WASHINGTON — The Wizards have orchestrated one of the most incredible season turnarounds in recent memory, taking a 2-8 start and flipping it into a 31-21 mark.
The primary catalysts for this substantial fortune-changing have been John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, the three young stars who have upped their level of play this season and carried the Wizards to one of the top records in the Eastern Conference. The turnaround didn’t come about thanks to a star returning after an injury — though Wall had offseason surgery on each of his knees, and backup center Ian Mahinmi has returned to the lineup after missing virtually the entire season — nor was it due to some free-agent signing or trade or significant lineup alteration.
Coach Scott Brooks has made some adjustments to his rotation, namely using Kelly Oubre more with the starters and Markieff Morris more with the bench, but the biggest reason is simply Wall, Beal and Porter thriving and carrying a huge load for the team.
This development is taking its toll on the trio’s young legs. None of the three players is older than 26; Wall is 26, and Beal and Porter are each 23. But each player is averaging more than 34 minutes per game, as is starting center Marcin Gortat, and Wall is averaging a whopping 36.7 minutes per game.
Among all NBA teams, Washington is the only one with four players who have played at least 45 games and average at least 34 minutes per contest. It’s also the only team in which all five starters have played at least 1600 minutes.
All five Wizards starters have played at least 45 games and average at least 32 minutes, something no other team has done; the Golden State Warriors are the only team with at least four players matching that criteria, and only three teams (Knicks, Pistons, Timberwolves) have three players that meet that standard.
Despite the age of their core, the Wizards aren’t actually all that young. Wall’s knees have a lot of miles on them, and Beal has never been able to put together an injury-free season at the NBA level.
Gortat has started every game for Washington this season, and even though he turns 33 on Feb. 17, he is averaging a career-high 34.7 minutes per game. He’s never played even 33 minutes per game in a season, and he’s averaged basically 30 minutes per game in each of the past two seasons. At this rate, he’ll top last year’s minute total, in which he played 75 games and started 74, in roughly game 65.
The good news for Washington is it’s getting good production out of the players Brooks is riding. Most of the team’s primary players are averaging career bests nearly across the board, and that has led to a remarkable resurgence.
The bad news, of course, is what seems likely to happen to the starters come playoffs time. That many minutes have to be punishing on a player’s legs, and when you’re putting that many minutes on the legs of A) a player coming off double knee surgery, B) a player coming off four straight injury-riddled seasons and C) a soon-to-be 33-year-old center, you’re asking for trouble. Morris and Porter might survive the season, but the other three are facing difficult odds.