The Washington Wizards didn’t get significantly better or worse this summer. Management elected to stand pact, locking up John Wall (four years, $170 million) and Otto Porter Jr. (four years, $160 million) to new deals.
The Wizards enter the 2017-18 season in uncharted waters, still hunting the Eastern Conference superior team (Cleveland Cavaliers), who welcome new faces — Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic– and once again enter the season with the highest odds to represent the East in the NBA Finals. While the Boston Celtics, who recently acquired two perennial All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, stand right on their heels, according to oddsshark.com. Leaving the Wizards checking in with the third-highest odds to represent the East, just ahead of the Toronto Raptors.
But Wizards fans shouldn’t be discouraged. The core of Wall, Bradley Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat enter its third season together. And this summer proved that anything can happen.
Say: Irving struggles to fit into Brad Stevens’ scheme, or mesh on the court with Hayward. Boston won’t be as efficient defending Wall and Beal with the departures of their two best perimeter defenders, Avery Bradley and Crowder. Let’s say Thomas’ hip never heals properly, or LeBron James finally begins to slow down.
Either way, these are just predictions heading into the season. Let’s break down the Wizards’ roster and how the players must perform if they wish to come out of the Eastern Conference.
One thing the Wizards needed to address this summer was their horrific bench. Washington’s bench production checked in at 29th in the NBA last season. The only second unit worse was the Minnesota Timberwolves. But more importantly, their floor general was affected the most. There were many instances when Wall admitted the need for more rest, which came to fruition during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals when Wall ran out of gas, finishing 8-of-23 from the field.
Acquiring Tim Frazier from the New Orleans Pelicans should shore things up. He’s not the most attractive option on the market, but he could be Washington’s best option. Brandon Jennings was a suspect defender, and likewise at finishing at the rim. Trey Burke never panned out in Utah, and just got worse in Washington. If you press up on Tomas Satoransky, I’ll bet my money he can’t get the ball up court.
In New Orleans, Frazier showed his capabilities. Rewind to when Jrue Holiday was injured last season, and Frazier had to carry the load. Well, during those 20 games, he averaged 11.6 points and 7.6 assists. And you certainly can’t forget the double-double performance against the Phoenix Suns in December. Playing as a starter or coming off the bench, he showed an ability to control the ball, and pass in pick-and-roll situations. He also isn’t a turnover machine. Last season with the Pelicans, he averaged less than two turnovers in 23.5 minutes per night. His 40.3 percent field goal percentage or 31.6 3-point percentage needs to improve, but the Wizards should be in better shape relying on their bench to make something happen.
The Wizards also signed Jodie Meeks, Donald Sloan, and Mike Scott. But lost valuable shooting in Bojan Bogdanovic. However, on the plus side: Matching the Indiana Pacers’ (two years, $21 million) deal would have buried them in luxury-tax penalties. Not to mention, his defense didn’t help their versatility. Whenever Bogdanovic played next to Morris and Porter, they were embarrassed by 12 points per 100 possessions, per nba.com.
In Meeks, the Wizards have a potential sixth man. He’ll bring Washington a perimeter shooter to complement what Beal does on the floor. In Orlando, he shot 40.9 percent from long distance last season and shot 38 percent for his career from beyond the arc. However, the injury bug has plagued him. In eight seasons, he’s never played a full 82 games. This season, Meeks must produce and stay healthy. His scoring ability could help the Wizards hold on to leads when Beal and Wall need a breather.
Scott should be a nice fit with the Wizards. Although he averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in just 18 appearances with the Atlanta Hawks last season. He’s a serviceable big that can play either forward position. Not only does he fit with what the Wizards do, he’s capable of spacing the floor for open shots, and get out in transition for easy dunks and lay ups. He’ll also bring the Wizards an energizer bunny like Golden State’s Draymond Green that can get the troops fired up.
Sloan spent last season in China, but his game developed. He averaged 23.6 points, 6.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in 49 appearances for Guangdong, starting in 48 of those contests. He shot 46.4 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from three. We’ll see what he can do now, while he battles Frazier for minutes.
