Sheppard believes Wizards' best play is still ahead of them


As the Wizards enter the second half of their regular-season schedule, optimism appears to be the central theme surrounding the team despite an up-and-down campaign to date. 

At 22-20, the Wizards sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Even though they've gone 12-17 since their 10-3 start vaulted them to the top of the conference standings, they remain just two games behind the 76ers for fifth in the East and 3.5 games behind the Bucks for a top-four seed in the playoffs. 

Washington is within striking distance of a playoff spot outside the play-in tournament despite all the player absences and injury recoveries they've had to deal with so far this season, which has given general manager Tommy Sheppard a great deal of confidence in his group. 

"I'm really proud of these guys," Sheppard said on the Kevin Sheehan podcast. "I think they've taken a lot of punches. We started out pretty hot, and we were 15-11 before our first COVID case. We've gone 7-9 since then and I'm happy with that. It could have been a hell of a lot worse, missing at least two starters and the mental toll it takes on everybody, but we're not alone. We're not special, the whole league has gone through this."

The Wizards are currently coming out of a coronavirus outbreak that saw as many as nine players enter the NBA's health and safety protocols. Naturally, the Wizards were inconsistent, and at times a bad, basketball team without key players on the floor. 


They also just got Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant back on the floor for the first time this season, fortifying a frontcourt that was already playing at a high level before a coronavirus outbreak hit the Wizards' locker room. 

Wes Unseld Jr. supervised a smooth start to the year with a brand new roster, and then was able to keep the team afloat when player availability was scarce. Soon, Unseld will get all his players back healthy and have to find a way to maximize a rotation that goes roughly 12 players deep. 

With all that in mind, there's a good chance we haven't seen the Wizards play their best basketball yet. 

"This team is resilient," Sheppard said. "I think there's joy, playing basketball together, they really enjoy that. It breeds a lot of competitive juices having depth, and guys are going to compete for minutes now and you're going to see the best version of the Wizards is still ahead of us."

The Wizards will resume an eight-game homestand with a matchup against the Trail Blazers on Saturday before taking on a slew of Eastern Conference playoff contenders to close it out. With the NBA Trade Deadline looming on February 10, now wouldn't be the worst time to go on a hot streak.