By SEAN KINSLOW
The Washington Wizards are off to a hot start, to say the least. Their 11-5 record so far this season is good enough for second place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. A team who made the playoffs last year with a 44-38 record look as if they will have a chance to exceed those high marks this season.
The team’s 7-2 record (4-0 at home) was the Wizards’ best nine-game start in 40 years, surpassing the greatness of former Washington legends such as Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.
“I am not surprised in the slightest by the team’s success,” said sophomore Wizards fan Will Ritter. “Last year they acquired important players, and Bradley Beal and John Wall both got another year of experience under their belt.”
One of the biggest reasons for the Wizards’ success this year has been 24-year-old point guard and team leader John Wall, who has developed into one of the best point guards in the game. Last year he made his first appearance in the NBA All-Star game, and if he continues at his current pace will be a shoe-in again this year.
“If Wall developed a jump shot he would have a chance to be the best point guard in the league,” Ritter said. “Since he does not, he is only behind Chris Paul and Tony Parker in my opinion.”
Through 16 games he is averaging 18.2 points per game, 9.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds, all above his career averages. Wall has been an effective leader for this team on and off the floor, as a good point guard should.
One of the worries going into the season was how the Wizards would respond to the absence of starting shooting guard Bradly Beal. Beal missed the first nine games of the season due to a broken wrist. Despite the loss, the Wizards did not seem to miss a beat. The team went 7-2 during his absence and climbed to the top of the Southeastern division.
“Last year, they played as a team, got over the .500 slump, made it to the playoffs and proved to the country and to themselves that they are a good, legitimate team,” Ritter said.
The Wizards appear to be a much more confident and consistent team this year. Their bench has come to play every night and is one of the best in the Eastern Conference. The addition of 17-year veteran Paul Pierce has brought a strong veteran presence and accountability to the team. In addition to his leadership, Pierce filled in nicely in the starting small forward position when Trevor Ariza left the team this summer in free agency. Other free-agent pick-ups, such as Rasual Butler and Kris Humphries are proving to be worthwhile moves for the Wizards as well.
“Butler is the third best three-point shooter in the league right now, percentage wise, and is lighting it up whenever he is in the game,” Ritter said. “He is the best off of the bench and makes every second count.”
Head Coach Randy Wittman has the Wizards playing at an extremely high level so far this season. If the team can continue to avoid serious injury they should be able to finish as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, putting them in great shape to make a deep run in the NBA Playoffs.
“They honestly have a shot of making the Eastern Conference Finals, and they are already the second best team in the conference,” Ritter said.