After a 2-8 start to the season, the Washington Wizards have turned their season around, winning 14 consecutive games at the Verizon Center.
With Washington positioned favorably in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, PressBox talked to Wizards radio color-analyst Glenn Consor of WFED 1500 about the team's recent success and his expectations moving forward.
What has been your impression of new head coach Scott Brooks during his first season?
Glenn Consor: I could not be more impressed with the way he, No. 1, coaches, prepares, his way with the players, his way with the media. He really has it down. I mean, he's not a paranoid guy who thinks he knows more than everybody and doesn't come off that way. And he is somebody that has command of the players; they respect him. He's a players' coach because he's been in the league, so he understands and gets it. And, you know, I think he's developing talent; I think he's been pushing the right buttons trying to figure out a team that, at least initially, didn't look like they had a good bench. I think he's pushing the right buttons with his substitutions, calling the right plays on out-of-bounds plays -- I couldn't be more impressed with everything. He's really done a great job coming in and, with nine new players and a starting five that was together, incorporating both the bench and starters to his system, which is not an easy thing to do.
What has been the biggest contributing factor to the Wizards' recent success?
GC: I think that the bench is developing; I think [guard] John [Wall] and [guard] Brad [Beal] have been carrying this team. … I think it's been a lot of things; it's been multiple factors, not just one thing. Brad and John have been playing at an all-star, elite level, and in the NBA, you're going to lose based on how your stars perform. End of story; that's how it is. And I think Brad and John have been playing very, very well and have been getting better at some of the deficiencies that they've had in their careers. So, John's doing a better job managing possessions and making good decisions with shot selection, and Bradley just fought through a little bit of a slump. So, I think those two guys are good enough to carry this team. That being said, I don't think anybody coming into the season would have expected [forward] Otto Porter to be playing the way he's played. You know, he's second in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage, he's had games where he's had double-figure rebounds -- he's giving the team what they need. [Forward] Markieff Morris has been rock solid as an enforcer type guy, and, I think, you look at how Marcin Gortat has played, there's not a lot of NBA centers that are averaging double figures in rebounds and scoring, and he's sixth in the NBA in field-goal percentage. So, he's efficient, and he's probably -- Marcin Gortat -- the most undervalued, underappreciated, underestimated center in the league. So I think the starting five has really carried this team as a unit, and the bench is now starting to contribute.
How important has the growth of forwards Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre been this season?
GC: It's been incredibly important. … Otto's development with his shot, I think, has been a big deal. I think the team has always had to embrace his special skill of moving without the basketball, which is what he does. And it takes a while to play with somebody like that or understand how that player moves and reads defenses. But I think John and the rest of the team has embraced that now, and it's taken some time. That being said, he's really had to improve his perimeter shot, and it really has brought him to a new level. I think the next dimension he's going to get is taking guys off the bounce and becoming an iso player, where you can give it to him and clear out. That's probably, I believe, the next phase that we'll see maybe next year. … Otto, to me, has got to be in the discussion at the end of the season, if it ended right now or he continues to play the way he's been playing now, as Most Improved Player in the NBA. Kelly Oubre is, it's rare to find a young player -- he's only 20 years old -- that has a passion to play defense. And when you've got a guy out there that wants to play defense, that has the desire to shut guys down, that views it as being fun, man, you've got a special player. And I think, similar to Otto, he's shown lately that he can bang in threes. He's got to work on his ball handling and his drives to the basket from a decision-making standpoint, but he's only 20 years old. I think, potential wise … those two guys are young, so their upside is unlimited.
Describe the atmosphere at the Verizon Center since the home-winning streak began.
GC: It's been gradual, you know? I personally think that the atmosphere has been great, but it could be a lot better. … This is a basketball town, and the fans need to embrace this team. They've won 14 straight games at the Verizon Center, and I think each home win, as we advance here with this streak, the fans are really starting to get it, and they're starting to get behind this team. And I think the Celtics game [Jan. 24], the last Celtics game, really proved that. You know, every time the Wizards play a team like the Celtics, there's always a lot of Celtics fans or Golden State fans that will come to the Verizon Center and try to be boisterous enough that it takes over. Well, they tried [Jan. 24], and all of a sudden, when the Wizards started to really lay their wood down on the Celtics, it changed. And that's the type of situation where I think the fans get really behind this team, and it's become a tremendous home-court advantage now. But I think it could be better.
Currently positioned as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, what are realistic expectations for this Wizards team in the postseason?
GC: In the postseason? It's up for grabs. Look, you don't want to play Cleveland. Toronto has stumbled a little bit lately, but they're a very good basketball team. You have good teams in the East this year, but I think there's a group of teams that are lumped together, and a lot of this is going to fall on how teams continue to improve -- and avoid injuries, obviously. … There's a bunch of teams, like Atlanta, like Indiana, that could surprise. And look what Philly's doing now; Philly's starting to win games. Things have to come together; I think from the Wizards' standpoint, you know, you've got to get [center Ian] Mahinmi back as another big guy that can defend, and defend the paint, and defend the rim. He's got to come back into the mix. And you never know what's going to happen in February once the trade deadline comes, that'll also determine what happens. But the way the team is sitting right now, this team is capable of going to the Eastern Conference Finals. I don't see why not, and I don't care what anybody says, it's possible.