The Crystal Ball is a weekly feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
AT Orlando Magic
AT Milwaukee Bucks
HOME vs. New York Knicks
Lets go Wiz!
Wednesday, October 28th
AT the Orlando Magic
What to Watch: John Wall! Bradley Beal! Otto Porter Jr! Gortat! Nene! Kelly Oubre! Mario Hezonja! Wait, what?
More on that last name momentarily, but first, Wizards basketball is back! The preseason has shown us that John Wall is already diving on the floor, Hump is jacking up 3s, Drew is stroking those same 3s, Otto is full of confidence, and Bradley Beal intends to become All-Star Bradley Beal.
Throw all of that out the window. The real games start now, and we will learn quickly what is real, and what is fake. Will the Wizards really up the tempo? Will Kris Humphries really have the confidence to shoot behind the line when the W’s and L’s matter? Will Drew Gooden shoot without inhibition when the games? (Yes). Will Randy Wittman actually tolerate Drew Gooden shooting without inhibition when the games matter? (We’ll see). Can Kelly Oubre contribute in any meaningful way, or will he become Year One Otto Porter?
Speaking of Otto Porter, what we’ll be watching early in the season really comes down to two people: Otto, and Bradley Beal. We know what Wall will give us, at the minimum. And we have an idea what the other guys COULD give us, at a maximum. But the success of this team and the ceiling of this team really comes down to Otto and Beal. Can Otto turn into a bonafide 3-and-D wing capable of affecting the game on both ends, night in and night out? And can Bradley Beal turn his arousing offseason workouts into astounding in-season performance? Is he ready to be the “Real Deal”?
Key matchup: Wall and Beal vs. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo
Here’s a few words to describe new Orlando head coach Scott Skiles: Scrappy. Intense. Hard-working. Non-stop. Competitive. And intense again.
Look for these traits to translate to Orlando, especially early in the season. A new coach and a young team will generally struggle early in the season to execute, and play with rhythm and chemistry. The basketball might not be pretty, but look for the intensity to be fierce from Orlando coming out of the gate. And this intensity will be clear in the Orlando backcourt, where you can expect Oladipo and Payton to be hounding Wall and Beal relentlessly on the defensive end. The two are already two of the peskiest, most irritating defensive guards in the league, and they will be that much more irritating in game one, trying to set a tone for the remainder of the season. Wall and Beal will have to be in midseason form with their handles and decision making, or the Wizards will risk experiencing a disappointing opening season L.
X-factor: Rust. Part of what makes Oladipo and Payton dangerous in this game, as we just discussed, is the potential rust-factor of the Wizards. Every team will be at least a little bit off to start the season, and the gap between good teams and bad teams will be far smaller now than later in the year. It’s what allows bad teams to get off to good starts like the Sacramento Kings did last season. The Wizards are no different. But winning rusty is important, just like winning injured. The Wizards will have to take care of the ball against a young, athletic Orlando team. They will have to play solid defense, and not let missed shots affect their defensive mentality. Additionally, they have to expect that their new tempo and floor spacing will take some time to start flowing. Hump will miss 3s. Bradley will commit charges. All of it will be part of the process. There will be rust. Stay the course.
Fun factor: Mario Hezonja (He-zone-yah).
The Orlando Magic desperately needed shooting, so they drafted a Croatian widely considered the best shooter in the NBA Draft. Here’s a clip of his shooting from Summer league:
Oops, my fault. That was the wrong Summer league clip. Try this one:
Dammit! Wrong again. Here:
Mario Hezonja hit a 3 up 12 with 5 seconds left and then dapped the opposing coach pic.twitter.com/43LdxmgWsA
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) August 28, 2015
F! That’s just a video of him hitting a 3, running up the score, and dapping the opposing coach. Ok, last try!
THERE WE GO. That’s Hezonja hitting a game winner in his first Summer League game. And here’s one more Hezonja highlight cuz I can’t resist. You know, nothing special, just throwing a bounce pass alley-oop in preseason (NOTE: Watch #24 get off the Heat bench. Good times!):
Scott Skiles is going to hate him. The rest of the world is going to LOVE him.
Prediction: Sloppy play all-around. Wizards win. Wall with 15+ assists. Beal with 20+ points. “We want Mario!” chants from everyone!
Friday, October 30th
AT the Milwaukee Bucks
What to Watch: Jared Dudley Revenge Game??? Ok, probably not. In that case, pay attention to the Bucks defense, and how the Wizards respond and execute against that defense. Jason Kidd quietly constructed Milwaukee into one of the top defensive teams in the NBA last season. Being able to space the floor against this team is a MUST (ask the Bulls!). Last year, the Bulls struggles with their playoff match-up against Milwaukee coincided with their struggles to hit outside shots and playing multiple big men inside. The Wizards have shown their desire to go small and spread the floor, but their success is going to be predicated on knocking down the shots opponents give them early in the season. If the guys tasked with creating space for the Wizards (Otto, Humphries, Beal, Neal) don’t actually knock down shots, playing small and fast will become a much greater challenge. Milwaukee will be a good early test.
Key matchup: Wizards spacing vs. Bucks length.
