- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Washington Wizards have won three of four and are 4-2 in their last six. No parade routes are being mapped, but this is progress for a team that started so discombobulated. The latest win was Wednesday night’s 109-106 hold-your-breath-at-the-end victory against the Charlotte Hornets. A 3-point shot at the buzzer by Charlotte’s Kemba Walker spun out, allowing the Wizards to shake off another shaky close in a tight game. Three points from the evening:

1. Another crisp night for Oubre. Markieff Morris did not play because of a sore left foot after spraining his left ankle against the Miami Heat on Monday. Kelly Oubre Jr. started in his place, a logical option against the wing-heavy Hornets. He played well. Oubre was 7-for-12 from the field and pulled in six rebounds. Four of those makes were dunks. He provides an element of speed and athleticism that the larger Morris lacks. Against Charlotte, it was a perfect fit. The Wizards will need to hope Morris is healed by the time the Los Angeles Clippers and bruising Blake Griffin come to town Sunday afternoon. That’s not a player at the power forward spot who Oubre or Otto Potter could match. Though it was just one night, Wizards coach Scott Brooks was asked if Oubre would remain the starter when Morris returns. Brooks snuffed out the idea, though commended Oubre for his recent growth following the three principles Brooks wants him focused on: Run, rebound and defend.

2. The Wizards keep hanging around. The start was a mess when they bottomed out at 2-8. John Wall was sitting out back-to-back games. Bradley Beal had a hamstring problem. Ian Mahinmi was (is) hurt. The Wizards lacked continuity on all levels. Yet, they are 10-14 now — and three shots away from 13-11 — with eight games to play before the calendar turns. Washington is 11th in the Eastern Conference, but just two games back in the loss column of the fifth spot, which belongs to the 14-12 Hornets they beat Wednesday night. To take it further, they are 3.5 games out of the No. 3 spot, which surprisingly belongs to the New York Knicks, at the moment. Is their state ideal? Of course not. Could it be worse? Absolutely. Wall and Beal are playing at near-optimum levels. Wall’s effective field-goal percentage for his career is 45.7. This season it is 48.8. His career player efficiency rating is 19.1. This season it is 23.6 despite him playing his way into better shape after offseason knee surgeries. Beal is seeing similar boosts. His effective field goal percentage is up to 53.2 from a career average of 49.3. His PER has taken a large leap from 14.7 to 19.1. That’s what happens when shots come more often at the rim. He has taken 48 shots from 0-3 feet from the basket in just 21 games. In 55 games last season, Beal took 186 shots from that range. He’s almost a shot per game ahead of that pace thus far and has increased his free throw attempts by 1.6 per game. That’s a formula for greater efficiency.

3. A tentative agreement on a new CBA has been reached, and you can thank the NBPA leader. The day Major League Baseball announced a new CBA, the NBA did the same. Considering the financial climate — basketball is raking in money thanks to a new television deal and ongoing global expansion — the new CBA is no surprise. The animosity that led to the lockout in 2011 was not present since so many are making money now. Jason Smith is the Wizards player rep. He attributes the ease of negotiations to Michele Roberts, who took over as the executive director of the national basketball players association in July of 2014, succeeding the under-fire Billy Hunter.

“The players association has really got its structure back under itself,” Smith said. “We’ve got Michele Roberts fighting for us every day. She didn’t start communication this month, last month. It’s been since she got elected our players association head that she’s been in constant communication with the NBA and it’s been great. We’re really looking forward to the future of the players association. We’re really fighting for things to go our way. The future’s looking good for the players association. We have a new facility in New York. Michele has done so many good things of getting structure in place and really looking at how other sports do things. How the NFL does it, how MLB does it. Some are good and some are bad. We like to take in the good and the bad and make our own assessment of it. Moving forward, we’re really looking forward to having the new deal done. Just making the game of basketball that much bigger.”

How different have things been under Roberts’ leadership?

“Lots more organization,” Smith said. “It’s not a guessing game of what do we do now or what do we do here. It’s really been: This is how we’re going to do it. We have this division for this, this division for that If you have any problems come to us. It’s been great. It’s been really, really good and I think it’s only going to get better because she just stepped in a couple years ago. She’s hit the ground running. She’s done a phenomenal job. Now, moving forward after we get this deal done, it’s not, ‘Oh, job’s over, we can relax a little bit.’ We’re working forward to the next seven years. When that collective bargaining agreement is up again, we’re going to go after it again. It’s exciting to know we have somebody in our corner now.”

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