While the Wizards addressed upgrades in the backcourt and forward spots, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr. must post consistent and reliable numbers this season. Smith and Oubre Jr. were widely inconsistent, as Mahinmi suited up for 31 total games last season. If somehow he stays healthy this season, Mahinmi must continue to be a force on the boards. He doesn’t have a dependable outside shot, but he can still be physical in the paint by drawing defenders and creating space.
However, Smith must keep his accuracy from deep, as he nailed 46 percent of corner triples last season, per Basketball reference. For Oubre Jr., it’s time for a breakout season. His playoff stats (5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from downtown) weren’t impressive, but they’re steps in the right direction. He must show Washington he’s capable of fulfilling a larger role by contributing on both ends of the floor consistently.
Now let’s shift our attention to the core group.
Wall was sensational last season, igniting his team to 49 wins, a division title, and one victory from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals marks that hadn’t been reached since the 1970s. But entering the season with healthy knees, and securing a $200 million contract, just adds higher expectations. Seeing improvements in 3-point shooting, on-ball defense and late-game conditioning would do the trick.
Wall tends to force the outside shot, even though it’s not an attractive part of his game. Shouting the notion that Wall should pass first if given the chance, especially when Porter, Beal, and Morris are more dependable from deep. Don’t get me wrong, Wall is a gifted passer — only James Harden created more points off assists during the regular season, and only Russell Westbrook during the postseason. Wall’s jump shot is just suspect. This season, Wall must be a facilitator and attack in transition for Washington to be successful. When he did just that, the Wizards’ half-court offense went from 0.85 to 1.28 points per possession. And when he decides to do it on his own, that number drops to 1.13 points per possession, per NBA.com.
His defense could tighten up a bit. When Kobe Bryant challenged him to make the All-NBA First Defensive team, it was for a reason. Yes, we all know he’s finished in the top 10 in steals three times in his career. Yes, we all know he led all point guards with 49 blocks last season. But finishing 51st among point guards in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus puts a stain on those accolades. And as for conditioning? Being capable of playing an entire 48-minute game is something fans want to see from time to time.
Beal had a career season, averaging statistical highs in points (23.1) and efficiency (48.2 percent). But most notably, he played a career-high 77 games. Now after putting his healthy demons to bed (for now), Beal must continue his assertion stardom by improving his ball-handling, passing and drawing fouls at the rim. Last season, his improved ball handling got him to the cup more often (4.4 free throw attempts per game), but we want his attempts to mesh closer to Wall (6.8 FTA/G).
Not to mention, getting to the lane would open the floor for his 3-point snipping. And after running some point duties last season, expect Scott Brooks to insert Beal in pick-and-rolls when Wall is catching a breather. The more versatile Beal becomes, the more dangerous the Wizards become.
Besides the Wizards lacking a true bench, the second need was finding a third star to complement their dominant backcourt. Washington didn’t have the assets to land Paul George (even if they wanted to) and losing Porter for nothing was no option. No, he’s not worth $100 million, but he proved to be a newly-minted weapon on offense going forward. Last season, he cashed in a career-high 43.4 percent of his triples. Not to mention, the league average was just 35.8 percent. If he can bring that hot hand into this season, it’s possible Washington climbs from eighth to fifth in 3-point percentage as a team. This season, making better decisions with the basketball is needed.
Turnovers aren’t an issue for Porter, mainly because the ball isn’t usually in his hands a lot. In fact, his turnover percentage of 4.9 per 100 plays, led the entire NBA. His problem is throwing misguided passes — 27 of his 44 turnovers came off those. The Wizards need him to lessen that this season, to become the complete player Washington needs. Also, remaining a solid two-way forward, while helping Wall set the example on that end of the floor for a defense that ranked 21st a year ago. Other than that, living up to the contract should be first on the priorities list. He’ll be a featured piece this season, expected with more scoring opportunities. No reason why his 17.4 scoring average shouldn’t climb into the 20s this season.
This might surprise you, but feeding Gortat is something the Wizards should think about. Hear me first, while feeling underappreciated, he still averaged a double-double (10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds) last season. And it’s certain he’s the best big man on the roster next to Morris. If the Wizards run the pick-and-rolls often, then they need to find some touches for the Polish center. While he took just 8.4 shot attempts last season, he shot 58 percent from the floor.
This is a recipe for the Wizards success this season. We’ll see if they listen or not come tip off.
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