In the summer, it did not look like the Washington Wizards had a hope of becoming the force they craved to be.
After finishing tenth last season, they missed out on the playoffs and it cost Randy Wittman his job. Heading into this campaign, the Wizards had only made the postseason twice in the last eight years.
That was simply not good enough when you considered the talent they have at their disposal, especially in the backcourt.
John Wall is a former number one overall pick who is already a four-time All-Star. By all accounts, even statistically this season, he is the Wizards’ crown jewel and best player.
But, he is not paid like it right now.
Wall is averaging 22.9 points a night with 10.7 assists, 4.5 boards and 2.1 steals. He has also made 32 blocks this season.
His backcourt partner, Bradley Beal, is averaging 22.6 points, 3.6 dimes, 2.9 rebounds and one steal. He has managed 12 blocks this term.
Wall will earn $15,756,438 this season – the third-highest paid player on the team – while Beal will take home $22,116,750 after signing a max-contract last summer.
In fact, Beal is the 16th best-paid player in the league and the eight-best paid guard.
As you can imagine, that seemed to breed a point of contention, especially when Wall made comments like these ahead of the 2016-17 season.
“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side,” Wall said. “If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball.”
However, both men have moved to silence the murmurs of discontent since and the results have been for all to see on the court this year.
“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”
“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”
So how have they risen to third in the Eastern Conference?
Coach Scott Brooks has done a tremendous job of maximising the influence of his two guards and having them use their elite athleticism to run the floor.
The tall trees likes Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat have played their roles well too, creating space and prioritising screens to help the guards flourish.
There is no doubt the plights of the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls have helped as well, but where those franchises gambled and lost with big names, the Wizards focused on developing what they had in-house.
When it comes to the fast-paced, floor-spacing NBA of today, the ability to stretch the game and run opponents is a quality that all the top teams exhibit.
The Wizards, behind Brooks’ vision, have invested in that strategy and while they have Beal – an elite shooter in the league – and Wall – one of the most dynamic guards in the Association – playing into that system, they are bound for postseason action.
Perhaps the turbulent summer that saw the relationship between Wall and Beal scrutinised did them more good than harm. However, the introduction of Brooks has helped them flourish the most.