After flirting with 50 wins and coming within two victories of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2015, the Washington Wizards surprisingly crashed back to earth last season. They struggled to post a .500 record and missed the playoffs entirely.
The disappointing results led to the ouster of head coach Randy Wittman, who had three .500 campaigns in four full seasons with Washington. As they try to right the ship, the Wizards turn to former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, who sports an impressive coaching resume that includes a trip to the NBA Finals in 2012.
But adding Brooks wasn’t the Wizards’ only offseason move. This summer, shooting guard Bradley Beal inked a five-year, $128 million deal that makes him the highest-paid player on the roster. There’s no denying that Beal has an impressive skill set, but the move was risky since he has missed the equivalent of a full NBA season over his four campaigns as a pro due to an assortment of injuries.
Still, any hope of the Wizards bouncing back this season starts with All-Star guard John Wall, who posted career highs in scoring (19.9) and assists (10.2) in 2016.
There’s no doubt that the Wizards have the necessary talent to return to the playoffs, but they must stay healthy and adjust to Coach Brooks’ new system.
Basketball Insiders previews the Washington Wizards’ 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
It made all the sense in the world when it was revealed, over the summer, that John Wall and Bradley Beal don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. Last season, the Wizards were right up there with the New Orleans Pelicans among the most disappointing teams in the entire league. On paper, it appeared that, even without the departed Paul Pierce, the Wizards would have enough talent to compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they failed to even qualify for the playoffs. Not surprisingly, Randy Wittman was shown the door and now Scott Brooks will attempt to recapture the success he experienced with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with Beal and Wall.
I absolutely love the acquisition of Trey Burke. He should immediately solve the Wizards’ backup point guard problem and also provide some insurance should Beal get hurt. Marcus Thornton will provide some firepower off the bench and Ian Mahinmi will deservedly get rotation minutes with the opportunity of being a plus. Despite what transpired last season with the Wizards, I’m still a big believer in their talent and am picking them to win the Southeast. Every other team in the division has experienced substantial loss, while they seem to have had some nice gains.
1st Place – Southeast Division
— Moke Hamilton
Not everybody is a believer in the Wizards, but the Southeast is wide open this season and it’s hard to bet against the best individual player in that division in John Wall. A lot of Washington’s success this year will depend not just on how well Wall plays, but on how healthy Brad Beal can be and how much progress Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Trey Burke can make. The frontcourt is a little hard to believe in with Ian Mahinmi, Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson and Marcin Gortat likely to hold down the biggest minutes, but Wall and Beal are enough in a weak Southeast to give the Wizards a tremendous opportunity to finish near the top of the standings. While not elite, the Wizards could be one of the East’s top five or six teams, though as always with this group health is everything.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
The Wizards’ biggest move of the offseason was hiring new head coach Scott Brooks and he should be a good fit with this talented up-and-coming group. Brooks had so much success in Oklahoma City because he was good at developing emerging stars, instilled a winning culture and built strong relationships with his team as a players’ coach. Washington is looking for him to do those exact same things, and I think John Wall and Bradley Beal will benefit from his arrival. As others have mentioned, health is always the big question mark when it comes to this group (particularly with Beal), but the potential is there for Washington to turn things around and return to the postseason.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
– Alex Kennedy
The 2015-16 campaign marked the third-straight season point guard John Wall was selected to the All-Star game. But the difference between last season and the previous two was the fact that the Wizards slid out of playoff contention. Part of the reason for Washington’s fall from grace was Bradley Beal’s injuries, which limited him to just 55 games. For the Wizards to right the ship, they’ll need Beal to produce in this upcoming bounce-back campaign. The Wizards didn’t pull off any headline-grabbing deals in free agency or trade this past summer, so they’re looking to organically improve. To do so, they’ll need the Beal-Wall backcourt to play at an elite level, together, for at least 70 games.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Lang Greene
The Wizards will only go as far as their star backcourt will take them, which may be an issue considering John Wall and Bradley Beal have openly admitted to not seeing eye-to-eye on the court. Even more problematic is that Beal has been injury prone each season of his young career. Don’t get me wrong, I think very highly of Wall and Beal despite the noted concerns, but there isn’t a ton of talent behind them either. The Wizards lost a lot of experienced veterans this offseason, such as Jared Dudley, Nenê, Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple – though they did bring in some quality players like Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. At the end of the day, this looks like a roster that was banking on adding a superstar (Kevin Durant) in free agency and had to go to Plan B once that didn’t happen. The best thing going for the Wizards this offseason is the hiring of new head coach Scott Brooks. Brooks proved he can lead a young squad from his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, so perhaps he can work some of that same magic in Washington. Still, even a masterful coaching job by Brooks only takes this team so far this upcoming season considering they simply don’t have the same level of talent as teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers or several of the Western Conference teams.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Bradley Beal
Wall is the Wizards’ best overall player and he’s capable of scoring 20-plus points on any given night, but Beal has all of the tools to become the Wizards’ leading scorer – if he can stay healthy. In Beal’s first 17 games last season, he averaged 19.8 points in 37 minutes per contest before being limited by a minute restriction in January and February. Overall, Beal set career-highs in points (17.4) and field goal percentage (44.9 percent) last season and flashed the potential to take on a larger load in the team’s offensive duties. In order for Washington to take the next step forward, the team will need its highest-paid player to take some of the offensive pressure off Wall.
