Yes, indeed folks we are finally closing in on the start of the 2013-14 NBA campaign and our beloved Washington Wizards are probably in the best pre-opening-tipoff shape they have been in quite a while. With that, of course, comes the usual rash of questions, concerns and fears that have too often become realities once the season gets underway. As we prepare for opening nigh in Detroit tomorrow night, we’ve got the answers to five season-shaping questions facing the Wiz Kids, including final team predictions. Let’s go!
How would you grade the Wizards’ offseason and why?
Abdullah: B+. This past offseason for the Wizards was comprised of several moves and acquisitions that have certainly propelled the Wizards to a degree of respectability (on paper, at least), that they haven’t felt in a quite a while. Securing John Wall, luring in Al Harrington, replacing Emeka Okafor with Gortat were all critical moves that have placed the Wizards in position to finally make a run at the postseason.
Shaun: B+. This is one of the best offseasons the franchise has had in the last decade. They’ve secured their franchise star, added depth, and brought in a true center. The Wizards have put themselves in a position to make a push for the playoffs without being cash-strapped for years to come.
Charles: I give the Wizards a B+. First, they resigned John Wall to a long term deal. Whether or not he is a max player is still up for debate but he was their best player and a soon to be free agent so resigning him was the easy call. They also drafted well, finally, picking up two of the safest picks in the entire draft in Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. Why is drafting safe or upside so important? Because Ernie Grunfeld also chose not to pick up team options for Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, two former 1st rounders who were still on their rookie deals. Finally, the move I was most impressed with was trading a protected 1st rounder for Marcin Gortat. With Emeka Okafor out indefinitely, the Wizards could have rolled the dice and hoped this team was good enough to make the playoffs without Mek but with his job on the line, that was a chance Grunfeld could not take. While it was somewhat of a panic move, they still managed to add a low post presence who can score and keeps the playoff forecast still looking bright.
Mike: I would grade it a B+. With the Otto Porter and Emeka Okafor injuries and poor preseason record, I would have graded it much lower, but the trade for Marcin Gortat saved this offseason. The fact that this trade not only sets the Wizards up for success this season, but also for the future by clearing some cap space for a free agent makes this a brilliant move by the organization.
Zain: B-. Considering the circumstances, the offseason went very well. One of those circumstances is the lack of interest that any NBA player has in coming to Washington. This circumstance is applicable every year but I feel like I have to mention it. The Gortat move is one of the savviest moves the Wizards have made in a while. They somehow cashed in on the non-existent market that was in the running for trading for Emeka Okafor. They got a true center, moving Nene down to power forward where he feels more comfortable playing. If you follow Gortat’s twitter feed, for some strange and unexplainable reason, he is HAPPY to be here. He seems ecstatic for the opportunity. Grabbing hometown favorite Eric Maynor could also be fruitful if Maynor somehow finds the touch he displayed a few years back. Martell Webster had a career year and didn’t take his talents elsewhere, which also says a lot about the current culture of the team. This should be a fun team and locker room to cover this season. Watch out, Washington basketball will be exciting this year.
Which player not named John Wall will be the Wizards’ MVP this season?
Abdullah: It better be Bradley Beal. After a season where he was “scared shitless,” I am all ready for this stud to continue his pursuit of NBA stardom. We’ve seen an escalation of confidence and aggression in Beal throughout preseason and that should contribute perfectly to his on-court skill set.
Shaun: Most would go with Bradley Beal, given his emergence as a consistent scoring threat. But I believe Gortat will end up being the MVP not because of gaudy stats, but because it will allow Nene to slip to the power forward spot – his natural position. Having players excel in their natural position is always better than having a bunch of hybrids – unless you’re talking about LeBron James.
Charles: I’m going with the young fella Bradley Beal. I’ve said all offseason that Beal is oozing confidence. Last year he looked scared and tentative but now it seems as if he’s come to the realization that he has to be the primary scorer. While John Wall’s jump shot is much improved, it’s still a work in progress. It’s time for Beal to take the offensive lead, so I expect his shots per game to rise significantly from the 12.3 he took last season.
Mike: Bradley Beal, without a doubt. I honestly think Beal might have a better year than Wall. The improvement he’s shown in just the preseason games and summer camp was beyond impressive to me. I said it before after the home preseason game versus the Heat, but I’ll repeat it again: Bradley Beal has as good of a chance as anyone to become an All-Star come February.
Zain: Um, at this point you can include John Wall. It’s going to be Bradley Beal anyway. I hope I’m wrong because Wall should be farther ahead of the curve based on his experience, but it seems like a win-win here. Bradley Beal has surpassed expectations in the preseason and I’ve never been more confident in a Wizard’s ability to make the leap. If Wall can continue what he displayed in that 25 game span last year he will be part of the reason the Wizards do well this year. Most teams are searching for that guy that is already on the team that can put up 15 a game to help the team win. That guy will be John Wall. However, that is because they already have that guy that is going to consistently get you 23-25 ppg that enables the team to be competitive every game. That will be Bradley Beal.
What will having a true center/Gortat add to the Wizards offense?
Abdullah: Trading for Gortat has the potential to be one of Ernie’s few celebrated moves during his tenure in DC. Gortat is just two years removed from his career season in Phoenix where he posted 15 and 10 a game and health-wise, he feels he is in that kind of shape. A big frame who is mobile enough to fluidly roll to the basket off screens will be wondrous for John Wall. With Gortat’s ability to score down low, the Wizards now have added a dimension to an offense that ranked 28th in scoring last season.
Shaun: Nene in the power forward spot will do wonders for the lineup. The Wizards will suddenly have the ability to play very big and physical because there will be plenty of fouls to use up between Booker, Seraphin, and Harrington off the bench. They can also go small when needed by sliding Nene back to center and running the floor.
Charles: Gortat brings some skill to the offensive end of the front court that the Wizards have been sorely lacking. When he ran the pick and roll with Steve Nash, he was an effective finisher. Most importantly, it allows Nene to move back to the 4, where he’s most comfortable offensively.
Mike: While I was a big fan of Okafor, having him injured on the bench for a foreseeable amount of time does nothing for the team; so bringing in Gortat takes the pressure off of Kevin Seraphin and Nene to be that presence in the post. He’s a rebounding hog and I’ve loved his game for a while and believe he can help make this one of the best defenses in the league.
Zain: We always complained about the lack of a pick and roll threat with the Wizards. We had no slashing big that could finish strong. Teams could go under screens to force John Wall to shoot jumpers. If Wall can display a refined shooting touch, that solves part of the problem. Gortat solves the other. Gortat sets hard screens, and rolls well to the hoop. Once Gortat gets the ball off the roll, he has shown an ability to finish strong or put up an efficient shot. He is ambidextrous and loves to finish at the rim with both hands. He does not post up well or excel in isolation plays but that is something he is aware of that he needs to work on.
Aside from health, what do you think could ruin the Wizards’ playoff chances this year?
Abdullah: The Wizards struggled in various areas last season besides not having enough men suited up. Slow starts and finishes doomed the outcome of so many games last season, where winnable games were botched due to strayed confidence and the inability to play efficiently for 4 quarters. Otherwise, I don’t see much that could bar the Wizards from their highly coveted playoff berth.
Shaun: Growth and lack of cohesiveness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, Beal is coming into his own and that means he’ll be shooting more. Gortat is completely new. Webster is going to have to adjust his role slightly given Beal will be taking more of the lead on offense and Wall is going to be trying to take the next step in his career to become an upper echelon guy. These are all positive steps, and it’s not selfish to want to get better or shoot more for the team, but there are a lot of moving parts at once. Expect this team to truly begin to play it’s best basketball after the All-star break.
Charles: Nothing. Barring a catastrophic injury, nothing keeps this team from the playoffs. Even if Wall and Beal fail to develop at the rate we would like them too, this team still makes the playoffs.
Mike: I really don’t see anything ruining the chances. But if I had to pick something, I would say a mid-season trade that boosted a terrible team like Orlando, Toronto or Charlotte have some miraculous turnaround miracle run.
Zain: There is not much that can stop the Wizards from making the playoffs this year. The Eastern Conference is always the weaker of the two, and the last couple spots usually go to the most talented teams. With a core of Wall, Beal, and Nene, the Wizards should be a lock for the 8th seed barring any catastrophic injuries. That was before Gortat came in to the mix. If those players play to their potential (for this season that is) then the Wizards should grab the 7th or 8th seed. The difference between which seed is obtained is probably dependent on the strength of the bench, specifically the contributions from Maynor and Webster.
Bold predictions: How many wins and where do they finish?
Abdullah: 42-40 to finish 7th in the East. Given the weak nature of the the conference outside the top 4 teams, the Wizards could surely find themselves as high as 5th place if the other teams suck just enough.
Shaun: 40 wins and an 8th place finish in the east.
Charles: I’m bullish on this squad and I’m going with 46-36, taking the 6th seed in the East before a first-round upset over the Knicks.
Mike: I predict 50-32 ending up in the 6th seed. Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong.
Zain: Even upper-echelon writers like Zach Lowe have said this Wizards team has no reason to miss the playoffs based on the amount of talent in the core. Usually it would be the chorus of uber-optimistic Washington sports fans making you feel nauseous with predictions of the playoffs in spite of the mediocrity on the roster. However, this team is all of a sudden oozing with athleticism and pieces that seem to fit. Beal and Wall fit. Wall and Gortat fit. Nene and Gortat fit. Beal is seemingly ready to make the leap. Wall exuded confidence throughout the summer and set the bar real high for himself. This team isn’t ready to get out of the first round this year, but it definitely is ready to make the playoffs this year. 42-40. 7th seed.