I can’t emphasize this enough: The Bucks are LONG. Michael-Carter Williams is a 6’7″ point guard with a longer wingspan. Giannis Antetokounmpo nicknamed “The Greek Freak” because he’s long as shi! Watch:
The Bucks have excessive length at every position, allowing them to create havoc in passing lanes, switch all types of match-ups, and then run in transition after forcing turnovers. Like we said, the Wizards shooting will be vital to their success spreading the floor, and the Bucks are a team that you REALLY need to spread out, or their length suffocate you.
X-factor: Khris Middleton. Last season, Khris Middleton averaged 11 points per game before the All-Star Break. After? 17 points per game. The Bucks have an unorthodox mix of players, and many different options to handle the ball and make a play, but Khris is the go-to-guy at the end of the clock (be it shot-clock, quarter-clock, or game-clock). He hit multiple game winners last season, and earned himself a ton of money in the process. Early in the season, he’ll be trying to prove he’s worth it, to his organization, his teammates, and himself.
Fun factor(s): Milwaukee’s new look. The Bucks revamped their look, with a new logo, new colors, and a new court design. My personal opinion? They did a great job! Here’s the new logo:
First of all, definitely an angrier, more intimidating look. More importantly, they integrate some subtle features beautifully: The “M” that also forms the neck/collar of the Buck; The first set of horns to create an almost fully formed basketball. You know the phrase, “look good, play good.” The Bucks hope it translates.
Prediction: It won’t translate. The Wizards are just a better team. Wall will dominate. Beal will rain. The Wizards will create the space they want, and then proceed to surgically and precisely slaughter the Bucks like a finely sharpened knife to the jugular (as opposed to the standard deer getting caught in the headlights reference).
Saturday, October 31st
HOME vs. the New York Knicks
What to Watch: HOME OPENER! This is our chance to let our guys know how excited we are about this team and this upcoming season. If you’re in attendance, pump up the volume! For the rest of us, it’s our first chance to see our guys play under a little pressure for the first time this season, all-be-it not a ton of pressure. In the grand scheme of an 82 game season, one home game out of 41 won’t mean a whole lot. Still, this team knows they have big expectations, and this will be their first chance to show their home fans that they are ready to live up to those expectations.
As for the Knicks? There’s Carmelo Anthony. There’s Meloo. There’s #7. And there’s Me7o. The Knicks have added a few pieces: Aaron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Robin Lopez, rookie Jerian Grant, and a few other guys we’ll get to momentarily. But everyone knows, this team is about one man and one man only. And when he’s rolling, he’s a BAAAAAD man. Yes, Melo is a ball stopper. Yes, Melo can stagnate an offense. But a healthy Carmelo Anthony is still the most complete, diverse pure scorer in the NBA. He can shoot. He can drive. He can take you off the dribble. He can shoot off the catch. He can stop and pull-up. He can finish with his right. He can finish with his left. He can play the high post. He can play the low post. He can spin in either direction. He’s a freakin beast. That’s all what makes his weaknesses all the more infuriating. In the era of pace-and-space and constant ball movement and body movement, Melo often stands out for the wrong reasons. He’s one of those guys who has been called overrated for so long that he’s now underrated. But a healthy Melo is still great. Let’s hope this night is not the night he reminds us all.
Key matchup: Early season rust vs. Carmelo Anthony.
The Wizards are a much better team than the Knicks. Even a C performance by the Wizards should be able to beat the Knicks, with one exception: If Melo goes off. Carmelo Anthony is one of the streakier players week-to-week that I can remember. He’ll go on week-long or month-long scorching hot streaks, and then go ice cold for a while. Chances are, Melo is either going to start the season on fire, torching defenders and defenses who aren’t in mid-season form, OR, he’s going to start the season rusty while he plays his way back into a rhythm. I’m betting on the latter, but I’m fearing the former. Did I mention Carmelo Anthony is really good?
X-factor: Kristaps Porzingis! The Knicks rookie is a skinny, raw, 7-foot talent who could become anything from Darko to Dirk. Check out this video to highlight him as a draft prospect:
Fun right? Optimists will get excited about his shooting stroke and aggressive finishing. Pessimists will scream “Darko.” And Wizards fans will scream “Jan Vesely!” And if Summer League taught us anything, we know the refs will scream “foul!!” The best part is, no one really knows.
However, Porzingis clearly has skills, and if the Knicks give him playing time, he’ll be a hit or miss guy for New York night after night. In all honesty, Porzingis is really more a fun-factor than an X-factor. But we had to save that spot for someone else….
Fun factor(s): #KSLife!! Welcome back Kevin Seraphin! Our beloved Master of the Hook Shot will be back in DC, and you can be sure the fans will give him a warm welcome. Kevin is one of those characters that transcends talent, like Brian Scalabrine, and becomes a fan favorite regardless of production, wins/losses, makes or misses. Expect him to get a nice ovation when he enters the game, IF he enters the game.
Fun factor #2: Derek Fisher jokes. Ya’ll know the D-Fish, Matt Barnes story. Let the jokes commence.
Prediction: Melo shoots under 40%, but takes about 40 shots. Porzingis plays about 14 minutes and commits 4 fouls. Wizards put on a B performance and win big.