Scott Brooks all smiles during training camp has took the Wizards from lottery expectations to eastern conference contenders in less than a full season
As the NBA season wind down, more and more thought is going towards individual season accolades. The main discussion is the MVP race between Oklahoma City Thunder triple double machine Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets do everything guard James Harden. I however have been focused on another race, Coach of the Year. It's an interesting race between, in my opinion, three coaches. You have the Rocket's Mike D'Antoni, Utah Jazz Quin Snyder, and the Washington Wizards Scott Brooks. While all are deserving, I believe the most deserving is Scott Brooks. I'll explain below.
1. John Wall's growth from perennial All Star to MVP Candidate -
The late great John Wooden once said the three things to being a successful coach is to first, make certain that you always have better players than anybody you play. Second, make sure you always get those better players to put the team above themselves; that is imperative. Finally, don't try and be some coaching genius or guru. Don't give your players too much information. Remember there are only five variables or players on the court. Always practice simplicity with constant repetition." All three points you can see being applied to John Wall. Wall is having the best season of his career coming off his most challenging off season health wise, due to knee surgery. In a well documented visit that Brooks had with Wall during recovery from surgery last summer, the tone for this season was set. Brook's challenged Wall to become a legitimate MVP caliber point guard, and that if the team overall was to elevate their respective games, he would have to take the lead in that area first. Wall has responded in kind, averaging a team high 23.4 points, 10.8 assist, 4.2 rebounds and 2 steals per game on 45 percent shooting from the field to help lead the Wizards to a 46-29 record as this article is published. Compare that to Wall's numbers during the 15-16 season where he averaged 19.9 points, 10.2 assist, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game on 42 percent shooting from field while the Wizards finished 41-41. Improved efficiency and leadership from Wall is something that Brooks has been demanding from his all star point guard since he was hired last summer and the results have exceeded most expectations throughout the league. Now you hear MVP chants for Wall in arenas outside the Verizon center as the Wizards sit third in the east as southeast champs.
2. Brad Beal's consistency -
This was a huge year for Beal as he came in needing to prove that he could be consistent with staying healthy and playing at the all star level that he has shown flashes of in years past, especially coming off signing a $125 million deal last summer. Wall even let it be known that it was time for Beal to elevate his game now, “Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star." All that has followed is the best season of the young shooting guards career. Beal is second on the team in scoring with 23.1 points, 3.5 assist and 3.1 rebounds per game on 48 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting from three-point range and 81 percent from the line. A vast improvement from an injury plagued 15-16 campaign where he posted 17.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assist on 44 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from three point territory and 76 percent from the free throw line. Brooks stated during last summer that he wanted to see Beal first, stay healthy, next improve his play making off the bounce to help take pressure off Wall, and to be one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NBA, mission accomplished. After playing only 55 games during the 15-16 season, Beal has played 71 of the teams 77 games this season. He didn't become an all star ( a discussion for another time) although he has shut up the critics, met Brooks lofty expectations by performing at an all star level and by doing so, he has helped push the Wizards to the top of the eastern conference. You hear any talk about him not being worth the money now? Yea, me neither.
3. Otto Porters emergence -
Wizards undisputed x-factor this season has been Otto Porter and it's right on time. After a sub par 15-16 season where he averaged a modest 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds a game on 47 percent shooting from the field, 36 percent shooting from three-point range and 76 percent shooting from the free throw line. Most in the nations capital were calling for second year wing Kelly Oubre to supplant Porter as the starting small forward. Enter Scott Brooks. Brooks behind the scenes told Porter like Wall and Beal that he would have to become a more efficient shooter, especially spotting up from the three point line as he would be the recipient of a lot of Wall and Beal passes when they break down the defense. Porter now has become one of the NBA's top 3-point marksman. Averaging 13.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, on 52 percent shooting from the field, 44 percent shooting from 3-point range and 82 percent shooting from the line. Add in his versatility on the defensive end and Porter has become one of the more coveted forwards in the league once the free agency period begins his summer. All it took was positive reinforcement from a new head coach to spark the maturation of a dual threat forward who can be a key contributor on a contending team.
4. Development of Kelly Oubre -
Last summer, Brooks made it very clear what Oubre's role would be and that he would give him an opportunity if he did one thing....play consistent defense. Oubre has thrived in the role overall despite some lapses here and there. He guards the 1-4, and is often counted on to contain the opposing team's best offensive threat, no small feat. In a much anticipated 127-115 win over the defending NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month, Oubre helped hold all star guard Kyrie Irving to 8-23 shooting as the Cavs routinely targeted Oubre in pick & roll situations and Oubre accepted the challenge and shined. At 6'7, with elite athleticism and a 7'2 wingspan, Oubre has earned a reputation around the league as a lock down defender already in his young career. The sky is truly the limit and with Brooks at the helm, Oubre has a shot at reaching it.
5. Team Improvement -
Lastly, after a forgettable 15-16 campaign, expectations coming into this season regarding the Wizards was low. Outside of us at The Focus, and the Wizards organization, playoffs wasn't even a consideration. Under Brooks, the Wizards have changed that. Improving by 5 games from last season with five games remaining in the season to becoming legitimate threats to the Cavs reign in the eastern conference. Players have improved, the culture has changed and wins have followed, despite a ugly 3-9 start to the season with Brooks leading the charge. Remember those three keys from Wooden to being a successful coach, Scott Brooks is validating Coach Wooden's words of wisdom. Brooks last summer said his goal was to establish a winning culture this season, he's done that when very few believed, next step....building a championship culture. After whats been accomplished this season, I wouldn't doubt Brooks, he's done the impossible already.