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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise.

That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace.

That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Injury Impact

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them.

This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS

Inconsistency Problems

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins.

And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.

ALL-STAR GAME: BEAL SHOWS HE BELONGS ON ALL-STAR STAGE

Emergenace of Satoransky and Oubre

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.

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Rallying Without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker Room Chemisty

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result, couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually exist. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclomations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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