Pleasant Surprises from Washington Wizards Early Slate of Games

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent INovember 12, 2013

Newly acquired center Marcin Gortat has played surprisingly well with Nene in the frontcourt.
Newly acquired center Marcin Gortat has played surprisingly well with Nene in the frontcourt.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Between a losing record and two blown fourth-quarter leads, there are plenty of reasons for Washington Wizards fans to be down on the team through the first slate of games. 

But there's still 90 percent of the season left, and Wizards fans have plenty to still be hopeful about. 

Some reasons are surprises, while others are constants. Bradley Beal and John Wall are two obvious reasons the Wizards still have high playoff hopes despite a losing record. 

A few not-so-expected things have happened as well, which complement the consistencies. These unexpected things keeps the Wizards (for now) out of the "They Should Consider Tanking" category. 

Other teams in a similar place to the Wizards through the first few games include the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks—teams that the Wizards will be fighting against all season for a playoff spot. 

But if these three surprises can turn themselves into constants as the season progresses, the Wizards will find themselves ahead of the pack. 


The budding relationship (on and off the court) of Marcin Gortat and Nene

Following the Marcin Gortat trade, analysts expressed concern about spacing issues on the floor. 

For example, Joshua Riddell of HoopChalk (a part of ESPN's True Hoop Network of blogs) wrote that "[Gortat] should find success screening for Wall but may not have space to roll to the rim like he did in Phoenix due to spacing issues caused by Nene."

But the Polish Hammer and Nene are meshing well together in the frontcourt. 

Gortat has recorded three double-doubles already, while Nene is averaging 14 points and 5.8 rebounds in four games.

The two have played just four games together as starters, with Trevor Booker starting the first game of the season in Detroit and Nene missing two games with a calf injury. In spite of this, spacing hasn't been an issue.

After the Wizards victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 8, Nene told The Washington Post that he and Gortat had started to work out with one another as soon as Gortat joined the team. 

“One thing Gortat always say, as soon as he came here, ‘Believe in us. Believe in each other.’ And that’s what happen, man,” Nene said to the Post. “We start to play the right way, pass the ball, share with each other, make our teammates better. The fire start getting contagious. We got hot.”

In Washington's first victory of the season over the Philadelphia 76ers, the two combined for 29 points and 17 rebounds. 

Nene and Marcin Gortat combined production in games
at 76ers291754.54
vs. Nets352060.84
at OKC2515608

The big men are also becoming good friends off the court. Gortat broke the news of his trade on Twitter and expressed that he was looking forward to playing with Nene. Since then, the two stick around in the locker room after games and have developed a friendship. 

Following the Nets game, Gortat talked to Bullets Forever, and joked with Nene about owing him money. 

"I owe him some money right now," Gortat told Bullets Forever. "I already asked him if he takes cash or Visa, MasterCard. I asked him about checks. He said he doesn't take checks. He's afraid they might bounce back."


Washington's three-point shooting

After finishing 18th in the NBA last season in threes made per game, the Wizards are at the top of the league through six games. 

The Wizards are averaging 11.8 threes per game on 42.5 percent shooting from behind the arc, inspiring Bullets Forever to give the team the nickname "Splashington, D.C."

Last season, Martell Webster led the team in three-point shooting with 42.2 percent. But through six games, Webster, Al Harrington, Beal and Eric Maynor are all shooting 40 percent or better from three. 

Bradley Beal (whose shot chart is shown here) is shooting just over 42 percent from three. Beal is one of four Wizards players shooting 40 percent or better from three.
Bradley Beal (whose shot chart is shown here) is shooting just over 42 percent from three. Beal is one of four Wizards players shooting 40 percent or better from

Having Gortat and Nene in the front court has allowed the small-ball players to get to the perimeter to take open shots. 

Harrington has served the exact role the Wizards brought him in to fill (a stretch four), and Wall has contributed with 35.7 percent three-point shooting after making less than one three per game last season. 

But the downside of the increase in perimeter shooting has shown through several times this season. In the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night, the Wizards were unable to run a half-court offense and continued to rely on the three late in the game—even with a 10-point lead. 

But if the Wizards continue shooting the three at this pace and can learn to control the ball with a lead, the Wizards can expect to be among the top-10 offenses in the league. 


The Wizards upset win over the Brooklyn Nets

As mentioned before, the Wizards got their second win of the year in a come-from-behind win over the Nets, which currently stands as the high point thus far of the 2013-14 season. 

Heading into this season, almost every analyst had Brooklyn as a top-five team in the East, with the team's case for a top seed strengthened by the addition of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason. 

The Wizards were able to come back from an 11-point deficit in the last four minutes to force overtime against the Nets and ended up pulling out a win. 

Washington held Pierce and Garnett to a combined eight points, while Beal posted 29 points on 55 percent shooting. 

Gortat also contributed with a double-double, which was reason enough for J. Michael of Comcast SportsNet Washington to call the Gortat trade a success. 

Although the Nets have gotten off to a slow start overall this season, watching the Wizards come back gave fans hope for the rest of the season.