What We Learned About Washington Wizards During Season's 1st Half

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2014

What We Learned About Washington Wizards During Season's 1st Half

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    The Washington Wizards are looking like a playoff team in this year's playoffs, but the first half of the season showed fans that the bench needs to improve if they want to make any sort of a deep run.
    The Washington Wizards are looking like a playoff team in this year's playoffs, but the first half of the season showed fans that the bench needs to improve if they want to make any sort of a deep run.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    At this point, it seems obvious that the Washington Wizards are going to make the playoffs, but in the second half of the season, the focus will be on the team's bench. 

    Sure, getting a sixth or seventh seed would give the team its first playoff berth since 2007-08, but the bench needs to step up its game if the Wizards want to finish in the top four or five in the conference. 

    In the first half of the season, fans were treated to a mix of the good (Bradley Beal, John Wall and Trevor Ariza), the bad (the bench) and the ugly (also the bench). But all that has still gotten the Wizards to a 20-21 record at what is exactly the halfway point of the season for them.

    Looking back on the first 41 games, the Wizards can feel good about what they've accomplished so far, despite still have a sub-.500 record and failing on multiple attempts to have a winning record for the first time since 2009. 

    The starting five is playing incredibly well together when they're all healthy, and at least some of the bench players have been solid contributors to the Wizards. 

    However, the bench is still a glaring weakness that showed the problems that still exist in Washington. 

     

    Note: All stats used are as of Jan. 23 and are from NBA Stats unless otherwise noted.

John Wall Deserves His Max Contract

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    The Wizards can feel comfortable after giving John Wall a max contract in the offseason after seeing his strong performance in the first half of the season.
    The Wizards can feel comfortable after giving John Wall a max contract in the offseason after seeing his strong performance in the first half of the season.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Through the first 41 games, if nothing else, team president Ernie Grunfeld can sleep easy, knowing he gave John Wall a max contract this offseason. 

    The All-Star teams haven't been announced, but Wall is expected to be selected when the time comes Thursday night—and rightfully so. 

    He is fourth in the NBA in assists per game and third in total assists, behind only Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, two of the best in the game. 

    The fourth-year player is also fourth in the league among point guards in points per game, mainly because of his ability to get to the basket. 

    He is shooting more than 58 percent from inside eight feet, and when he drives to the hoop, wing players like Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza have an easy time of finding space behind the arc to shoot threes. 

    Although some analysts were wary of Wall getting a max deal from the Wizards, most notably Jason Reid of The Washington Post, he has become the undisputed leader in Washington, leading the team in points, assists, steals and minutes. 

    That sounds like someone who is worthy of making an All-Star team and who should be locked up by the Wizards for five years. 

The Marcin Gortat Trade Is Going to Work in Washington's Favor

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    Newcomer Marcin Gortat is the only other player besides John Wall to play in every game for the Wizards this season.
    Newcomer Marcin Gortat is the only other player besides John Wall to play in every game for the Wizards this season.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Besides John Wall's extension, the only other notable move the Wizards made this offseason was trading an injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marcin Gortat. The Wizards also acquired Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall in the trade but waived them.

    Fans were originally worried that losing Okafor and a first-round pick would be too much to give up for Gortat, but through 41 games, the trade has done wonders for Washington. 

    Okafor has still yet to play for the Suns, and if the Wizards make the playoffs, the first-round pick won't be worth nearly as much as if they had finished outside of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. 

    But most importantly, Gortat has been one of the most valuable players to the Wizards this season. 

    He leads the team in blocks and rebounds and is the only other player besides Wall to play in all 41 games thus far. 

    Gortat is on pace to approach his career-high mark of 31 double-doubles in a season (posting 15 through the first half of the season), and after complaining to CSN Washington about his role in the offense, he has taken on more of a traditional big-man role, with Nene coming off the bench and Trevor Booker getting more starts. 

    In the last 30 days, Gortat has taken almost 70 percent of his shots from inside the key, according to Vorped, which is pretty much on par with what he did in his three years with the Suns. 

    He isn't the flashiest player on the roster, but the Wizards are happy right now that they took a win-now approach and traded for him before the start of the regular season. 

Trevor Booker Deserves More Minutes

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    Despite a low scoring output, Trevor Booker has played some high-energy minutes for the Wizards and has often started in order to allow Nene to come off the bench at power forward.
    Despite a low scoring output, Trevor Booker has played some high-energy minutes for the Wizards and has often started in order to allow Nene to come off the bench at power forward.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Heading into the season, Trevor Booker was not high on the list of Wizards players to be excited about. 

