The current iteration of the Washington Wizards remains an enigma. Despite reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals the past two seasons, the Wizards failed to record a 50-win campaign during this span, suffering from unpredictable periods of inconsistency. In fact, it has been over 35 years since this franchise has recorded a 50+ win regular season. The Southeast Division has greatly improved, but the Wizards’ front office was relatively quiet during the summer. Will this Wizards squad have enough to break through and reach the Eastern Conference Finals?
Basketball Insiders previews the Washington Wizards’ 2015-16 season.
Losing Paul Pierce was unfortunate for Washington, but I loved that they were able to acquire a number of wings this summer such as Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson. Those players will add depth to this already talented Washington team and the Pierce loss no longer seems as bad. If Otto Porter can step up and play well, Washington will be in even better shape. With all of that said, the Wizards will only go as far as John Wall takes them. He is one of the best point guards in the NBA and so important to this team – on both ends of the floor – so they need him to stay healthy and continue to perform at a high level. If this team is at full strength, I think a high seed in the East and deep postseason run is very possible.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
The Wizards reached the second round of the playoffs last season for the second consecutive campaign. So the question is whether the franchise can get over the hump and make an Eastern Conference Finals run. The Wizards were relatively quiet all summer and didn’t make much noise reshaping the roster. The team lost future Hall of Fame forward Paul Pierce in free agency to the Los Angeles Clippers, and only added role players like Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson. The team will miss Pierce’s leadership, so Otto Porter will need to take the leap from role player to dependable starter on the wing. Bradley Beal and John Wall form one of the best backcourts in the league while Marcin Gortat and Nene provide the muscle on the inside. Expect another run to the playoffs, although their position in the Southeast Division may slip a bit.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
Thanks to Paul Pierce, the Wizards were one of the most entertaining teams in the 2015 NBA Playoffs. Now, he’s gone to L.A. to reunite with Doc Rivers, but the Wizards really aren’t any worse. John Wall and Bradley Beal are still the stars of the show here, while Marcin Gortat is the max money stud in the frontcourt. The team really juiced up their bench by adding Gary Neal, Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and rookie Kelly Oubre, so this isn’t a team short on talent by any stretch of the imagination. Last season, though, they looked relatively inexperienced and dealt with an ill-timed injury from Wall. They look for real, though, and now have enough playoff experience to make a postseason leap. They should be one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams this year.
1st Place – Southeast Division
The Wizards are one of the more intriguing teams to watch and see when they will emerge into a true title contender. They have one of the most talented young backcourts in the league with John Wall and Bradley Beal, while their frontcourt includes true bigs Nene and Marcin Gortat. Now, it’s about filling in the other pieces. Following a postseason of heroics, Paul Pierce left for the Los Angeles Clippers this offseason. Now it will be up to those he mentored to step up in clutch situations. The additions of Jared Dudley and Gary Neal gives the Wizards another set of players with postseason experience, as veteran leadership is key on a young team like this. Rookie Kelly Oubre touted his offensive abilities during the pre-draft process and he will be looking to contribute early on. Keep an eye on the progress of Otto Porter, a former third overall pick who could be poised for a breakout season.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
The Wizards are one of the younger teams that I expect to take the next step this season. I think John Wall is overlooked as being one of the better point guards in the league right now and his ability to play the game and create plays at different speeds is particularly impressive. He’s worked tirelessly on his jump shot and still leaves something to be desired in that regard, but overall, I am happy to see him fulfilling his potential. I could say many of the same things with regards to Bradley Beal, but Otto Porter is the player I am watching most closely this season. After the departure of Paul Pierce, the Wizards will not only need Wall to step up and put into practice many of the lessons that Pierce taught the young group, they will also need Porter to show that his impressive run in last year’s playoffs was no fluke and that he can be an everyday difference maker in the NBA. The Southeast is admittedly tough to predict, but I know the Wizards will be near the top.
3rd Place — Southeast Division
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: Bradley Beal
Yes, All-Star guard John Wall has consistently served as the team’s leading scorer over the years. But shooting guard Bradley Beal has all of the tools necessary to ultimately lead the Wizards’ offensive charge on a nightly basis. Beal possesses limitless range from the perimeter and has greatly improved his ability to create his own shot off the bounce. The biggest obstacle holding Beal back has been his constant run-ins with the injury bug since entering the league. If Beal takes the next step offensively, there’s no reason he couldn’t develop into a solid 19-21 point per game performer.
