Wall has averaged 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game; an achievement shared with only four other point guards in HISTORY: Oscar Robertson, CP3, Magic, and Mighty Mouse himself, Damon Stoudemire. I’d say that’s some pretty serious company, no?
The 2013-14 season was slated to be the breakout year for our Wizards brass, Ted and Ernie. The tumult of rebuilding a franchise while having to endure the ire of fans and media during the process had finally come to closure this past summer and its results were finally ready to be showcased on the hardwood. They paid their franchise player handsomely and secured him for the next 5 years; they granted their sharpshooting wingman continued employment along with a hefty ‘mid-level’ pay raise; and their 20 year old stud had (HAD) recovered from injury and was back in playing shape, ready to assert himself as the go-to guy on offense.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Wizards season without a usual letdown, as the squad opened up the season going 0-3. The sloppy start to the season eventually doomed the Wizards to a 2-7 start with the headlines depressingly comparable to years past. Poor lineup rotations; Nene’s legs; breakdowns and errors during late-game stretches; Nene’s knees; players with their heads up their butts; and an unproductive bench were all factors in the Wizards’ early struggles, quickly turning that hyped offseason of high expectations into a broken memory.
But now we fast-forward to the second half of the Timberwolves game just a few weeks ago. Kevin Love had been single-handedly incinerating the Wizards with almost a half-dozen 3-point shots in the first half and had the Wizards reeling, seemingly on the verge of getting destroyed.
The outcome could have been that simple. A classic blowout was in order as the Wizards were in the midst of a 4-game slide and worse yet, they were coming off an overtime home loss to the Kyrie Irving-led Cavs just a few nights prior. Irving torched Washington with 41 points that night, and Kevin Love seemed paced for a similar takeover.
But this time around, the Wizards would have none of it. This time they’d repel the evils of seasons former and burst their way out of the big deficit, outscoring the Wolves by 16 in the second half and holding Love to just 9 points for the rest of the game. The Wizards beat the Wolves 104-100 that night, marking the first win of a nine-game turnaround, where the Wizards would go 7-2 after the initial 2-7 start.
Take a look at John Wall’s numbers during in this nine-game span:
One shortcoming in Wall’s game since the start of his career has obviously been his faulty jump shot. While we’d love for him to polish his J and show more consistency, Wall has certainly proven his efforts to do so by presenting a much-improved shooting form, more confidence in taking the shots, and, well, he’s actually been knocking them down more often than not.
Prior to this year, Wall had converted just 49 total 3-point shots in his first three seasons. And yes, that number includes the season where he shot a heartburn inducing 3-for-42 from downtown. Through 18 games this season, he’s on pace to triple that number, and he’s shooting them at a decent 38%.
Wall’s floor game has also been absolutely mind numbing not only for those who defend him, but also those who watch him. He’s more or less doing the same things he’s accustomed to, only exponentially better. While his transition speed has wowed us since Kentucky, he now complements that skill-set with incredibly sharp court awareness and vision that’s helped improve his ability to control his pace and make better decisions when streaking up and down the floor. To further complement John’s game, he’s finally been equipped with a big man who can efficiently execute the pick and roll with him, something he’s coveted for years. While I’m positive John Wall would never rejoice over an injury to a teammate, especially one like Emeka Okafor, he’s got to be counting his blessings for Okafor’s replacement, Marcin Gortat.
By the way, can I take a moment to gloat about Trevor Ariza? Remember, Trade Block Trevor? For years, and especially with the Wizards, Ariza’s game had revolved around his defensive, and sometimes comedic value. In contrast, this season Ariza has showcased a whole new realm of his game with surprisingly spot-on shooting and rare activeness at the rim. Ariza has become a key weapon in Wall’s arsenal, and all of a sudden, it’s no longer Ariza’s increased trade value we’re rooting for…he’s actually become a dire asset for this team’s success! Personally, I’d rather him continue residing in D.C. past the month of February.
The maturation and advancement of John Wall and the rest of his teammates both on and off the floor has propelled the Wizards back to success and relevance. Relevance, because they are only one of three teams in the East with a .500 record. Success, because even this early in the season they currently hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
With Otto Porter on the cusp of making his NBA debut, and Bradley Beal closing in on his return, the Wizards find themselves looking nowhere else but up. And, please, you can say what you want about the “Leastern” Conference, and I’ll just continue to count my blessings and take what’s thrown our way.
Because, who knows, it may turn out better than we all think.