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How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

The perception of the Wizards from the outside and within their own locker room at the midway point of this 2017-18 season perhaps says a lot about how the expectations are higher than they have been for this franchise in quite some time.

After 41 games, exactly the halfway point, the Wizards are 23-18. Over the course of a full 82-game schedule that would amount to 46 wins. Considering that this team has only won 46 games or more twice since the 1978-79 season, that's not bad at all.

But the Wizards have reached a new era where simply being good isn't good enough.

In most years a 46-win pace would be just fine, but they feel their first half of the season should have been appreciably better, especially after their 49-win 2016-17 campaign.

When asked to grade the first half, head coach Scott Brooks and his players all offered marks within the C to B range. What held them back from As is the fact they have lost many games they feel they should have won.

Point guard John Wall put the estimate at nine or 10 games.

"We should have had a way better start to the season than we had. But we can't look back at it," he said. "We have what we have now."

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The Wizards might be content with 46 wins over a full season, but their gripes with the first half are in the details. They have 10 losses against teams with losing records, tied for the second-most in the NBA. That's in contrast with their 12-8 mark against teams at .500 or better, second-best in the East.

Those woes continued on Wednesday night against the Jazz, the Wizards' 41st game. They went up by 12 points early, only to suffer yet another loss to another team with a sub-.500 record.

The Wizards have had consistency issues in years past, but this is an unusual split. Past records show they are generally very good against lesser teams.

"I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it," Wall said. "Until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”

That's the glass half-empty perspective.

The positive side is that the Wizards are comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff race at fifth despite missing several key players at times due to injury. Wall has missed 11 games, Markieff Morris missed eight and Otto Porter has missed four.

Health has been a big difference between last year and this year. Last season they didn't have any significant injuries to their starting lineup and after 41 games they were 22-19, a game behind their current pace. That team advanced all the way to the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs.

As the Wizards will tell you, it's not easy navigating injuries to the starting lineup.

"It's different lineups, different rotations and playing with different guys," guard Bradley Beal said.

"We'll take it," Wall said. "You would think it would be worse with the way we were playing and what we've been going through so far."

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Though they have lost two straight games, there are signs the Wizards are trending up in the big picture. They are 11th in the NBA in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. They should keep improving on offense with Wall in the driver's seat and their defense is much better than it was last season when they were 20th in defensive efficiency. Last year the Wizards were 20th in opponents three-point percentage and this year they are first.

Based on Basketball Reference's simple rating system, the Wizards have been the NBA's eighth-best team. When Wall is in the lineup, they can score with the best offenses in the NBA and they can play sound defense when they are committed to it.

Beal is putting up career numbers and could make his first All-Star team. Porter continues to improve as a scoring threat and versatile defender. Their bench has been by all accounts better with Tomas Satoransky emerging as a legitimate backup point guard. Mike Scott has become a reliable scorer off the bench. Kelly Oubre, Jr. is making less mistakes on both ends of the floor. And Ian Mahinmi is healthy after missing 51 games last season.

Yes, they have suffered losses to the Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Nets (twice), Clippers, Hawks and Hornets. But they have also beaten the Celtics (in Boston), the Rockets, Raptors, Heat, Timberwolves and Blazers. 

There are many ways of looking at their first half, but everyone on the Wizards is optimistic about the next few months leading up to the playoffs.

"The bright side is that we're right there," Beal said of the Wizards' fifth-place standing.

"This is where it gets interesting. This is where the season changes. I'm looking forward to it. I think we're starting to realize that we can make a big jump right here in these next few weeks."

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Kelly Oubre, Jr.s development is giving Wizards options both in short-term and long-term

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Kelly Oubre, Jr.s development is giving Wizards options both in short-term and long-term

Kelly Oubre, Jr. keeps taking his game to new heights. On Friday night against the Pistons he set a new career-high with 26 points and tied a personal best with five threes.

Though Oubre is not a starter, he produces like one. He is the Wizards' third-leading scorer since Thanksgiving. That's 28 games, or slightly more than a third of a full, 82-game season. 

Oubre has reached double figures in points this season in 28 of his 46 games. He's dropped 15 points or more in four straight and has hit multiple threes in each of his last seven.

Oubre's three-point percentage on the season is now up to 40.5 percent, way up from his 28.7 clip from a year ago and he is starting to separate himself from other NBA bench players. Only three reserves are averaging at least 12 points per game and shoot at least 40 percent from three. It's Oubre, Lou Williams of the Clippers and Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls.

What he's doing is also rare for his age. Only five players 22 or younger are shooting 40 percent or better from beyond the arc this season with at least 100 attempts and Oubre is one of them.

Oubre is still capable of making mistakes from inexperience, ones that frustrate head coach Scott Brooks. There have been several instances this season where Oubre has made the wrong decision based on clock and score awareness. Like many young players, he sometimes gambles on defense and pays for it.

But those errors are becoming few and far between. Oubre is playing well beyond his years and is making an impact on both ends of the floor. Perhaps most importantly, his development is giving the Wizards options both in the short-term and the long-term.

The Wizards' starting lineup has not been nearly as consistent as it was last season. Though they beat the Pistons on Friday, Brooks has hinted at changes if their issues continue.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are having seasons worthy of All-Star recognition. Meanwhile, Otto Porter has been hot and cold, Markieff Morris is averaging just 10.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and Marcin Gortat has seen his minutes go up and down. Oubre gives Brooks multiple options if he does want to shake up their starting lineup.

In the big picture, Oubre's development gives the Wizards flexablity. He's making just $2 million this season and $3 million the next. That is far lower than what Porter ($24.7M), Morris ($8M) and Gortat ($12.8M) are getting paid. If the Wizards wanted to turn to Oubre, they could save significant money with a trade.

The Wizards may keep Oubre right where he is, on their bench as the sixth man. But if they want to make a change, either big or small, he has given them more options than they had just months ago.

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Utah Jazz make guard Rodney Hood available, would Wizards be a fit?

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Utah Jazz make guard Rodney Hood available, would Wizards be a fit?

Momentum is building towards Utah Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood getting dealt before next month's NBA trade deadline. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported on Saturday that multiple teams have already expressed interest in the four-year pro:

Hood, 25, is on an expiring contract and would provide scoring for a team in the market for offense. He's averaging 16.7 points this season on 41.3 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three.

Hood isn't a very efficient player, but he can stretch the floor. He's also big for his position at 6-foot-8 and is a very good free throw shooter (86.2%).

The Wizards could use help at the shooting guard position with Bradley Beal logging heavy minutes. They have an improved bench after making several upgrades last offseason, but shooting guard Jodie Meeks has yet to establish a consistent role in their rotation due to his low shooting percentage.

The Wizards don't necessarily need offensive help, but Hood could help take pressure off of Beal. He could also play in lineups with both Beal and John Wall.

It's unclear what the Jazz want in return for Hood and whether the Wizards could make a worthy offer. If Utah is taking the longview to build for the future, that could mean a first round pick and the Wizards have already parted with their last two.

Regardless, if the Wizards decide to target shooting guards in the next few weeks, expect Hood's name to come up.

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