Washington Wizards Have Become NBA Championship Contender

Feb 28, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) gestures to fans against the Golden State Warriors at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) gestures to fans against the Golden State Warriors at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Wizards were the laughing stock of the NBA for years, but under Scott Brooks’ leadership, have finally become a championship contender.

There are some things people believe they’ll never see, but one day eventually occur. At some point during the 2016-17 NBA season, after starting 2-8, the Washington Wizards became an NBA championship contender for the first time in most of their fans’ lifetimes.

At the start of the year, pundits and fans alike began to speculate about the team’s future – about whether the team should trade John Wall, if the Scott Brooks hire was botched and if Ernie Grunfeld would finally get the boot.

65 games into the season, the Wizards have found themselves second in the Eastern Conference, just 2.5 games behind the defending champions, Cleveland Cavaliers.

Most teams would’ve fell apart after sitting at the bottom of the standings 10 games in, but Brooks managed to rally his crew and the core group flourished.

John Wall, for six seasons (even as an All-Star), never reached his full potential until Brooks was hired.

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The gap between Wall and other top point guards, like Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, was considerable before this season.

But under Brooks, Wall has narrowed that gap and perhaps even thrust himself into the top-three category.

Averaging 23 points and 11 assists per game, Wall is on pace to make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.

Wall has also added a clutch dimension to his game, becoming a top-10 scorer in the fourth quarter.

Not only has he upped his shot making and assists, but he’s taking over games in crunch time – the one true difference between an All-Star and a superstar.

Wall’s backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, is also averaging a career high 23 points, but he hasn’t done it exclusively from behind the 3-point arc. He’s taken pressure off Wall on the offensive end by adding to his game, becoming a reliable option off the dribble.

The same is true for Otto Porter, who’s putting up career highs across the board while leading the NBA in 3-point percentage.

Brooks has counted on his starters more than most – Washington’s starting unit is top five in minutes played – but he’s also managed the way the team’s practiced.

By limiting practice time, the starters have paced themselves before the playoffs, experiencing minimal fatigue in situations that otherwise would’ve been detrimental.

And now, the team’s second unit – led by Bojan Bogdanovic, Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi – is beginning to form an identity.

Bogdanovic has scored 27 or more points on three separate occasions since arriving to D.C., giving the Washington Wizards a much-needed scoring option off the bench. He’s split time with the second unit and the starters, as Brooks has recognized how his skill-set meshes with both groups.

Mahinmi, after missing months of action due to knee injuries, has returned to form, even stealing minutes away from Marcin Gortat. He’s helped solidify the team’s defense with his interior presence, but he’s also disrupting pick and rolls, which have led to fast break points on the other end. Against the Phoenix Suns last week, Mahinmi stole the ball 7 times. He’s been a Joakim Noah lite for Brooks.

Smith has been a calming presence for the Wizards, capable of doing virtually anything on the floor. His consistency from the perimeter has made him a bail out option offensively and his energy has sparked the defense.

Brooks’ persistent development, the core’s breakout and the bench’s turnaround has culminated in the best Washington Wizards season since 1978 – their lone championship year.

Washington hasn’t won 50 games since they won a championship. The Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler led Wizards teams were revered for their own reasons, but lacked the depth, health and versatility to seriously compete for a championship.

This year’s Wizards team has a noticeable difference. They carry themselves like they’re supposed to win every game. The stars, Wall and Beal, aren’t afraid to put themselves in dangerous situations to elevate the team.

When the Boston Celtics, whom the Wizards bumped for second place, came to the nation’s capital, the stars told their team to wear black – like they were going to a funeral. Washington blew Boston out at home, securing just one of their many victories against dominant teams in D.C.

Next: Credit Brooks for Wizards' Historic Turnaround

It was going to happen eventually and this year, it did. The Washington Wizards have become a legitimate championship contender.