CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Only two days remain in 2018. Forget end-of-year lists. Focus on 2019 projections.
In the category of Washington Wizards breakout performer for the current season, numerous candidates exist. With John Wall expected out for the remainder of the season, the team needs more than just nominees. They need serious contenders.
In the 130-126 win over the Charlotte Hornets, several grabbed the spotlight.
Bradley Beal, on pace for a second All-Star appearance, was the lone Wizards player on the court Saturday ineligible for the award. Washington’s leading scorer shined in the leading man role for chunks of the last two seasons when Wall missed time. Last season it was 41 games. This time it’s half a hundred including the final 47.
For now, the situational comparisons end there. Washington’s lineup and rotation were largely stable when knee and shoulder injuries sidelined Wall last season. The current setup defines madcap.
Four projected opening starters were among Saturday’s inactives including Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. There’s another quartet thrust into the mix comprised of players who weren’t on the roster when the month began. This doesn’t even count first-round pick Troy Brown Jr., who received scant minutes much of the season.
At 14-23, some argue the Wizards’ ship is sinking. With Wall’s injury, it’s certainly an all-hands-on-deck situation. We just don’t know yet which supporting players are most ready to plug the biggest holes. Neither does the leading man.
“In a way [I’m curious],” Beal said after Washington snapped a three-game losing streak. “It feels like an AAU team right now. We’ve only got eight guys or so in rotation. We have to make do with what we have. Everybody has to step up, it’s not just going to be that one person that comes in and makes the difference. Everybody has to step their game up, elevate it and bring a lot more to the table.”
They did against the Hornets, one of the teams the Wizards are chasing in the Eastern Conference standings.
Brooks only used eight players. Seven scored in double figures. Three tallied at least 20. Surprisingly, Beal wasn’t one of them.
“You would have never had me think that we can have three 20-point scorers and one of them not be Brad,” the relieved coach said after a trying day.
Trevor Ariza, one of the recent additions, led the Wizards with 24 points. Though the 14-year veteran isn’t an unknown, his part likely expands without Wall. The veteran forward set a season-high with nine assists while sinking four of 10 attempts from beyond the arc.
“He needs to shoot. We need his shooting,” Brooks said. “We need his toughness. We need his professionalism. We need everything that he brings and he has done a great job.”
Thomas Bryant received a head start on his breakout candidacy when Dwight Howard underwent back surgery in November. The energetic center powered his way to 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Tomas Satoransky, the player most directly affected by Wall’s absence, finished with 20 points, six assists, and four 3-pointers. The 6-foot-7 point guard likely faces long-shot odds for the breakout award in part because he won it last season after taking over for Wall. His pass-first approach fuels a needed hockey assist mentality without Wall. The Wizards had 35 assists on 48 field goals in the win.
"We knew we still have to pick up our energy (without Wall). But it's not a new situation for us,” Satoransky said. “Obviously for the long run, it's a tough loss. You always need your All-Stars. Having two All-Stars is great to have on your team. It's going to be a tough adjustment, but we have been in that situation.”
Washington’s current bench situation isn’t what anyone imagined when the season tipped.
Sam Dekker, acquired in one of two trades made by the front office this month, ran, cut and jumped his way to 13 points.
Guard Chasson Randle’s last six months included two stints with USA Basketball, training camp work with the Wizards and a revolving door situation with Washington's NBA roster. He’s now the primary backup point guard and not just by default. The Stanford alum continued his deft work running the offense while scoring 13 points.
Troy Brown Jr.
Then there’s Brown, the No. 15 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. His continued absence from the rotation became a hot topic especially after recent transactions and injuries opened playing time. Brooks relented Saturday and Brown delivered by making his first three field goal attempts and finishing with nine points.
The poised 19-year-old worked hard in the shadows and during appearances in the minors with the Capital City Go-Go. He proved ready for this moment and acknowledged some relief postgame.
“I helped the offense, finally,” Brown exclaimed.
Another new guard, Ron Baker, didn’t take his warm-ups off Saturday, but he’s received steady work since his signing days before Christmas.
Expect more for him and other the other player's the Wizards must now count on in unexpected ways for a playoff push.
With Wall’s absence opening up 35 minutes a night, opportunities exist. Let’s see who is ready for their close-up.
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