Top Defensive Player: John Wall
While you can make a case for forward Otto Porter or newly signed center Ian Mahinmi in this space, the Wizards’ best defender is Wall. The veteran point guard earned a Second Team All-Defensive nod back in 2015. Porter is developing into a decent 3-and-D guy, but he was often overpowered by opposing wings last season and at times wildly inconsistent defensively. Mahinmi, on the other hand, has earned a reputation as a solid paint protector, but he figures to serve as a backup to center Marcin Gortat so his minutes and opportunity may be limited. In many ways, the Wizards’ success depends on Wall’s production on both ends of the floor. Last season, Wall ranked 15th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. The Wizards have earned their chops the past few seasons playing solid team defense and this year will be no different.
Top Playmaker: John Wall
Wall has averaged double digits in assists in back to back seasons and there’s no reason why that won’t continue for a third straight year in the 2016-17 campaign. Outside of his injury-plagued 2014 season, Wall has finished in the top 10 in total assists in each of his pro seasons. If Beal can stay healthy and reduce some of the offensive pressure facing Wall on a nightly basis, the All-Star guard might be ready to make a run at the league’s assist title (he finished third in 2016).
Top Clutch Player: John Wall
Yes, Wall has dominated this list, but the All-Star is simply the heart and soul of the Wizards’ organization. In order for the franchise to join the upper echelon of the league, Wall must continue strapping the team to his back. This is especially true in clutch situations, where the talented guard is entrusted to deliver on a nightly basis. There are players, such as Beal, who could emerge in this capacity, but until those pieces are ready to take the jump, the clutch role is Wall’s and Wall’s alone.
The Unheralded Player: Marcin Gortat
Gortat routinely throws a wrench into the narrative that there are no reliable “true” centers left in today’s game. Over the past six seasons, Gortat has been a walking double-double during stints with Phoenix and Washington, averaging at least 10 points and eight rebounds in every campaign during this span. The Wizards have been decimated by injuries in years past, but since arriving to the team three seasons ago, Gortat has missed just eight games. The veteran center has produced steady production for a franchise that has been plagued by inconsistency and he rarely, if ever, enters in the All-Star discussion.
Top New Addition: Tomas Satoransky
By bringing in role players such as Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, the Wizards didn’t exactly go out and make any splashy moves that generated headlines this summer. But there is a bit of buzz surrounding the arrival of Tomas Satoransky, the team’s 2012 second-round pick who has been developing his game overseas. Satoransky, 24, has been playing professionally since 2007 in Liga ACB and Euroleague. The 6’7 “rookie” has spent time at both guard positions overseas and should provide immediate depth behind Beal and Wall in the backcourt, with a slightly shorter learning curve than most rookies.
– Lang Greene
WHO WE LIKE
- Markieff Morris
If the last five games of the 2016 campaign are any indication of things to come from Morris, then the Wizards are going to experience significant internal growth next season. Morris averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 rebounds on 47 percent shooting from the floor during this span and demonstrated all of the reasons why Phoenix was a bit hesitant to deal him at last season’s trade deadline. Remember, Morris is just one season removed from averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds with the Suns, who viewed him as an integral part of their retooling efforts. However, friction developed between the two parties, leading to the deal that brought the veteran to the nation’s capital. The Wizards have a roster full of role players behind Beal and Wall, but Morris could legitimately make a run at being the team’s third-leading scorer this season.
