WASHINGTON — The Wizards were expected to overhaul their offense this season after Randy Wittman successfully experimented with a small ball lineup in the 2015 postseason, but nobody knew exactly what to expect.
Through four games, the jury is very much still out, but the early returns are positive.
As a team, Washington is in the top 10 in the NBA in points (104.5 per game), field goal percentage (.450), three-point percentage (.351), free throws (22.3 per game), steals (8.8 per game) and fouls drawn (26.3 per game). Of those categories, Washington only cracked the top 10 in field goal percentage and three-point percentage last season.
The Wizards are also fifth in the league in pace, which is represented by the number of possessions per 48 minutes, with 108.45. This is key to their new offense, which prioritizes speed and high-value shots like three-pointers and drives to the basket. Last season, the Wizards played a very traditional offense, starting two big men who don’t have much of a jump shot, and their pace was just 95.96, good for 16th in the NBA.
The trade-off for the boost in offensive production is a drop in other areas, primarily in the paint. Washington grabbed 51.7 percent of rebounds last season, the fourth best percentage in the league, but is down to just 47.8 percent this season, 20th in the league. Translated to tangible numbers, the Wizards have secured just 40.5 rebounds per game so far this season, the third fewest in the NBA. Compare that to last season, when they hauled in 44.7 per game, the seventh most in the league.
This disparity was especially obvious in Wednesday’s win against the San Antonio Spurs, when Washington was outrebounded 49 to 33, but Bradley Beal made sure that didn’t matter.
Individually, a few players can be singled out for the Wizards’ 3-1 start.
Point guard John Wall, the team’s best player and one of the top guards in the league, has built on his exceptional 2014-15 season. He is averaging career bests in points (20.8), three-point attempts (4.8), three-point makes (1.5), steals (2.5) and blocks (2.3) per game, and his .492 effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for added value from three-pointers, is a career-best .492.
Otto Porter, who broke out with an impressive postseason last spring in which he averaged 10.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, has picked up right where he left off in his first season as a full-time starter. The former Georgetown star is putting up career bests almost across the board, and he’s averaging a respectable 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Porter’s improved play is not especially surprising for the Wizards, as his role has increased more than any other Wizard’s, but it’s been perhaps even more dramatic than expected. He was vital to Washington’s win against San Antonio, scoring 19 points on a lights-out 8-for-10 shooting display.
And then there’s Beal.
Long billed as Wall’s sidekick, Beal has taken the league by storm in 2015, averaging a career-best 25.3 points per game, good for sixth in the NBA. He’s making 3.3 three-pointers per game, second only to reigning MVP Steph Curry’s other-worldly 5.6 per game.
Bradley Beal is the 5th WSH player to score 100 points in the team's first 4 games since the franchise moved to DC. pic.twitter.com/ewEWdxsEvf— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 5, 2015
In the team’s first four games, Beal has scored 24, 26, 26 and 25 points, making at least two three-pointers in each game. The 25 he scored against San Antonio came mostly against reigning defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard. He also hit the game-winner against the Spurs, a side-step jumper from beyond the arc with just 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
Though it remains early, Beal’s emergence as a legitimate superstar and Porter’s breakthrough as a quality No. 3 player are very good signs for an up-and-coming Wizards team hoping to lure Kevin Durant next summer. After back-to-back exits in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Washington is looking to at least make the conference championship this year.
The District’s newest Big Three has some thinking the Wizards are primed to take the next step.