The halfway point for the Wizards isn't the All-Star break which comes before the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans. It's now, following Wednesday's 104-101 win against the Memphis Grizzlies to put them three games over .500.
After playing out of a hole under first-year coach Scott Brooks, they're 22-19 through 41 games. John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing at an All-Star level. Otto Porter is having a career season and will be a candidate for the league's Most Improved Player, Marcin Gortat is a rebounding machine who is having his best season since arriving in Washington in 2013 and Markieff Morris has put together his best stretch of play since arriving in a trade almost a year ago.
It’s time to look at the highlights and lowlights:
Starting 5: Beal and Wall are averaging career-highs -- and set career high points for a game (Wall, 52; Beal, 42) -- and the offense is potent. They've gone away from high pick-and-rolls to initate the offense which has added more diversity and made both more difficult to cover. It hasn't negatively impacted the numbers of the role players. In fact, it's involved them more. They are a major reason why the team is averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions, their highest since 2007-08.
The bench: A lot of the early-season losses can be parked at the feet of no production from the reserves, who have struggled because of point guard play (Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky), rim protection (Ian Mahinmi) and defensive inefficiencies (Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton). That has put a heavy burden on the starters to play more minutes than what's ideal, but Burke has shown signs of being effective in spots and Satoransky has rebounded after confidence issues with his shot. Mahinmi has been a non-factor due to injury, but Jason Smith's play has been remarkable at both ends. Kelly Oubre has had his spots, too, though not as consistently as Smith. Thornton is completely out of the rotation.
The rookies: Sheldon McClellan has been in and out of the rotation. With every one step forward (see wins over Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks) he takes two steps back (see next game vs. Chicago Bulls). He made key reads and passes that led to big shots in the first two, getting his points off hustle plays and in transtion, only to muck it up with bad decision-making on defense against the Bulls. Still, McClellan is a better option than Thornton and likely will get more looks but Satoransky is monopolizing the time now. Daniel Ochefu would've already played in the D-League if it weren't for Mahinmi's injury. They need the big body, but the Wizards like Ochefu and feel he's worth developing. Danuel House (right wrist) still is in a brace but should be out of it soon.
Best win: Dec. 18 vs. L.A. Clippers. Beal came one point shy of tying his career-high with 41 points, Wall had a double-double and Morris put up 23 points and nine rebounds in a fierce fourth-quarter comeback against an elite team. And they were short-handed with Kelly Oubre out because of a concussion.
Worst loss: Dec. 6 vs. Orlando Magic. Wall set a career-high with 52 points and it still wasn't enough to beat a team that has trouble scoring. But because of bad all-around defense, Orlando had seven players in double figures led by Elfrid Payton's career-high 25. And it occured at Verizon Center. That edges out the Dec. 23 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks who scored 73 in the first half and won by 27.
Biggest surprise: Smith. The way he began the season, looking confused and frequently fumbling the ball in offensive sets, didn't give cause for optimism. But he's not just playing well offensively by knocking down the mid-range jumper and occasional three but rotating properly on defense to serve as a rim protector. High-flying dunker Zach LaVine found that out when Smith challenged him running full speed at the rim. Smith won out.
Biggest hurdle: Bench scoring on the road. The Wizards are 4-13. Reserves, by definition, don't play as well away from home. That's why they come off the bench. Burke shoots 53.6% from three at home. That dips to 25% on the road.
Projected record at All-Star break: 30-25.