The NBA is notorious for having teams that spend long periods of time in the bottom half of the league and having to struggle to regain relevance. One of these teams for the last six years has been the Washington Wizards, but last night they changed their fortunes and clinched a playoff spot for the first time since the 2008 season. The organization has done a good job building through the draft and with under the radar trades in recent years and it has paid off this season with not only a playoff berth but also a very exciting brand of basketball on the court.
The Wizards are currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and if the season ended today would face the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors would most definitely go into the series as favorites but the young roster of the Wizards could make the first round very difficult for them. Over the course of the season they have shown an ability to play very well in transition and challenge even the elite teams in the NBA.
While making the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference does not completely announce the Wizards return to relevance it does show that the decisions being made in the front office are starting to pay off. Not every team in the NBA has the luxury of being able to bring in top free agents so most teams have to build their rosters through the draft. Over the last couple of years the Wizards have had a decent amount of success doing this. It has not always worked out as is evident in the case of Jan Vesely, but the picks of John Wall and Bradley Beal have paid off in a big way especially during the current season.
After being the number one pick in the 2010 draft the expectations were extremely high for John Wall and he has now shown that he can be that franchise player the Wizards expected when taking him. This season he made his first All-Star game won the dunk contest and is averaging nearly 20 points and 9 assists. What has been more impressive than just his statistical production has been the way he has made the players around him better. His overall work rate and competitiveness have been contagious for this team and they have shown it in big recent wins over both the Pacers and Nets who they could potentially see in the playoffs. The trades in recent years for players like Marcin Gortat and Nene have also paid dividends as their presence has shown on the defensive end and on the boards. Bradley Beal has become a great scorer who can complement Wall very well and has upped his scoring to nearly 17 points a game this year.
No one expects much from the Wizards in the upcoming playoffs but clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years shows definite signs of improvement. More playoff berths will be expected from this team in the current years if their young players can keep developing and they continue to make smart and cost-effective trades.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius