This week in Wizards: Top of the Eastern Conference

By Zach Rice

*This article was written prior to Washington’s 97–87 loss to the Hornets on 11/17

What a month. With a record of 10–3, the Wizards are on a tear and, as of Wednesday evening, find themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference. If their overall record wasn’t impressive enough, Washington is 3–0 without Bradley Beal — and they’ve achieved their successes while being shorthanded all season. 

The week kicked off with a superb victory over the Cavaliers. Washington overcame a horrendous shooting night and a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter by playing phenomenal defense. The Wizards outscored the Cavs 19-7 in the final six minutes of regulation, taking advantage of a fatigued Cleveland defense by spreading the ball around and creating excellent three-point opportunities. Despite a rough shooting night, Bradley Beal showed supreme intelligence down the stretch. Beal assisted our lord and savior Kyle Kuzma twice in the last 30 seconds, with Kuzma’s 11-seconds-on-the-clock dagger sealing the deal.

After the nail-biting win over the Cavs, Washington cruised to a stress-free win on the road against the Magic. The Wizards led by double digits for the majority of the game due to the stellar play of Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma. The bench combined for a +91 plus-minus as well.

One might think that the win over the Cavs would be the game of the week. Wrong. Washington trailed by 17 at halftime against the Pelicans because of abysmal shooting and a lack of aggression. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the Wizards don’t stop playing until the game is over. Wes Unseld Jr must’ve told his team at halftime to attack the rim. Washington dropped 64 points in the second half by demolishing the Pelicans inside and getting opportunities to score at the rim with ease. A 14-0 run by the Wizards in a five- minute span late in the fourth elevated them to a victory. It may not have been how Washington expected to beat the NBA’s worst team, but a win is a win.

Here are three takeaways from — believe it or not — the best team in the Eastern Conference:

Spencer Dinwiddie is the perfect piece to Washington’s puzzle

What makes Spencer Dinwiddie so ideal for the Wizards’ roster is that he’s the NBA’s most underrated Robin. Dinwiddie has put up over 31 points, more than seven rebounds, and eight  assists per game in the three games Bradley Beal has missed this season. Without Beal, Dinwiddie has put up MVP- level numbers. Up until now, Washington has lacked a consistent number two option who can step up and become the alpha on offense. Beal never meshed like this with either John Wall or Russell Westbrook. Now, the Wizards have a player who picks up his game when needed, and is able to contribute to victories without being ball-dominant.

Washington has the clutch gene

As former University of Miami wide receiver Santana Moss once said, “Big time players step up in big games.” Through one month of action, it’s become clear that the Wizards have big time players who step up in big games. 

Spencer Dinwiddie is a player who makes plays down the stretch. So far, he’s lived up to that reputation. During games when he’s struggled, he’s made phenomenal passes late. His IQ and confidence has enabled him to be a go-to guy for the Wizards in the fourth quarter. 

Kyle Kuzma is a player who is acknowledged as lacking the ability to make game-deciding plays, and he was the difference at the end of the game against Cleveland. Kuzma went 4/4 from the three-point range in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner. This is the first time in a while that Washington has had three fourth quarter studs when one tandems Dinwiddie, Kuzma and Beal.

Montrezl Harrell is the guy Washington has needed for a long time

Montrezl Harrell has amazed fans all year, and it’s high time for him to receive his own takeaway. So far, Harrell isn’t just the Sixth Man of the Year; he’s been one of the best big men in the league over the past month. Harrell is one of those players who’s deeper than the stat sheet. His intelligence and energy on the court are striking, and they set him apart from his competitors. Harrell had arguably the play of the season for the Wizards when he took a monumental charge versus the Pelicans. To refer to Harrell as “the guy” means that he is a spectacular bench player, the type of athlete Washington hasn’t had in quite some time. In the 39 years of the Sixth Man of the Year’s presentation, a Wizard has never won the award. Harrell is well on pace to change that this year.

Rui Hachimura should come off the bench

Rui Hachimura was the third-best player on the Wizards last season, but he’s battled injuries, and he had to leave the team before summer league during the offseason due to personal reasons. Despite Hachimura’s position as one of the best forwards on this team, he should come off the bench due to the well-maintained roles of Washington’s starting lineup. Even though Hachimura is undoubtedly a better player than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, KCP has fit in extremely well as a three-and-d player. Kyle Kuzma’s superior and unexpected play should keep him as a lock for the starting lineup. Shooting isn’t a strength off Hachimura’s, so adding him to the starting lineup would hurt the spacing for the Wizards. KCP also possesses defensive versatility that Hachmura doesn’t, since KCP is more capable of guarding both guards and forwards than Hachimura is. Kuzma has played at roughly the same level as last year’s Hachimura, if not performing even better. The bench has been spectacular for the Wizards this season, and Hachimura — along with Harrell — would be a tremendous piece to add. Hachimura allegedly will return in the next week and a half which will provide Washington with another elite scorer.