The Dynasty Washington Wizards Preview
What was the most rewarding offseason move for the Wizards?
John: That’s a tough one, but I’ll say Alan Anderson. The Wizards added depth to their bench when they acquired Anderson for a low price from the Brooklyn Nets. Anderson is a skilled ball handler who possesses a strong shot as well. As a bench player, Anderson has averaged 7.9 points per game throughout his six seasons in the NBA (he spent quite a few years in China as well, let’s not forget). He’s a strong veteran presence and someone that will only help this young Wizards squad going forward.
Leo: Hopefully, the Wizards’ draft night acquisition of Kelly Oubre Jr. will prove to be their best move. The 19-year-old swingman will certainly infuse the Wiz with the same swagger that Paul Pierce brought the team last season. On draft night, Oubre confidently stated that “whoever’s getting me is getting a jewel.” In one of his his first press conferences as a Wizard, Oubre said, “I’m a Wizard now, so I’m definitely bleeding Wizard blood.”
But of course, the question on the minds of Wizards fans is, “Can he back it up?” Well, in his 36 games with the Kansas University Jayhawks, Oubre made a total of 41 steals, dominated the glass, grabbed 179 rebounds and was a threat from the perimeter, finishing his freshman year with a three-point field goal percentage of 35.8 percent. If he can bring this same level of play to the NBA, the Wizards will have another starring member in the team’s dynamic backcourt.
What are the expectations for John Wall?
John: They’re certainly high. They’ve never been higher, in fact. At 25, Wall is now entering into the prime of his NBA career, and, simply put, he has to deliver. The Wizards are firmly Wall’s team; this team lives or dies by Wall’s performance. Last season, Wall averaged 17.6 points per game (which is also his career average), and his field goal percentage was .445. His points per game average dropped by two from the 2013-14 season (where he averaged 19.2), but his field goal percentage nearly doubled. Wall seems to be evolving into a more complete player (he had 45 blocked shots last season as a defender, five more than in 2013-14), and nothing seems to indicate that this will change next season. I can absolutely see Wall improving on his field goal percentage and his points per game, and there’s no reason to doubt that his defense won’t get better either.
Leo: Nothing short of leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. During the past two NBA seasons, the Wizards needed to force a Game 7 while playing at home against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. And both seasons, the Wizards were knocked out of playoff contention in the second round in a heartbreaking manner. With Paul Pierce on his California-cation, the Wizards need another player to take the reins as a leader. And what better player to do so than #WallStar Point Guard John Wall?
The 25-year-old North Carolina native had a banner season in 2014, playing each game with passion and intensity, improving upon his defense (Wall made a total 45 blocks and 138 steals in the 79 games he played during the regular season) and quickly becoming one of the top passers in the league (792 assists during the 2014-2015 season, second only to Chris Paul). As a result, Wall emerged as a veritable candidate for league MVP well before he played in the 2015 All-Star game, the second consecutive time he had done so. If Wall continues to improve upon his play and bring the same aggression and intensity to his game, there is no ceiling for the Wizards.
And not to forget, a major part of Kevin Durant’s decision during his free-agency in 2016 is contingent on how the teams he is interested in will have done in 2015. With Wall stepping up as a leader, the Wizards can become a real threat in the Eastern Conference and have a chance at persuading Durant to return home.
What was the most painful offseason departure for the Wizards?
John: No brainer. Paul Pierce. Seeing “The Truth” opt out of his Wizards deal to sign with his old coach Doc Rivers’ Clippers wasn’t completely unexpected (as rumors had been circulating that this might happen dating back to mid-April of last season), but it didn’t make it any less frustrating. Pierce was an invaluable piece to the Wizards last season; his veteran presence had a profound impact on John Wall and especially Bradley Beal. Pierce was a mentor figure to both of the Wizards’ young stars, and his departure will no doubt sting. Pierce started 73 games at the three, averaged 11.9 points per game (not bad for a guy who was 37) and had a .447 field goal percentage. However, his ability to come up with clutch shots from three-point land in big moments will be sorely missed by this Wizards team. His absence leaves a gaping hole at the small forward position that Otto Porter and the rookie Kelly Oubre, Jr. will need to fill.
Leo: Although key team contributors like Kevin Seraphin and Rasual Butler have left the team in the offseason, Paul Pierce is probably the biggest loss for the Wizards. The team needs to fill the void of having tremendous coaching and leadership skills for younger players that only a seasoned NBA veteran can provide.
