Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 - 2014 Season Preview: Washington Wizards


The city awaits, Mr. Wall. It's been almost 6 seasons since the D.C. area was able to get excited about postseason basketball, 7 since Washington has a healthy superstar to rally around. Gilbert "Two Guns Up" Arenas played 74 games for the 41-41 Wiz in '06-'07, then faded into a crispy-kneed, max contract  mascot over the next 4 years. During the Age Of Agent Zero, Washington enjoyed a period of (relatively)  prosperity unseen by the franchise in over 30 years, averaging 42.75 wins and making the playoffs for 4 straight years (I say "relatively", because the Wiz were winning 29 measly games a year the 4 years prior, hadn't seen the playoffs since 1997, and the 45 games they won in '05 is their highest total since since 1978). Bottom line: the Wizards haven't been a very good franchise lately.

Since drafting John Wall in 2010, the Washington faithful have endured injury, front office hi-jinx, poor personnel decisions (bringing in Yi Jianlian? Really??), immaturity, gun charges, and just all around bad basketball as patiently as possible, waiting for....well, anything. Literally ANYTHING positive. New owner Ted Leonsis cut the malarkey, and the front office got to work, jettisoning talented misfits like Javale McGee and Andray Blatche, shedding bad salaries, and actually caring about the fans. And 29-53 record aside, last year has quite a few positive spots. The Magic Men struggled mightily with Wall missing 33 games, but were 15-7 when Wall, Brazilian center Nene, and rook shooting guard Bradley Beal all played. The fact that Washington beat the top 6 Eastern conference squads and 4 of the top 5 West teams should give fans reasons to look forward to this coming season. With John Wall being handed the keys and a tantalizing mix of young talent and established vets around him, playoff talk in DC isn't far-fetched at all.



Additions

Eric Maynor, Al Harrington, Otto Porter Jr., Glen Rice Jr.

Subtractions

Earl Barron, Jason Collins, A.J. Price, Cartier Martin

Randy Wittman needs to prove he's the right coach for this team. he's coming into this season with a career 33.6% winning percentage, including a 47-84 in his 2 years with Washington. On the plus side, injuries and all, the Wizards were the 8th stingiest defense last season, giving up a paltry 95.8 ppg, and had the 5th best defensive rating, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions. On the not-so-bright side, Washington scored the 3rd least points per game and were dead last in offensive rating. Wittman now has the weapons surrounding Wall to greatly improve those scoring numbers; can he install an offensive system to maximize his star point guards burgeoning talents?

Bradley Beal



Who better to pair with the explosively athletic, shaky shooting Wall than slick shooting Bradley Beal? The rook looked pretty bad with Jon Wall out (11.2 ppg, 34.1% shooting in November) but looked just as good (17.5 ppg, 48%, 42% from 3 in 8 February games) once Wall got back to killing on the court. He has an excellent shooting stroke and showed flashes of athleticism around the bucket. He doesn't force the issue and has a mature game that complements Wall's creativity and speed perfectly. He missed 26 games with various injuries last year, and was withheld from Summer League with a stress fracture in his lower leg. Let's hope this doesn't start a trend.



Nene Hilario


The phrase "so much talent, so many injuries" could be the motto for this Wizard's squad. Nene can be a monster offensively and a strong defensive presence....if he can just stay on the court. Nene has played in 64 or more games in only 6 of his 11 seasons. When he DOES play, expect a strong game with nice touch around the basket and rugged, if inconsistent,  rebounding. With Emeka Okafor already out with injury, keeping Nene on the floor is vital to any chance for success of this team.



John Wall




5 year, $80 million contract extension? Done. John Wall has the talent of a franchise player, and now he has the loot of one, too. The numbers were never the issue; his 18.5 ppg and 7.6 apg from last year are right in line with his career arc. Wall can flat out fly, and as an athlete is juuust a cut below Russell Westbrook/Derrick Rose's level. But can he translate his elite speed and underrated play-making into wins?

Wall heard the critiques, and upon returning to action last year unveiled a much improved jumper. He'll never be Steve Kerr behind the arc (even with his "new" shot he hit a hideous 26.7% from 3 last year), and he'll have to keep improving his mid-range and deep scoring to live up to the his potential. Entering year 4, we've only seen the beginnings of what John Wall can do. Look for the 22 year old to enter the conversation of rising young guards like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving if he leads his team to the playoffs.




Most Exciting Player To Watch (Not named John Wall): Otto Porter Jr.

The 6'8" Georgetown product looks to join Wall and Beal to form a deadly perimeter trio. He showed good range and scoring instincts in college, I'm looking forward to seeing if he can be the same sniper at the pro level.

Prediction: 38-42 wins

There's been a miasma surrounding this franchise since the Arenas gun debacle. Since then, it's been just dreary in DC, basketball seemed joyless at the Verizon Center. This is one of the most promising teams the Wizards have fielded in a while, and if (a HUGE "if") the can stay relatively healthy, I see no reason they won't be in the mix for the 6th through 8th seed this year.





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