Wizards have a strong core we can only hope stays healthy

USA TODAY Sports

If the Wizards' top three players can stay healthy, the core is strong enough to produce a good team next season. That and much more in Tuesday's Hook.

It's a real shame that the Washington Wizards got off to such a poor start this season. The Wizards began the season with 12 straight losses, and were 4-28 at one point. Since then, the team is 11-7. While that record -- with healthy players, what a luxury! -- may be a more accurate reflection of the team's quality, the hole is just too big to fill, as I wrote in a weekend playoff picture update.

It's unfortunate particularly because the Wizards just might have a good three-player core here. Washington extended its win streak to a season-long four on Monday, blasting the Bucks in Milwaukee. All four wins have come against playoff teams. Bradley Beal was the star of this show with 28 points on 10-17 shooting off the bench. But beyond that the Wizards continued a strong trend: good things happen when Nene, Emeka Okafor and John Wall play together. The crew has 200 minutes under its belt now, and is outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions in that time. Particularly important for Okafor has been Nene's presence: Emeka is a +3 overall but a +7 with Nene. The Brazilian has an off-the-charts plus-minus (+15), thanks largely to how stunningly awful (-10) the Wizards have been when Nene sits. Wall is a +14 after 400 minutes, including a +6 when playing.

Forget about Beal for a second. Just those three core Wizards -- with the shot creation and scoring of Wall, the efficient scoring and defense of Nene and the defense of Okafor -- are making a big difference for the team. Based on the numbers, which are admittedly limited due to Wall's long injury recovery, the Wizards can be a good team with this three-man core, barring injury.

Now bring Beal back in. Before Wall's debut, Beal was shooting an effective field goal percentage of .421. Since Jan. 12, when Wall first played this season, Beal has an eFG of .561. Part of this may well be Beal finding his way in the league. Part of it might be an indicator for how extensive the Wizards' weakness behind Wall at point guard had been. But part of it may also be that with Wall, shots come easier for everyone else. Just a hunch.

Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis set a goal of .500 ball the rest of the season once Wall returned. The team is now 10-7 after Wall's return. It won't pay off with a playoff run this season, but landing Nene and Okafor looks stronger and stronger every game now. Like many in D.C., no doubt, I can't wait to see what this team could do with a fresh start.

(I totally just jinxed them, didn't I?)

BOXING OUT

In which we geek out about a box score line.

Ricky Rubio is special in several ways, but what's most obvious as his career takes flight is that you always know that he's been on the court, good and/or bad. Use Monday as an example. He had 11 points and 10 assists ... plus five steals ... plus seven turnovers. He had a direct hand in ending 27 Minnesota possessions; based on lineup data, he was on the court for 68 offensive possessions. So he ended 40 percent of the Timberwolves' possessions while on the court with a shot, turnover or assist. And that doesn't include potential assists on missed shots by teammates or potential assists that led to free throws. Like I said, there's no disguising the fact that Ricky Rubio has been in the game, for better or worse.

DEEP CUTS

* Last week Zach Lowe laid out some of the camera-based data from STATS LLC from this season. Most interesting to me were two items. The first is that there are still only 15 teams using the service. And something tells me the other 15 franchises don't have their own rig and staff doing the same thing. I'm not sure it's a huge advantage for the teams that subscribe, but it's certainly an advantage. Yet so many of the worst teams in the league (Charlotte, Sacramento, Detroit, the Lakers) don't utilize it. It's not cheap. But when you're dropping $50 million on a set of players at the low end, any other investment pales. The second interesting point: teams are on average more efficient on drives (defined as when a player dribbles a ball from at least 20 feet from the rim to within 10 feet) than on non-drives, even when not including transition possessions. Having watched the Kings so closely, I would have thought the exact opposite! (Tyreke Evans' middle name is either Jamir or Dribble-Drive Into Traffic. Hard to remember which sometimes.) Lowe notes that the Rockets score 1.5 points per possession on James Harden drives. That is just completely ridiculous. (The average NBA possession produces a little better than one point per possession.)

* The great Will Leitch wrote about Darren Rovell, and specifically my disagreements with the sports business reporter. I take particular umbrage at Rovell's constant coda that fans have an unyielding duty to turn out for their teams. That's what Rovell's infamous "empty arena pics" are supposed to say: they are meant to shame fans for not consuming a particular product. What gets my goat is that Rovell recently tweeted out a pic of a fairly empty upper level at a Kings home game against a similarly bad Suns squad, and asked "Why are we trying to save the Kings?" The extent of the intellectual dishonesty -- assuming he understands what the Maloofs have been pulling for six-plus years -- is stunning. (You'll notice that after ripping Kings fans for daring to believe in their own ability to make a statement on Saturday he didn't tweet any videos or photos from a nearly packed house. Because that might contradict the point he's trying to make, you see.)

* If there was any question as to whether Arnie Kander is the NBA's greatest trainer, look no further than Terry Foster's notebook in the Detroit News. Andre Drummond, the rookie wunderkind, is out for a bit with a back injury. Kander (whose greatest hits include banning the Nike Hyperize from team use after a couple of sprains, drawing the quiet ire of Eugene Beaverton, Oregon) needs Drummond to pay attention to his posture. The staff also doesn't want to remove Drummond from the locker room, where he's building important relationships on his path to greatness. So Kander has Drummond playing a drum in front of the team, coaxing him to sit up straight and tap faster. Can we get a reality show starring Kander and Nuggets trainer Steve Hess working out civilians? And can I please sign up?

***

The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives .

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