- Kelly Oubre
There aren’t many 20-year-olds coming off a season averaging just 3.7 points in less than 11 minutes of action per night that will make these kinds of lists, but Oubre is intriguing. In nine games as a starter last season, Oubre averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds on 52 percent shooting from three-point range. Not impressed yet? In the 12 games in which the youngster received at least 20 minutes of action as a rookie, he averaged an impressive 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds on 47 percent from three-point land. With fellow forward Otto Porter set to hit free agency next summer, you better believe the franchise is taking a long and hard look at Oubre’s development before shelling out top dollar for someone occupying the same position.
- Scott Brooks
Where do you stand on Brooks’ effectiveness as a head coach? Chances are your views will be firmly entrenched on the far side of either spectrum – positive or negative. Just by reviewing the results, Brooks amassed a whopping 62 percent win percentage in roughly seven seasons as a head coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder. During this time period, Brook led the Thunder to five playoff trips (39-34 record) and an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Sounds good, right? Well, those on the other side of the spectrum believe Brooks’ success is slightly overstated because of the presence of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – two generational talents. The team also had James Harden, but he was traded following their Finals trip. There’s obviously a gift and a curse to leading elite talent, and the most celebrated coaches in NBA history have had the benefit of coaching star-studded teams. But in Washington, where talent is clearly abundant, Brooks will have a chance to turn around a highly inconsistent group. This is a very good opportunity for Brooks to emerge from the shadows cast by Durant and Westbrook, creating a new narrative for his own career.
- Trey Burke
The ongoing narrative is that the former lottery pick flamed out in Utah, transitioning a role as the team’s floor general of the future to an expendable asset this past summer. In Washington, Burke will get another chance to prove he belongs, but barring any major injuries, it will be in a limited backup role to Wall. But here’s the deal: Burke is headed to free agency next summer, so naturally there will be an added level of motivation to play well in order to become an attractive option on the market. Considering the Wizards were able to secure a guy with career averages of 12.1 points and 4.2 assists through three seasons as a pro for a 2021 second-round pick, we like the odds that this could potentially prove to be a highly rewarding trade off.
– Lang Greene
SALARY CAP 101
The Wizards went below the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap this summer, acquiring players like Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, Trey Burke and Tomas Satoransky. After re-signing Bradley Beal, Washington has locked in at least $101.9 million in salary in 12 guaranteed players. The team still has its $2.9 million Room Exception, and three roster spots – with four players fighting to make the team (Jarell Eddie, Daniel Ochefu, Danuel House and Sheldon McClellan).
The Wizards do not project to have room next summer, even with the cap expected to jump to $102 million. The team has until the end of October to decide on the rookie-scale option for Kelly Oubre. Both Otto Porter and Burke are eligible for extensions, with an Oct. 31 deadline. While John Wall’s contract is eligible to be restructured and extended, the Wizards do not have the necessary cap room.
– Eric Pincus
Talent wise, the Wizards arguably have a top five backcourt with Beal and Wall leading the charge. Beal has a sweet perimeter game, while the beauty in Wall’s skill set involves driving the lane and creating havoc for opposing defenses. Both guys are more than capable of putting up 20-plus points on any given night and neither player has reached his physical prime. As stated previously, Beal’s health over the years has limited the amount of court time the two have been able to share. But even with Beal’s extended absences, Wall is routinely near the top of the leaderboard in assists. Imagine if the two can play at least 70 games in the same lineup in 2016-17?
– Lang Greene
Quick, name the offensive or defensive style you associate with the Wizards? One of the biggest weaknesses the Wizards have headed into training camp is their lack of a true team identity. The team won some games employing a small-ball approach last season, while in others they went big in order to grind out victories. Yes, the best teams are able to switch styles as needed to win, but there’s a difference between making in-game adjustments and not having a true calling card. This is an area that must be addressed.
– Lang Greene
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can Bradley Beal and John Wall co-exist? Is there legitimate friction between the duo?
Wall caused a bit of a stir in late August when he unleashed the following quote.
“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I start arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball.
“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. If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it’s going to be his night, one night it’s going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
The public acknowledgement from Wall about friction with Beal, his leading co-star, raised more than a few eyebrows. Athletes typically guard these type of relationship issues close so the revelation was stunning. But if you look at it from the flip side, it also shows maturity and a keen sense of awareness by Wall since he’s working toward improving the situation. How many times have we seen stars battling with each other and then after parting ways acknowledge that they should have stayed and worked things out?
What was missed by most in Wall’s quote was his stated desire to see Beal develop into an All-Star performer. Wall understands to win at a high level in today’s league, a co-star is needed so maybe – just maybe – his quote was to inspire change. It’s always risky taking things to the court of public opinion, but we’ll see if Wall’s calculated gamble ultimately pays off.
– Lang Greene
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