The Washington Wizards: A Dark-Horse Finals Participant
By: Michael Aaron Chase Jr.
With a record of 23-16, the Washington Wizards sit currently 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Though this is a team which some would still say has underachieved to this point of the season. A team with a less than stellar record against sub .500 teams, at only 11-9 following last night’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. A team who has dealt with inconsistencies in terms of defensive intensity and focus. As well as, injuries to several key players which have disrupted team continuity. With all these issues persisting, they yet and still sit among the elites of the Eastern Conference and the entire NBA. Which is why attaching the phrase Finals Dark-horse is not as far-fetched as it seems. For the Wizards a team who came into this season with aspirations of reaching the Conference Finals, I believe them and their fan-base should dream much bigger than just this goal. Because with the franchise addressing the bench deficiencies, keeping continuity of the roster, and the team continuing to show the ability to handle the elites of the NBA the Wizards should feel reaching the Finals are the ultimate goal this year.
Beginning with the main problems needing to be addressed in the off-season these included, lack of bench production and retaining key contributors to the team. The bench issue that persisted all last season was a glaring reason they came up short in their postseason series against Boston last year. As the Wizards had one of the least productive benches in all of the NBA, which then put a heavy workload on their starters. Thus this off-season was devoted to retooling the depth of the team, to give Coach Scott Brooks more options to go to throughout the season. The moves made were not only high in quantity, but as has been seen through the team’s first 38 games high in quality.
The acquisitions include Guards Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Front court player Mike Scott. With also the emergence of Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr. as key role players this season. Now Scott Brooks has options galore to utilize and lineup flexibility that he had none of last year. He now has viable backup guards in Tomas Satoransky and Jodie Meeks which gives his All-Star Back court opportunities to rest more consistently for extended stretches in games.
He has options like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mike Scott who have not only given him consistent offensive production, but defensive versatility to be able to match-up in many instances with opponents. Then hold overs like Ian Mahimi and Jason Smith now that they are healthy, provide size and physicality off the bench. Now amazingly the Wizards bench has gone from liability to crucial factor in the team’s success. Thus with these bench improvements they can compete consistently with teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Boston and Cleveland because they can match the depth on those teams.
As for the other key offseason move this was keeping the continuity of the roster by retaining key players. These players were Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. who now that they are locked up for the next couple of seasons the core of the teams is in place for a long time. The bigger of these two was Otto Porter Jr. in which the franchise had to decide to give him a max contract or allow him to leave in free agency. Obviously there decision was sped up because of an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings but I believe the right decision was made. This is because Otto Porter Jr. has improved his game every year he has been in the league. Porter this year is averaging 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, but is also top ten in steals per game. He is and has been the perfect, “glue guy” for this Wizards team. Because a lot of what Porter does on the court does not go on a stat sheet. His hustles is crucial which allows him to makes winning plays in games even if they do not always result in him scoring and in the prime of his career he will only grow more as an overall player. As for Kelly Oubre Jr. the Wizards picked up his 4th year option, thus having him under contract through next year. With him at age 22 he has not even entered his prime and is averaging 11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds this season. Thus with these two wings young and still growing the future is bright for them and the Wizards for years to come.
Finally the biggest reason to believe the Wizards can make the Finals is their play against winning teams. The Wizards yes have had trouble playing down to competition. Though they have had no issues not only playing up to the level of the elites of the NBA, but beating them. The Wizards boast one of the best records against winning teams in the Association. With wins against the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons(twice), Boston Celtics, New Orleans, Portland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Denver. Also including close losses to Golden State by 3 and Cleveland by single digits twice the Wizards have clearly shown they can beat the top teams in this league. Now it remains to be seen if this team can win a playoff series against these adversaries but it speaks well to their ability to handle elite competition. They have the talent and now depth to compete with and challenge any of these teams and really only they can truly in my estimation keep themselves from defeating these teams.
Ultimately as long as this team remains committed and focused on defense, boasting a league leading effort against defending three point shooting. As well as they remain healthy and consistent with their effort nothing should prevent this team from reaching the pinnacle of greatness. Especially with a back court consisting of John Wall and Bradley Beal which through much analysis is clearly the 2nd best in the NBA they have the two stars to rival any team across the NBA. Overall you cannot say the Washington Wizards do not have the talent, scheme, and resolve to be the Eastern Conference NBA Finals representative. They now must continue to improve and play up to a high standard to put themselves in position to ultimately make it somewhere not many believe they can. Thus they will accomplish not only their goal of reaching the Conference Finals, but make a strong bid to possibly be NBA Champions.