Bradley Beal claimed the Wizards’ backcourt, which consists of himself and point guard John Wall, is the most talented backcourt in the NBA in September. However, two weeks after that statement, Washington’s star shooting guard was ruled out six to eight weeks due to a left wrist fracture. Without Beal on the court, critics doubted the success Washington would find at the beginning of the season, playing with only one of their two stars in the backcourt. Yet, the Wizards find themselves in first place in the Southeast division through nine games with a 7-2 record. Much of Washington’s success has come as a result of role players producing despite Beal’s injury, and playing impressive team-ball through coach Randy Wittman’s scheme.
Garrett Temple, who averaged 3.6 points per game off the bench for the Wizards last season, is starting in place of Beal this season, and is doing so effectively. The 28-year-old, who has played with six different teams throughout his five-year NBA career, has been played more aggressive on offense this season, averaging 9.1 points per game. Temple’s more aggressive play style has also allowed him to get to the free throw line more often, as he has already made 17 free throws this season, which is more than half of the shots Temple connected on from the free throw line last season.
Temple’s two most impressive contributions to the Wizards this season are what Washington lost when Beal went down with an injury– three-pointers and defense. Temple has connected on 15 three-pointers through nine games this season. In comparison to his 2013-2014 campaign, Temple only made six three-pointers the entire season. Temple is shooting 40% from beyond the three-point line, and is leading the team in total three-pointers made.
On defense, Temple averages 1.4 steals per game. In addition, he gained weight this offseason in order to take advantage of his 6’6” frame, and effectively guard opposing shooting guards and forwards. Temple has proven he deserves a spot in the Wizards’ rotation this season, and even when Beal returns, Temple should improve Washington’s depth in the backcourt.
In addition to Temple, the Wizards’ small forwards that make up a deep rotation at the position have produced efficiently this season.
Starting small forward Paul Pierce has proven he is still a viable starter in the league, as he has averaged 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his first nine games with Washington. Pierce has also provided the Wizards with a veteran who can shoot late-game shots in close games in Beal’s absence.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington’s third overall selection in the 2013 draft, has developed into an effective role player for the Wizards this season. Porter is averaging 8.6 points per game on 55% shooting. His numbers have dramatically increased since the 2013-2014 campaign, where he only averaged 3.4 points per game on 43% shooting. The 6’8” small forward is shooting 44% from the three-point line through nine games, providing a shooting outlet for Washington without Beal on the court.
The third small forward on the depth chart, Rasual Butler, has provided Washington with a scoring option off the bench. The 35-year-old is averaging nine points per game, while shooting 60% from the field.
Despite Beal’s absence, Wall has thrived on both offense and defense for the Wizards’ this season. The 24-year-old is averaging 19.4 points per game, and with the assistance of improved teammates, has continued to rack up assists by finding open teammates for shots. Wall is averaging 9.1 assists per game, a number that has contributed to Washington ranking fourth in the league in assists as a team. The 6’4” point guard has also taken more responsibility on defense in Beal’s absence, averaging 2.3 steals per game. However, Wall has struggled from the three-point line this season, taking more contested three-pointers in Beal’s absence. Wall has only made five of his 20 attempts from the three-point line through nine games. Wall has attempted to replace Beal’s impressive three-point shooting, playing a role that does compliment his own skill-set.
Beal returned to practice on Monday, but has not determined a return date yet. Washington’s role players have proven their ability to produce without Beal on the court, and should continue to produce off the bench when Beal returns. Wittman’s defensive-minded coaching has led the Wizards to allow only 96.4 points per game to their opponent. The improved play from role players in Beal’s absence has proven Washington has a much deeper bench than they had in the 2013-2014 season, when the Wizards were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Beal’s return, whether it be Friday night or in two weeks, should allow the Wizards to become legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference.