2013-14 record: 44-38
Key Additions: Dejaun Blair, Kris Humphries, Paul Pierce, John Lucas
Key Departures: Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG John Wall SG Bradley Beal SF Paul Pierce PF Nene C Marcin Gortat
The Washington Wizards surprised a lot of people last season by finishing with the five seed and then making it out of the first round. But when you look at their starting lineup, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. They had a developing backcourt comprised of two high draft picks, one of the premier three and D guys on the wing, and a foreign frontcourt that can play a solid game on both sides of the ball. Now, a year later, the majority of that lineup is back, and what they lost has been replaced by one of the NBA’s most successful players.
Despite losing Ariza and replacing him with an aging player, I have little doubt that this team got better in the offseason. They removed Trevor Booker, which is only going to help a team make less stupid mistakes, but they replaced him with Kris Humphries, who has become one of the best rebounders in the game. While his offense can leave a bit to be desired, especially when it comes to spacing the floor, his career 17.9 rebound percentage is something any team would love to have coming off the bench. He was 26th in the league in rebounds per 48 last year, putting him one spot behind fellow addition Dejaun Blair.
While Blair’s contributions on the defensive end are important, I’m not sold on his offensive game. When you’re a 6’7″ center who can’t shoot threes and almost exclusively is effective with floaters, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in that leading to a lot of buckets. And sure enough, his 6.7 per game last year (albeit in limited minutes) shouldn’t inspire confidence in any Washington fans, at least for offensive contributions. Still, both Humphries and Blair could end up playing important roles with how injury prone the two starting big men are.
Nene’s injury woes have been well documented. In fact, at this point it’s probably safe to assume he’s not playing 70 games this year. I’d say if he plays 65, that’s a win for Washington. The last time he played over 65 games was 2010-11, and in his 10 year career, he’s played 55 or less games five times. When he’s on the court, he’s super effective, Just ask Bulls fans who saw him score almost at will last year in the playoffs, but those moments are few and far between.
Gortat was healthy last year, but like Nene, he’s missed some major time throughout his career. I also don’t think his game is on par with the other four starters here. He’s the weak link of the lineup, and with the development of the position for the rest of the East, he could be exploited nightly. It’s just hard to have faith in him going up against guys like Noah, Brook Lopez, or even Nikola Vucevic.
Bradley Beal being out for at least five more weeks is really going to hurt this team. He’s on the verge of overtaking John Wall as the best player on the Wizards, and is an instant threat on offense. There’s not really a capable backup here, at least nearly on the same offensive level, so they’re going to be hard-pressed to score until he returns. Luckily, they start the season with a relatively easy schedule, featuring the Bucks and two games against both the Magic and the Pacers, but playing sans-Beal could mean that they drop one or more of those games that should be easy wins.
John Wall still has me a bit confused. When he plays well he shows that he has as much raw talent as almost any point guard in the league. But those moments aren’t as frequent as they should be. It’s like Wall tries so hard to seem nonchalant on the court that it hurts his play at times. Someone needs to tell him that it’s okay to try. This is the NBA after all. If he’s able to play at a high level for 75+ games, I see no reason why he can’t contend for a third-team All-NBA spot.
I’ve got them moving up a spot in the Eastern conference, but really the only real team they’re overtaking will be the Raptors. This Wizards team won’t be a fun one to play in the playoffs, but I don’t know that I see them getting past the first round, let alone contending for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
X-Factor: Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce is (and always has been) slow, not overly athletic, and on paper, a few skill points short of being a solid rotation player. Yet he just finds ways to get it done and win. I’m not talking in the Tim Tebow sense. Pierce has won in the NBA for the last 15 years. His minutes were at an all-time low with 28 per game last year, and I don’t see that number improving. Washington is going to want to keep him healthy and effective, so he’ll only be out there for a limited amount. Where this team is going to live and die is based on Pierce’s play while on the floor. He’s going to have to average more than 14 and be a constant threat, which will be no easy task in roughly 25 minutes per game.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Otto Porter
I predicted Otto Porter to win Rookie of the Year last year, so if you want to go ahead and second guess everything I’ve written for the past month, I won’t blame you in the slightest. That being said, he looked awesome in summer league and has been almost relevant in the preseason so far. He needs to keep up that level of play, especially considering that Paul Pierce is going to be playing fairly limited minutes as far as starting players go. Porter will be on the court for more than the 8 minutes per game he was last year, and he’s going to have to show that he’s better than 41% from the field.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
They’ve got arguably the best backcourt duo in the game, which makes any game a treat, but they’ve also got a few interesting young players who have the potential to emerge into major NBA players this season. Look for Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. to work their way into significant playing time by the all-star break.
Best Case: Wall plays his way onto an all-NBA team, Beal comes back at full strength and there are no other major injuries. 50 wins.
Worst Case: Either Nene or Gortat go down early in the season, Beal has trouble rebounding, and the lack of depth is exploited by the second units of other teams in the Southeast Division. 43 wins.
Projected Record: 47-35