(EPA/SHAWN THEW CORBIS OUT)

If basketball is the hip-hop community then the Washington Wizards are the Wu-Tang Clan; a group that can operate independently, but is always stronger if coalescing into one crew. John Wall has put himself in a dark-horse seat for the MVP race while vaulting the Wizards into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 17-6 record.

John Wall has never finished a season averaging more than 8.7 assists per 36 minutes. Currently, he’s averaging 10.4 and has 14 double-doubles, tied for the most in the league. He had 30 last year and has 59 games remaining this season.

The team has improved dramatically in a number of areas, but the most noticeable progression has come in passing. Washington is second in the league in team assists per game (25.7) and has the most assists of any franchise this season (590). The Wizards are projected to finish their 2014-15 campaign with 2,106.3 assists; not bad for a team that has finished inside the top 10 in total assists once since 1999 and last broke the 2,000-mark threshold in 1992-93. The team’s projected total would be the highest of any team since the Utah Jazz posted 2,187 assists in 2009-10.

More importantly, the figure speaks to the improvements the team has made in scoring over the last two seasons. The Wizards have grown accustomed to sitting in the league’s lowest scoring rung for much of the last decade, and while sitting No. 17 isn’t the most spellbinding prima facie proof of all time, the improvements add up.

There’s a reason why the Wizards are one of three teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record against teams across the aisle. There’s a reason why Washington is shooting the fifth-best field goal percentage in the league.

This isn’t to say that more passes mean more assists:

The Wizards no longer look like a challenger-to-be; they are a franchise that can contend in the here and now, materialized from an offseason spent buying into fundamentals. If Coach Randy Whittman and his squad continue to spread the ball in the manner they have thus far, there will be an ostensible silver lining for the athletics in the nation’s capital, and a promising coalition of facilitators making a run in the NBA postseason.

Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Vice, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He’s currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer. Let him know on Twitter (@JPlanos) how baseless his work is.