The Washington Wizards appear to have turned things around with a 11-9 record since their disappointing 1-5 start. Now they find themselves just outside of the playoff picture in a crowded Eastern Conference.
But there is still plenty of basketball to play and the Wizards have many areas they can improve. Here are a few things that may be on the Washington Wizards' holiday wish list as they enter the new year with an eye on the playoffs:
1. Get Ian Mahinmi back healthy
Center Ian Mahinmi was the Wizards' biggest addition this past offseason, yet through 26 games he has only been able to appear in one of them due to injuries to both of his knees. He first went down with a partially torn meniscus in the preseason, then returned on Nov. 26 in a game against the Spurs at the Verizon Center, only to then be sidelined again with soreness in his right knee. Two MRIs later and Mahinmi has been cleared of any structural damage, but still he remains out.
The Wizards seem to have found a balance, playing around .500 ball for the last six weeks. But in order to improve even further and take another step, they will probably need Mahinmi and his defense in their lineup.
2. Oubre needs to keep it up
It's amazing what the improvement of one player can do to a basketball team's fortunes. The Wizards' bench has been maligned by many this season, but over the last three weeks Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been a real standout in their second unit. He has emerged as their clear sixth man, a guy some have called to get more minutes and even start over Markieff Morris.
Oubre has found consistency, averaging 9.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals over his last 10 games. He's not making mistakes as often as he was earlier this season and he's complementing others well with his versatility on defense and his ability to shoot threes and attack the rim on offense. Pairing Oubre with Otto Porter has given the Wizards a small-ball lineup that really works, particularly on defense where they can freely switch matchups and convert turnovers into quick fastbreaks.
3. Another bench player needs to emerge
Oubre has been excellent over the last several weeks and now the question becomes who can join him in finding success off the Wizards' bench. Mahinmi could certainly help the defense of their reserve unit once he returns, but can anyone else break out and improve the Wizards' depth? Jason Smith has shown signs in recent games, but he just hurt his right hamstring. Trey Burke has also flashed promise, as he's now shooting a career-best 44.3 percent from the field. He appears to be getting the hang of his bench role and maximizing his limited shot opportunities.
Marcus Thornton, however, continues to shoot at a low percentage (38.2) and Andrew Nicholson still can't find consistent minutes. Tomas Satoransky recently logged five consecutive DNPs. If someone in that mix can catch up to Oubre, the Wizards' outlook would look a lot different given their depth issues so far this season.
[RELATED: Wizards players, Brooks remember Craig Sager]