The January Washington Wizards are a group of strangers you’ve never heard of, yet they’re beating your favorite team. None of it makes sense. But it’s all true. The Wizards have rolled out a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas (yes, that one), Gary Payton II (no, not that one), Troy Brown Jr., someone named Johnathan Williams and Ian Mahinmi and beaten the Celtics. A mixture of other assorted no-names have helped knock off the Heat and Nuggets, too, in a span of eight days.
The Wizards are the most joyous team in the NBA at a time they really shouldn’t be. John Wall, the team’s highest-paid player, hasn’t played a game in more than a year. Bradley Beal, the team’s best player, has missed the last three games to a leg injury. The team’s breakout stud Davis Bertans hasn’t played since Dec. 21. First-round rookie Rui Hachimura? Out since Dec. 17 to a groin injury. Thomas Bryant? Out since Dec. 2 to a foot injury. Moe Wagner’s been out since Dec. 11 to an ankle injury.
The Wizards were a bad team to start. They’re in even worse shape now. Yet here we are.
How are they doing this?
Magic, mostly. There’s no other explanation.
Since Dec. 30, the Wizards have played five games. Bradley Beal has played in just one. The next-leading scorers after Beal are Jordan McRae at 22 points per game on just 40 percent shooting, and Ish Smith, who’s scored 21 points per game on an unreal 55 percent shooting with five assists. If you have no idea who McRae is, it’s because he was the No. 58 pick in the 2014 draft who is already on his third team, excluding the year he played in Liga ACB for Boskonia. Smith is a 31-year-old playing for his 11th NBA team.
The next-best scorers include: Second-year player Troy Brown Jr., who is scoring 14 points per game; Garrison Mathews, an undrafted rookie from low-major DI Lipscomb, is scoring 13 points per game; and Thomas, the once-superstar from the Celtics, is scoring nine points.
How’d they beat the Heat?
The Wizards didn’t just beat the Heat, they crushed them by 18 points. This was the Mathews night. Yeah, that rookie from Lipscomb scored 28 on nine field goal attempts. In addition to him, Mahinmi — a once outcast, overpaid big — scored 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting. And McRae scored 29 on 14 field-goal attempts.
How’d they beat the Nuggets?
The Wizards didn’t just beat the Nuggets, either. They crushed them by 14 points in the first of two Smith nights. Smith scored 32 points on 15-of-24 shooting with eight assists and three steals off the bench. Brown Jr. contributed with 25 points, and Isaac Bonga (a guy traded to make the Anthony Davis to LA deal work,) scored 15. Jamal Murray’s 39 didn’t matter. The Wizards’ bench scored 92 points!
How’d they beat the Celtics?
The Wizards beat the Celtics by five points on a night Kemba Walker didn’t play — but still! Smith went off again for 27 points on 18 shots, McRae scored 19, Thomas 17 and Brown Jr. 15. Washington held Boston to 35 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent from distance. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward had just 50 points combined on 55 shots.
Look how much fun these Wizards are having!
Moe Wagner’s reaction to an Ish Smith crossover while wearing a walking boot is amazing lololololz pic.twitter.com/9bNab51PSW— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) January 7, 2020
So ... Are the Wizards actually good?
No. The Wizards are being outscored by 0.6 points per 100 possessions since Dec. 30, including double-digit losses to the Magic and Trail Blazers. The Wizards still stink. They won’t make the playoffs. But damn, if you’re going to tank, this is absolutely how.
For as bad as the old, tanking Sixers were they provided nightly entertainment rolling out nobody after nobody until a somebody — hi, Robert Covington — emerged. And there weren’t many wins, which helped the tank — hi, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — but when they came, oh man, were they fun.
And that’s what the Wizards are doing right now. And everyone’s having fun!
Rachel Nichols explained it well:
Washington is without franchise direction, stuck with one star injured for maybe the entire season again, and another star entering his prime without sufficient talent surrounding him to compete. These wacky lineups are a way to one day relieve Beal’s pain. Maybe Mathews is legit! Maybe Brown Jr. is a star in the making. The Wizards are finding out, and accidentally winning in the process.
For once, it’s fun to be a Wiz fan.