The Oklahoma City Thunder have been tied to the Wizards all season long. It started in the off-season when Washington turned down a trade that would have sent Bradley Beal and Chris Singleton to the Thunder for James Harden. Then, with the season in full swing sans John Wall, the Wiz fell to 5-28 and their 34th game of the season was against OKC. With Wall returning the next game, many people didn’t think Washington stood a chance. The Wizards beat the Thunder, John Wall returned the next game, and since that Thunder victory, Washington has boasted a 21-16 record. Tonight the Wiz roll into OKC and look to complete the season sweep of last year’s Western Conference champs.
But after stepping back and looking at the situation, all of what Washington has done the last three years is starting to resemble that of how the Thunder have built their championship caliber team. Washington isn’t the most appealing NBA city to play in and hasn’t been able to reel in the big-time free agents to the likes of the Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Clippers, etc. Over the last three years, the Wiz have started establishing their core through the draft a la the Thunder. If you can look past the 2011 draft, which is a hard thing to do, the Wizards have landed potential franchise player type talent. In 2010, the Wizards got their point guard of the future in John Wall and also landed Kevin Seraphin who is developing into a decent big man off the bench. After the 2011 draft which saw Grunfeld draft the under-whelming Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, the Wiz nailed their 2012 draft pick in Bradley Beal. Now the Wizards have their guard position set for the next 10 years if they can keep them in tact, their future as a backcourt tandem is as bright as any team in the league.
The draft isn’t the only way Washington compares to OKC though. The Wizards have also made some savvy trades, which I know is hard to wrap your head around with EG running the show. But the trades to ship out knuckleheads McGee, Blatche, and Swaggy P for quality veterans has done wonders to locker room morale and the overall culture of the team, and our young talent is starting to show greater signs of improvements because of it. While the Thunder weren’t shipping out knuckleheads for veterans, they were shipping out young pieces that they drafted for solid, defensive minded players that have helped establish the team’s identity. And that is exactly what the Wizards did when they acquired Trevor Ariza, Nene, and Emeka Okafor. This season the Wizards rank 6th in the league in points allowed and 8th in the league in rebounding and the Wiz have established themselves as a defense first team.
Don’t think the comparisons stop there either. In the 2008-2009 season in which Durant was in his second year in the league and Westbrook was a rookie, the Thunder compiled a miserable 23-59 record. At their lowest point that season, the Thunder boasted a 3-29 record. Very similar to the 2012-2013 Wizards in which John Wall is in his third year and Bradley Beal is just in his rookie season. The Thunder followed their 08-09 campaign with a tremendous turnaround and finished the 09-10 season with a 50-32 record. They were led by their own young draft picks Durant, Westbrook, and yet another home-run of a draft pick in James Harden who was leading their second unit. With the Wizards sure to be drafting in the top 10 picks come June, the team should be looking for their small forward of the future or their big man of the future who will probably be leading Washington’s second unit next season.
Now I’m not saying the Wizards are going to win 50 games next season or that Wall and Beal are as good as Durant and Westbrook. But the pieces are starting to add up and our young guards are starting to show their All-Star caliber talent. In the Eastern Conference, every playoff team aside from the Heat is facing some sort of off-season roster questions. The Thunder (and the Sonics) went through a four season playoff drought before their return to relevance and this season marks the fifth straight that the Wizards will be lottery bound. The stars are starting to align for Washington, and if they can Oklahoma City the 2013 NBA draft, the Phone Booth could return to its electric ways for Wizards post-season basketball next year. In the wake of NBA superstars jumping ship to team up with other superstars, the Wizards could very well become the Thunder of the Eastern Conference. And how fitting would it be to go 3-0 against the team you are trying to become before you make that ascension? Until next time, Stay Steezy my friends.