Pierce didn’t just bring unmistakable confidence and swagger to the Wizards. Most importantly, he brought essential mentoring and coaching skills to the team’s players, skills that helped them grow as players and teammates. In the absence of “The Truth,” Washington acquired “three wise men,” as I like to call them. SF Jared Dudley, Shooting Guard Alan Anderson, and Baltimore native Point Guard Gary Neal have a combined have a combined 19 years of NBA playing experience among them. These three players will need to fill this void of veteran mentoring that is left behind by Pierce.
What is your biggest question about the Wizards going into the 2015-16 season?
John: I have two major ones. Will Nene be able to stay healthy for an entire season (fun fact: he’s only played all 82 games in a season once, during the 2009-10 season with Denver)? It is well known that Nene has been plagued with severe foot problems over the last several seasons, and he missed some significant time battling that problem last season. If Nene can stay healthy, the Brazilian big man will figure to be a huge contributor to the success of this team going forward. If he doesn’t, the four might be yet another problem area for the Wizards this season.
My second question has to do with this year’s first round selection, Kelly Oubre, Jr. Can he play basketball? That’s the million dollar question. Oubre is the very definition of a raw player -- he has the talent and the athleticism, but does he have the ability to adapt his game to the pro level? Is he a smart basketball player who will be able to eventually fill the void left by Paul Pierce’s departure? I genuinely don’t know the answer to those questions, and that concerns me considering the Wizards made a deal with the Atlanta Hawks to get him. His cockiness might not win him many friends in the Association, either.
Leo: Can the Wiz win 50 games this season? Past players and coaches as well as the Wizards' General Manager Ernie Grunfeld have talked about reaching this benchmark for decades now. The last time the team won 50 games during the regular season was in 1979, when they won 54 games, reached the NBA Finals, and were still named the Washington Bullets.
So with the new offseason additions of NBA veterans Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, and Gary Neal as well as rookie Kelly Oubre, with one of the best backcourts in the league, with their emphasis on "small ball," will the Wizards be able to pull it off? In my opinion, that is the question that should be on Washington's mind.
Who is the “dark horse” on the Wizards (the guy who quietly has a great year)?
John: I’ll say Marcin Gortat. I think Gortat is one of the more underrated fives in the game right now, and I’ve maintained that position for several years now. He’s an expert shot blocker -- he blocked 110 shots last season, and has averaged 1.4 blocked shots per game since joining the Wizards before the 2013-14 season. I think Gortat will top that statistic this season. I hate to make specific predictions, but I think Gortat has 1.7 or 1.8 blocked shots per game in him this upcoming year. My expectations are sky high for the Polish Hammer.
Leo: Otto Porter Jr. The 22-year-old Small Forward really showed his growth in last season’s playoffs. Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman gave Porter more minutes than he had played during the regular season, and Porter did not disappoint. He proved to be another great stretch-four option for the Wizards and added depth to the team’s bench. Porter helped the Wizards control the glass, which is essential to preventing the opposition from gaining possession and getting a chance to create new scoring opportunities. Porter grabbed 8 or more total rebounds in 7 of the Wizards’ 10 playoff games. In Game 1 of his team’s second-round playoff series versus the Atlanta Hawks, he tallied 11 rebounds off the bench. Porter also helped defensively in other ways. He made as many as 3 steals in a playoff game, and blocked 2 shots during the Wizards’ first-round sweep of the Toronto Raptors.
But Porter didn’t just show his growth on the defensive end. He developed his passing and three-point capabilities as well. Porter was a consistent perimeter shooter, scoring at least 2 three-point Field Goals in half of the games he played. His best three FG percentage was 66.7 percent (2 made three-pointers in 3 attempts). Porter also dished out more assists in John Wall’s absence during the Wiz-Hawks series, making 4 in the Wizards’ last-second win in Game 2. With Pierce gone, Porter can provide a great stretch-four option for the team. Porter developed as a player in the 2015 postseason, becoming a key part of the team. And just like D.C., his stock in the team is always rising.
Who will be the “weak link” on the Wizards this year?
