With just 22 NBA stars on their roster in the spring of 2015, this was supposed to be the franchise that would take forever to pay off. Already, Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford were hardly household names when they first joined the Wizards. But the first year was sweet, thanks to the Carmelo Anthony trade.
This year, Paul George and Paul Pierce made bold moves in hopes of landing the title they’ve been chasing since the mid-’90s. John Wall is finally hitting his prime. Now, after adding Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky and Markieff Morris to the team last summer, the Wizards want to be — or at least talk about being — a title contender.
The expectations are gone.
More than half the roster is new, which is why there are two less stars around this year than there were a year ago. That’s a lot of holes to fill. But over a month into the NBA season, the Wizards aren’t looking like a down-and-out team anymore.
With young talent like Kelly Oubre Jr., Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi, the stars are gradually acclimating to the playing unit’s new structure. So far, the results are favorable. They’re beat the free-falling Suns on Monday night and have a commanding 3-0 record against the Clippers.
Through three games, the team is 20-9 and all but hanging up a 6-foot curtain over the basket. With Oubre scoring 20.3 points per game and posting a player efficiency rating over 20, and Beal adding 22.5 points per game to the Wizards’ offense (in the competition pool), it’s easy to see why coach Scott Brooks signed a five-year, $70 million contract and opened the playbook.
With better shots to be taken, the team has produced more efficient basketball.
It was almost a given the new-look Wizards would be much better from 3-point range than they were in the George-Pierce era. Washington made just 26.3 percent of its 3s in last year’s campaign. But with its current cast, the Wizards are already shooting 39.8 percent on 3s in the first three games.
For a rebuild, Brooks had an impressive haul. Satoransky, the 27-year-old Macedonian PG who is averaging 8.3 points, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game, was one of the final candidates for the assistant’s gig when he interviewed. And over the offseason, he was hired by the Wizards. He has brought the pace that led to an NBA championship in the Summer League in Las Vegas, where Bradley Beal scored 30.
Already, Satoransky, a title contender at the 2011 Australian Summer League, is raising his profile. He’s at 97.5 in rating by NBA.com and 91.3 by HoopData for his preseason statistics.
Ariza is a former teammate of Brooks’s. Like Satoransky, he is a Euro point guard that is scoring 18.3 points on 44.5 percent from deep. Ariza signed a three-year deal worth up to $31 million with the Wizards, whom he led to the NBA finals in 2008. He has made the most of his rare opportunity to shine in this young season.
Already, someone has called Ariza his protégé. Beal — who decided he would rather learn under Brooks rather than do so elsewhere — has argued that Ariza has better tools as a floor general, calling him the “center” of the Wizards’ offense.
“I’m kind of not too happy about that,” Ariza told The Associated Press. “But we like to have matchups. I think when we need somebody to hit a 3, we’ll find him.”
Ariza averages 6.7 assists, three assists less than he does for Washington, with 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. That should make the line drive effort more effective, as the 34-year-old should help get Wall to the hoop and elevate Oubre to the spotlight.
Meanwhile, Satoransky — a 28-year-old who can put up a handful of assists, seven rebounds and five assists on most nights — makes life easier for the Wizards’ biggest star. He’s one of two point guards in the nation to assist a player with their first seven shots. Only Wall has more assists in the same number of attempts.
And by the way, he might be a good playmaker.