Earlier this month, after the Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors on opening night, a reporter mentioned in the postgame press conference that it was just the third time they were 1-0 in Bradley Beal's career. Upon hearing that stat, newly arrived big man Montrezl Harrell perked up. "I'm glad to be a part of that," Harrell said, while offering Beal a fist pound.
Just over a week later, Harrell has done much more than help the Wizards win their first game. On Thursday night, in his first start for the club, Harrell went for 25 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to lead the Wizards to a 122-111 win over the Atlanta Hawks. With that result, the Wizards are now 4-1, which has them in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference and off to their best start since 2015.
For the past year-plus, much of the talk surrounding the Wizards, certainly on a national level, has been gossip about a possible Bradley Beal trade. He has been included in more fake trades than you can count, and there was a general sense that a trade request was just a matter of time -- especially after the Wizards traded Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason.
Instead, Beal has continued to pledge his loyalty to D.C., and the three players the Wizards got in the Westbrook trade -- Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma -- have helped power their turnaround. They might have lost Westbrook's star power, but they gained some much-needed depth and versatility, as evidenced by the fact that they're 4-1 despite Beal shooting 35.9 percent from the field and 17.2 percent from 3-point land.
Thursday's victory over the Hawks provided more evidence, as Harrell stepped into the starting lineup with confidence and the entire trio shined. With each scoring 20-plus points, they combined for 67 points, 29 rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Harrell's energy and effort around the basket were crucial, as he grabbed as many offensive rebounds as the entire Hawks team, and was a major part of the Wizards scoring 17 second-chance points. Caldwell-Pope's shooting also stood out, as he knocked down five of his seven 3-point attempts to bring his average from behind the arc up to 50 percent on the season.
It's still early in the season, of course, and the Wizards haven't had the most difficult schedule. But while it's too early to declare that the Wizards are going to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season, it is clear that they're going to be better than preseason projections.
Their win total as set by William Hill in the offseason was just 34.5, which was the seventh-lowest mark in the entire league. Ten days into the season and they're already more than 10 percent of the way to hitting the over. But as well as things have gone so far, the Wizards aren't content just yet.
"We still have a ton of work to do," coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. "We take the wins. It's OK to win ugly, but we can't afford to be satisfied."