John: I have a hunch it will be Drew Gooden. He’s entering his age 34 season, and last season wasn’t one of his stronger ones. Gooden’s .399 field goal percentage was unremarkable last year, and I can see it being even lower this season. He’s getting older, and with age, one’s numbers start to decline. Drew Gooden is no exception to that rule, and I fully expect that will be in full effect this year. Look for his numbers to take a dip in most categories.
Leo: In my opinion, Martell Webster. The 10-season NBA veteran is part of a crowded roster of Wizards swingmen, or players who have experience as both a Shooting Guard and Small Forward. This list includes three new additions to the team: Anderson, Dudley, and Oubre. The point being, Webster will have to play his hardest to win a spot on the Wizards roster going forward.
Although Webster is entering his fourth year with the Wizards, he has not been a standout player on the team thus far. Webster has experienced a significant decline in minutes played and games started over his three seasons as a Wizard. In the 2012-2013 season, Webster was a starter for 62 of the 76 games he played that year. Webster did not play as large of a role in the team last season. In contrast to his first season with Washington, he played in 32 games and started none, playing a total of 352 minutes.
This is largely due to Webster’s inconsistencies in 2014. Webster made just over 26% of all his Field Goals last season. He was even less accurate with threes, scoring on just 23.3% of his attempts. If you look at Webster’s previous season with the Wizards, these numbers just don’t make sense. In the 2013-2014 season, he shot FG’s at a 43% clip, and made more than 39% of his shots beyond the arc.
Whether Webster will have a breakout season with the Wiz in 2015 is to be seen. However, judging by his decline in shooting accuracy and playing minutes with the Wizards during his three seasons thus far in Washington, this seems highly unlikely. Because of these factors, I deem Martell Webster the weakest link for the Wizards in 2015.
Your final predictions for the Wizards?
John: This is where it gets tricky. If all goes well, I think the Wizards are good for 50-55 wins. They won 46 last year, and I could absolutely see them improving upon that this upcoming season. That’s a big if, though. It may seem obvious, but it’s going to take a total team effort to get there, and the Wizards have to stay healthy. If they lose Wall, Beal, or even Gortat for the season, it’s all over. Furthermore, the role players have to keep delivering (I’m talking to you, Kris Humphries). The Wizards got extremely lucky last season when they got off to that incredibly hot start from October-December. But by January, the Wizards had lost their magic (see what I did there), and they performed atrociously on the road (they finished with a 17-24 road record -- not good). The Wizards had better be a playoff team again this season, or else head coach Randy Wittman might find himself sitting on a pretty hot seat.
Leo: Even as a Wizards fan, I am skeptical about the team’s chances of attaining the same goals they had last season: finishing the season with the fourth-seed (or higher) and gaining home-court advantage in the playoffs. I don’t think the Wizards are quite at the level where they are the team to beat in the East, but they have considerable depth as well as a reservoir of young talent. Still, I firmly believe that the Wiz have the potential to finally reach the benchmark of winning 50 games in a season (See Question 4).
In order for the Wizards to win 50 in 2015, two factors need to align. First, John Wall needs to stay healthy all season long. In the 2014-2015 regular season, Wall was battling through injury while playing for the Wizards. The fact that he missed only three regular season games shows his dedication to the game and his team. And the fact that Wall still played spectacularly even in the face of this adversity speaks to his talent as a player. If Wall is able to stay healthy all throughout the Wizards’ demanding 2015 NBA schedule, if he can bring the same level of aggression and intensity game-for-game for 82 matchups, if Wall becomes an even greater team leader for the Wizards, then I believe the Wizards have a strong chance of reaching this milestone.
Second, the Wizards’ new additions must deliver. In theory, Anderson, Dudley, and Neal can provide the same veteran mentoring and coaching that Pierce did for the Wizards. What matters, though, is how this theory is put into practice, and also if the “three wise men” can boost the team with their veteran play. Most of all, Oubre needs to back up his talk of being a “jewel” in the 2015 NBA draft and winning a championship by being a stellar addition to the Wizards’ backcourt. In his rookie season, all eyes are on Oubre. Washington wants to know whether he can smoothly transition from college to pro ball.
Overall, I am somewhat doubtful that the Wizards can be veritable title contenders this season, but that's not to say that they won't be going forward. I strongly believe that they have a chance at being a top 5 competitor in the NBA Eastern Conference. If both these factors are met or exceeded, then the Wizards do have a chance at clinching another playoff berth and more importantly, a 50-win season.
Statistics from BasketballReference.com.
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