Believe it or not, the Washington Wizards are in a three-way tie for the top spot in the Eastern Conference 10 games into the season. Washington is flying under the radar at 7-3, while teams like the Bulls and Heat get everyone’s attention for improving their rosters in the offseason. But the Wizards are saying, “Hold up... wait just a minute.”
Nobody paid attention to the Wizards in the offseason, or had them on their radar as the season began a few weeks ago. The Russell-Westbrook-to-the-Lakers trade was attacked from every angle, primarily centered around LeBron James and the Lakers. Or how Westbrook’s addition would play, and whether the trio of Westbrook, James, and Anthony Davis would work. We see how that’s going thus far, and it hasn’t been pretty.
Washington picked up what’s looking to be a nice haul in return for Westbrook. Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Kyle Kuzma look to be just the supporting cast Bradley Beal has needed. Even with a future Hall of Famer in Westbrook last year, the Wizards needed a late-season run to squeak into the postseason. The way this team is playing right now, it feels like they should finish in the top six, assuring them of a playoff spot and avoiding the play-in tournament.
Harrell had a down year with the Lakers, but now looks to be thriving in Washington. Montrezl is averaging 17.7ppg, 9.1rpg (the highest of his career), and shooting 66 percent from the field. Kuzma has enjoyed his highest ppg average (14.1) since 2018-19, which was the first year of the LeBron era in Los Angeles. Kuzma’s also grabbing a career-high in boards with 9.5rpg. Caldwell-Pope is providing that shooter’s touch making over 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. While Beal’s average ppg is down to 24.2 from 30 or more the past two years, I’m sure he’ll accept this if the team keeps winning.
Spencer Dinwiddie is another great offseason pick-up for the Wizards, and he’s averaging just under 16ppg and shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc. I’m pretty positive the Nets would give up a lot to have Dinwiddie back right now.
With quite a few teams in the East seemingly taking multiple steps backward, this is the perfect opportunity for the Wizards to make a move and cement themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture later in the year. The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers are all under .500 early on. No one expects the Bucks to struggle all year, but the Hawks, Pacers, and Celtics may need more help if they hope to rebound from their rough starts.
Meanwhile, Philly is dealing with all their Ben Simmons drama, and now Joel Embiid being out due to COVID-19. There’s no telling where the 76ers will be in terms of their record in a couple of months. Cleveland is another young team playing out of their minds early on this year, but I don’t expect this to last much longer. The Cavs have a nice young nucleus, but as the season moves along, I see them winding up down in the play-in tournament range. I’m just not sure if the Cavs can keep this momentum going through the entire season. Younger teams usually struggle to win consistently in the NBA. They have veterans in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, but they won’t be enough to help them get to where they want to go.
These Wizards might have enough to at least hang around near the top of the East this year. They have enough veteran leadership — and if Beal stays on the court, they’re going to be in most games. No clear-cut Eastern Conference frontrunner has stepped forward yet, so that top spot is still open. It seems like the Wizards might have their eye on it, and might be ready to surprise many people.