This week in Wizards: Catching the league by surprise

By Zach Rice

It feels like the Wizards just want to win more than their opponents.

The Wizards managed to stay hot this past week, going 3–1 to improve to 5–2 on the season with two victories over the struggling Celtics and one against the Hawks. 

After Daniel Gafford got hurt in the first game against the Celtics, Montrezl Harrell stepped in and excelled. He put up 25 points and 11 boards while shooting 10/13 of the field en route to a road victory in Boston. 

In the next game against the Celtics, the Wizards a fabulous performance by the starting lineup secured win number four on the season. Stellar play from Bradley Beal and Spencer Dindwiddie late in the fourth and in both overtimes pushed the Wizards over the top.

In between the Boston games, Washington had their first of two meetings against the Hawks. The starting lineup featured four 20+ point scorers in the first matchup, including new additions Montrezl Harrell (25), Kyle Kuzma (21) and Kentavious Caldwell Pope (21), and the Wizards picked up another win. 

Washington’s second meetup against the Hawks didn’t go their way, though. They fell behind by double digits in the first quarter, and that number proved insurmountable for Washington. The Wizards cut the lead to three a couple times throughout the game, but were never able to overcome Atlanta’s stellar play on both ends of the floor. 

Nevertheless, it was another week in which the Wizards showed skill and chemistry that many NBA fans didn’t think existed. Montrezl Harrell has been sixth man of the year so far, and Washington proved that they have a strong all-around squad.

Here are three takeaways from an unbelievable week two for the Wizards:

 This bench is why the Wizards are winning games 

A huge problem with Washington for years is that the bench has cost the team games. However, the bench this season has proven to be not only reliable, but the most significant reason why the Wizards are 5–2 as of Tuesday night. As a unit this past week, the bench finished with a ridiculous plus minus of +73, compared to a plus minus of +7 for the starters. One of the key assets of this bench has been center Montrezel Harrell, who has led the Wizards in scoring after filling in for injured center Daniel Gafford versus the Celtics. His energy is unmatched, and he’s provided stability down low that wasn’t there last season with Alex Len and Robin Lopez logging a majority of the minutes at the five. Despite starting three times this week and playing phenomenal basketball, Harrell will likely stay on the bench and play 28+ minutes per game this year. Harrell’s play almost makes him worthy of his own column, but the bench is so strong as a whole this year that he just had to be included as a large factor. 

Bradley Beal has to step it up

Heading into this season, many saw Beal as the only reliable scorer on the roster, but so far, his shooting has been atrocious. He’s shot 38% from the field and 23% from three; for any non-basketball fans out there, those numbers, especially the three point shooting numbers, are not impressive. While this lackluster performance will surely turn around, Beal needs to continue to expand on his aggression on offense. The NBA has been stricter on calling fouls so far this season, and that’s clearly impacted Beal, who’s 4.2 free throws per game are a significant drop off from nearly eight free throw attempts per game over the last two seasons. However, Beal has yet to miss a free throw this season and shot 89% from the line last season, so he needs to continue attacking the basket. Not only will he score more if he gets to the line more consistently, but the rest of his game will come easier to him. If he becomes more of a threat to rim-rush, then he’ll be rewarded with better three point looks as well. As the focal point of this team, if Beal returns to his form of the last two years, the Wizards will regain one of the best scorers in the league and exceed expectations even more.

Speaking of aggressiveness…

Washington’s aggressiveness on offense is exceptional and needs to continue

Washington has led the NBA in free throws per game as they did last year, and this has been crucial to the team’s success. The difference between this year and last, however, is efficiency. Last year, the Wizards made just over 76% of their foul shots, which was slightly below league average. Currently, Washington has made 82% of their foul shots, good for fifth in the NBA. Getting to the line has been a very stable source of offense as well; only the Jazz have more points from the charity stripe than the Wizards. The ability to get to the line has been critical to the Wizards’ success this year because of inconsistent three point shooting. So far, the Wizards have been below average in both field goal percentage and three point percentage. The Wizards have relied on ferocity and physical basketball to draw fouls and provide steady offense, which has worked so far. 

Hot Take: Bradley Beal averages 30+ points per game this week and the Wizards win two of their next three games

Superstars go through rough stretches, especially now when the NBA is trying to adjust their sport to be more physical and eliminate leaning into fouls. We’ve already seen James Harden return to superstar form after a slow start, and I’m confident the same will happen for Beal this week. The Wizards are also faced with three winnable home games this week. Washington already beat the Raptors on the road by 15 this season, then face a solid but beatable Grizzlies team and round out the week against the Khris Middleton-less and possibly Jrue Holiday-less Bucks, who have struggled early on. 

The Wizards have put up an impressive performance so far. Let’s hope the success will continue into this upcoming week.