    And while he isn't the flashiest player or the biggest scorer, he has come on strong in the last two months, warranting more minutes and a handful of starts. 

    He has already started 19 games this season, after starting just 14 last season, and rightfully so. 

    The 6'8" power forward is pulling down 6.5 boards per game, and he is shooting a very respectable 56 percent from the floor, attempting almost six shots per game. 

    After Nene showed some signs early on in the year of being injury prone, he took on more of a bench role, which left the starting spot open for Booker. 

    Sure, the Wizards have little to choose from at power forward with Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin being the only two real possibilities besides Nene and Booker, but Booker's energy and ability to grab boards have shown that when he's healthy, he deserves at least 20 minutes a game. 

    When he tweaked his ankle and missed most of the game against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 18, the team looked flat and ended up losing, 104-98. 

    As a starter this season, Booker is scoring more than eight points per game and pulling down more than eight rebounds, compared to five points and 4.2 rebounds when he comes off the bench. 

    If the Wizards want to conserve Nene for the playoffs and are willing to continue to restrict his minutes, Booker seems to be a perfect candidate to take over the small forward minutes. 

An Eight-Man Rotation Will Work for the Wizards in the Playoffs

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    For a few games, head coach Randy Wittman went with an eight-man rotation to get the Wizards some much-needed wins, and the shorter rotations made for a high-energy Wizards team.
    For a few games, head coach Randy Wittman went with an eight-man rotation to get the Wizards some much-needed wins, and the shorter rotations made for a high-energy Wizards team.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    When playoff time rolls around and the Wizards are still in the top eight in the East, an eight-man rotation is all but a guarantee. 

    Almost every NBA team will shorten their rotations in the postseason to make sure that they have their best players on the court for as long as possible. 

    And for a brief period of time earlier in January, the Wizards were playing playoff basketball. 

    Head coach Randy Wittman went with an eight-man rotation for the Chicago Bulls game on Jan. 13 and again for a big win over the Miami Heat on Jan. 15. It worked almost to perfection. 

    In both games, Wittman went with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat as his starting five, with only Martell Webster, Garrett Temple and Trevor Booker coming off the bench. 

    In those two games, the Wizards outscored their opponents 216-185 and played one of the best quarters of basketball that any team has played all season in the first quarter against the Heat

    All eight players used in the short rotation against the Heat scored in double digits, and four players broke 13 points against the Bulls

    Even if it was just for a few games, this eight-man rotation showed that the Wizards could be a tough out in the playoffs when the time comes. 

But, the Wizards Need the Bench to Perform Better in the Regular Season

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    Washington's bench has been nothing short of disappointing, with Eric Maynor and rookie Otto Porter Jr. (both pictured here) completely disappearing at times this year.
    Washington's bench has been nothing short of disappointing, with Eric Maynor and rookie Otto Porter Jr. (both pictured here) completely disappearing at times this year.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    It's great to have an eight-man rotation for the playoffs, but in the regular season, the bench can't afford to continue to play this poorly for the remaining 41 games. 

    Wittman can't keep going back to an eight-man rotation. With John Wall playing a combined 73 minutes in the Heat and Bulls games and Ariza playing almost 40 minutes against the Bulls, the team could get worn out. 

    But who could blame Wittman for not wanting to see more of the bench? 

    Washington has the fourth-worst scoring bench in the league, according to Hoopstats, and it is seventh worst at rebounding. 

    Six bench players for the Wizards are averaging less than four points per game, including first-round draft pick Otto Porter Jr. and free-agent signing Eric Maynor. 

    Jan Vesely has at least been putting in productive minutes on defense at power forward, but without Al Harrington in the lineup, the Wizards don't have anyone other than Martell Webster off the bench who can stretch the floor. This forces the starting five and Webster to produce most of the offense. 

    Garrett Temple has also been putting in productive defensive minutes, but he is still shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor. 

    If Harrington and Glen Rice Jr. can both come back healthy and be productive off the bench, it would give the Wizards a solid boost. 

    But it's tough to see the Wizards being able to break into the top four in the East (even in this year of an unusual amount of sub-.500 teams in the conference) if guys like Porter and Chris Singleton continue to play this uninspired.