Top Defensive Player: Committee Approach
Despite the Wizards’ success last season, the team doesn’t have a truly dominant game-changing defender on the roster. John Wall has the athletic tools to be a nightly nuisance, but he’s also burdened with a heavy load of playmaking and scoring responsibilities. Look for the Wizards to get things done defensively as a unit in 2015-16.
Top Playmaker: John Wall
In five seasons in the league, Wall has averaged less than eight assists per game just once. Last season, the guard averaged a career-high 10 assists per night. Part of the reason Wall is so effective is his ability to breakdown defenders on the perimeter, get into the lane and cause opposing defenses havoc. Wall is an elite floor general who has the rare ability to erupt for 20 points on any given night but also has no problem putting his own offense on hold to find teammates for easy buckets.
Top Clutch Player: John Wall
When the game is on the line, the Wizards will place the rock in Wall’s hands to deliver the victory. While the Wizards didn’t win a boatload of games with Wall as the lead dog when he first arrived in the league, the past two seasons have cemented the guard as a legitimate franchise player. As a reminder, being clutch isn’t just about hitting buzzer-beating, highlight-reel shots. It’s about making the right plays at critical times, generating a key steal, recognizing an opponent’s tendency at a crucial moment, knocking down a pivotal free throw or finding an open teammate for a bucket. Wall has consistently demonstrated his ability to handle this type of pressure in the biggest moments.
The Unheralded Player: Jared Dudley
Guys such as Yi Jianlian, Acie Law, Julian Wright, Al Thornton and Sean Williams were all selected before Dudley in the 2007 NBA Draft. All of those guys are no longer in the league. Dudley doesn’t have a sexy game, but the man has staying power and the unique ability to carve out niche roles in whatever environment he suits up in. With over 600 career three-pointers on his resume, boasting a 40 percent accuracy rate from long distance, Dudley will provide the Wizards with plenty of flexibility and floor spacing.
Best New Addition: Jared Dudley
As we stated earlier, the Wizards were extremely quiet this summer adding just Dudley, Gary Neal, Alan Anderson and rookie Kelly Oubre into the fold. Out of this newly acquired supporting cast, Dudley is by far the player who will make the most impact in the rotation this season.
Who We Like
Randy Wittman: The veteran coach began his tenure at the helm in Washington with a woeful 47-84 (.359) record and was placed on the hot seat watch-list by many observers. But Wittman has compiled a 90-74 (.549) record the past two seasons while leading the team to consecutive Eastern Conference Semifinal appearances. Say what you will about his coaching philosophies and stubbornness to adapt to certain principles, Wittman has weathered the storm and has the buy-in of his players.
John Wall: He entered the league with questions about his NBA readiness and whether he could be the face of a franchise. Wall has delivered and has emerged as one of the league’s best floor generals. Now, the question shifts to whether Wall can lead this franchise to true title contention.
Marcin Gortat: Since arriving to Washington, Gortat has missed just one regular season contest, posting averages of 12.7 points and 9.1 rebounds on 54 percent shooting from the floor. Gortat is a nightly double-double threat, blue-collar type who brings his hard hat to work each night.
Bradley Beal: The guard is oozing with potential and also eligible for a max-level contract extension. This could be the season Beal takes a jump much like Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler did during the 2014-15 campaign. An All-Star nod is not out of the question.
Washington finished with the fifth-best defense in the NBA last season, allowing just 100 points per 100 possessions. Also, the Wizards are armed with one of the league’s most explosive backcourts in the game today. Before his career is over, Wall should have a top five MVP finish on his resume and Beal is an All-Star in waiting. There won’t be many nights on the schedule where this duo will be the underdogs in their backcourt matchups. But the question is, can both guys stay healthy long enough to completely maximize their talent?
The lack of depth could come into play if a major wave of injuries hits this roster. The team lost future Hall of Fame forward Paul Pierce in free agency over the summer and it remains to be seen whether Otto Porter is truly up for the challenge as his replacement. If Porter isn’t ready, his primary backups in that role will be Jared Dudley and Martell Webster, who both have injury issues of their own. The same goes for the team’s interior depth behind Marcin Gortat and Nene. Veterans Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries would need to absorb a lot of heavy lifting if there’s an extended absence experienced in the frontline.
The Burning Question
Were the Wizards wrong for banking on internal growth to get this team over the hump?
It’s rather easy to play armchair general manager and question the Wizards’ hesitance on adding more talent to the roster this offseason. But the front office believes a healthy Beal and Wall coupled with the team’s imposing frontline has the potential for significant organic growth. However, concerns about the team’s depth are legitimate in nature. The Wizards undoubtedly have the potential for another run to the second round of the playoffs, but an Eastern Conference Finals bid will be a tough road to navigate.
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