Despite being ravaged by injuries and uneven play, the Washington Wizards are currently riding a four-game winning streak and find themselves at .500 for the first time since November 25. This is due in large part to John Wall’s return to form, and the rest of the rotation stepping up in the place of players like Bradley Beal, Nene, and Otto Porter. In the midst of an injury-plagued campaign, John Wall and the rest of the Wizards are playing their best ball of the season so far.
The chief reason the Wizards are relevant again because John Wall is making his claim to being the best guard in the Eastern Conference. Despite dealing with a litany of injuries that include bruised ribs, an MCL sprain in the right knee, a right ankle sprain and now apparently a bone spur in the same ankle, Wall is averaging 22.8 points, 11.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 steals in the month of December, per NBA.com.
He is also shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. He is sporting his highest usage of the season so far – 28.8 percent – and assisting on nearly half of his teammates’ baskets. It’s difficult to determine whether his play is sustainable especially considering his growing list of injuries, but luckily for him and the Wizards, key members of the rotation have eased the burden on Wall’s shoulders.
While injuries have certainly hindered the Wizards’ goals, it has also led to the discovery of perhaps the team’s most devastating lineup. The lineup of John Wall, Garrett Temple, Kelly Oubre, Jared Dudley, and Marcin Gortat scores 113.9 points per 100 possessions, and allows 98.4 points, per NBA.com. The lineup’s net rating – 15.5 – is the best for lineups that played a minimum of 40 minutes. To say this was unexpected would be an understatement. A fringe rotation player and a rookie have helped the Washington Wizards become the team they were supposed to be at the start of the season.
Garrett Temple isn’t Bradley Beal, but he’s done what the team has needed him to do. Replacing a borderline all-star with a marginal rotation player shouldn’t reap these kinds of results for a team, but this isn’t a typical situation. Despite Beal’s superior talent, he attempts to do too much when he is on the court. Although he is primarily a scorer, he has been shoehorned into being a playmaker and primary ball handler at times. He doesn’t possess the consistent vision to accomplish this task. Possessions orchestrated by him run the risk of either ending up as a turnover or a low percentage shot.
Temple, on the other hand, spots up or cuts to the basket. He knows his limitations and operates within them accordingly. Nearly 60 percent of his attempted shots come without dribbling, per NBA.com. If he doesn’t have a shot, he moves the ball to the next man to find the open shot. He can’t be depended on to create a shot, but he doesn’t disrupt the offense in a misguided attempt to score or make a play for a teammate. That kind of recognition and understanding can be invaluable to a team’s success.
Alongside Temple’s unheralded play, Kelly Oubre has come into his own in some respects. The development of his three-point shot has opened up the floor for the team’s offense. Oubre is currently shooting 43 percent from long distance for the season, and during the month of December, hitting 57 percent of his three-pointers according to NBA.com. While he’s still has a ways to go on the defensive end, his wingspan has acted as a deterrent against players trying to drive on him.
This lineup may prove to be nothing more than a stopgap until Otto Porter and Bradley Beal are back and fully healthy, but the returns thus far have been encouraging. The Wizards will need this kind of production if they have any chance or hope of redeeming their season.