Washington Wizards December Silver Linings

When I sat down a little over a month ago to write my “November Silver Linings” article, I didn’t know if I’d need to publish a December sequel. The Washington Wizards had gone .500 in November, and they reeled off three straight wins to start December. Things were looking up. The playoffs were in sight.

And then, as they’ve tended to do this season, the Wizards fell apart. They’ve lost nine of their last twelve games, with one of the wins a triple overtime effort against a Suns team starting three rookies. They’re now 14-23, though still only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.

Combine all that with the fact John Wall is getting season-ending surgery on his left heel, and, yes, I really do need to write a silver linings piece. Here goes it.

Bradley Beal is on a Tear

Bradley Beal has overtaken a hobbled Wall as Washington’s best player. Formerly a clear second banana, the Florida product sets himself apart with his defensive effort, versatility, and ridiculous consistency.

He reached 20 or more points in 13 of the Wizards’ 15 contests in December, hitting over 45 percent of his field goals in 10 of them. His final per game line for the month: 26.8 points, 5.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds, on 56.2 percent true shooting. Solid.

Beal’s three-point shooting still hasn’t returned to its 2016-17 heights, but his slashing continues to impress. The 25-year-old is getting a career-high portion of his shots at the rim and converting them at a career-high rate. He’s an endangered species in the NBA as a true three-level scorer.

But he has no help. Scott Brooks rode him 39.5 minutes per contest last month, an irresponsible number considering Beal’s lengthy injury history. Even with that kind of workload and zero games of rest, he’s singlehandedly driving the Wizards’ offense. That may not sound like much, but the team did pour in 111.2 points per 100 possessions with Beal on the court in December – the scoring rate of a top ten offense. That number cratered to an ugly 95.3 whenever he sat.

The dude has been a workhorse, and an effective one, too. He remains the brightest part of Washington’s future.

Jeff Green’s Resurgence is No Fluke

Don’t say it too loudly, but Jeff Green is playing some of the best basketball of his career. The 32-year-old is on his seventh team now – a decent indicator that he hasn’t gained much trust anywhere – but he’s emerged as one of Brooks’ most dependable contributors.

The defense still isn’t great. Green can’t take the best forwards, and his rebounding work is abysmal. The Wizards guard like a league-worst defense with the veteran out there,

But a team anchored by an inexperienced center and a point guard with severe bone spurs isn’t likely to offer much resistance anyway. And Brooks will live with the iffy defense so long as Green keeps producing on the other end.

The forward has benefited from his move to the starting lineup in early December. Instead of operating from the elbow or the post with Washington’s bench mob, he’s played a more complementary role, setting screens and spotting up from the corners. He’s getting clean, assisted looks as a result.

Green shot 40.4 percent from deep in last month, and he hoisted 4.8 attempts per 36 minutes. That second number is a big deal. The dude’s role last season was literally “reluctant shooter,” per Nylon Calculus’s offensive archetype model. This year, it’s “pick and pop big,” which is basically the exact opposite.

Teams still treat Green like the unreliable shooter he’s long been. They’ll help from one pass away or leave him uncovered in transition. The difference this year is that Green is punishing them:

That decisiveness has spread through the rest of his game. He’ll drive – usually in a straight line, always to his right – when skittish defenders close out hard against his newfound jumper:

He keeps the offense flowing via handoffs and ball reversals, but he’s skilled enough to ditch the script and find cutters, too:

The Wizards posted a team-high 114.0 offensive rating with Green on the floor in December. He’s helping the team win games and lessening Beal’s burden just a tad.

Our data-driven player talent grades at BBall Index also paint a similar picture. Green is playing some of his best basketball, delivering a performance so far this season that looks more like his 2013-14 self than 2017-18 self.

Rival teams will come calling for Green, hoping to steal away his adaptable offensive game and tiny $2.4 million cap hit in time for a playoff run. His play this year, and his status as an under-the-radar trade target, are worth a more in-depth article in the coming weeks. Get your popcorn ready.

The Youngsters Are Finally Getting Some Tick

Wall, Otto Porter, and Markieff Morris have been shelved or limited with injuries for much of December. Dwight Howard remains out. Brooks has had to turn to young players on cheap contracts.

Thomas Bryant continues to start at the five. He isn’t improving the team’s rebounding issues, but you can see him learning every night on defense, and he’s a long, bouncy finisher around the rim. Bryant’s December slash-line – .688/.357/.839 – is terrific. He’s still limited overall, but his A- Finishing and Roll Gravity talent grades in our metrics show his value.

Sam Dekker has claimed a rotation spot since coming over from Cleveland. He cannot shoot or draw fouls, which will be an issue long-term, but he’s compensated with smart cuts and easy offensive boards when defenses ignore him. The talent grades that excite for Dekker are his A- Off-Ball Movement and Finishing grades.

Even Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s buried rookie, is getting some run. He logged 15 minutes against the Lakers and 18 against Charlotte. He looks lost sometimes, but that’ll subside the more he plays. He’s an NBA athlete with court vision. We’ll see about the rest of his game with Wall out and Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers gone.

These guys aren’t lottery picks, so they aren’t particularly big investments. But that just means Washington brass can afford to be more rational when evaluating whether they’re part of the team’s future.

It’s possible they aren’t. But there’s only one way to find out.

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