EVERYBODY OFFICIALLY UP! The start of the Wizards season begins in T-minus 10 hours or so down on Biscayne Blvd with the first contestants being the Miami Heat and with it comes the usual batch of questions, concerns, thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings. Here’s all of ours in what we’re deeming the official season preview for our Washington Wizards via five burning questions and their answers by our wonderful staff writers.
Entering year number 5, John Wall is looking to fully merge himself into the elite class of NBA point guards. With one successful season in making the playoffs finally under his belt and a respectably rebuilt roster around him, what’s the outlook for him this season?
Abdullah: As each season has has worn on into the next, so has the respectability and maturation of John Wall. But it’s only fair to be real when discussing the ‘outlook’ of a new season for a player like Wall and basically what that entails is that there are a number of shortcomings that still deem him unfit to earn the crown of Prince of Point Guard Eden. If you’re taking detailed notes what I’m referring to are significant faults like failing to vanquish his midrange demons, and also the quick fixes like minimizing turnovers. Yet the partly cloudy upside to John’s suppressive shooting pains is his acknowledgement and understanding of them. We’ve known that type of approach to be an elixir for his previously correctable flaws, and this season again may (hopefully) serve as another proving point. In any case, this is new basketball life for John. A 2nd round playoff appearance was followed by a busy summer involving Team USA shenanigans, a new brand via new shoe deal which led to new commercial. And after being ranked in the top 20 of ESPN’s favorite NBA players, the limelight is focusing harder on Wall and I just know he’s going to eat it all up.
Jamal: Last week, ESPN ranked John Wall as its number 18 overall NBA player, ahead of conference foe Kyrie Irving. The slot was thirteen spots higher than his number 31 ranking from just last month.
What does this mean? The league is notice. John is no longer the spectacular player on a terrible team. The Wizards are good, as evidenced by their playoff run last summer and their remarkable offseason. For Wall, this means there’s an immense amount of pressure to not just be good, but better.
For Wall to be discussed among the elite, I think first he’ll have to keep polishing his outside shot. Wall’s ability to get to the rim is unquestioned, but what elevated his status last season was his ability to change speeds and pull up – something we hadn’t seen in his game before.
Wall also must keep his decision-making in check. For every few spectacular plays he makes each game, Wall commits a mind-bogglingly poor turnover, usually caused by committing too late to an assist and generally not seeing the floor well.
Finally, I think Wall will shine most if he does the obvious: win. The Wizards’ roster is more balanced and complete than it’s been in recent memory, so the expectation to succeed is greater. Leading Washington to that ever-elusive 50 win season, combined with another deep playoff run will undoubtedly silence any doubt about John’s game.
Saam: Despite not making the playoffs until last season, I would argue that he had successful seasons every year he’s been in the league when he’s been healthy enough to play. I don’t fault him for being hurt or injured but we as fans and media members have to remind ourselves about how young John was when he came in (20) and how young he still is now (24). When you take all that in to consideration, the difference in his game and overall improvement has been phenomenal to see. And on top of all that, he’s still getting better with each game. John has evolved into a complete point guard and is on pace to get even better so I don’t think its too much a reach to think John will be even better this year. If he’s healthy, I expect better numbers and a better Wizards record. With Wall at the point playing significant minutes and being the floor general, I see no reason why he can’t repeat as an All-Star and lead this team to 50+ wins and possibly even a division title. His supporting cast is deeper, the front court has the most depth in almost all of the NBA and he’s got Bradley Beal sharing the load with him.
Joe: Most look at Wall’s season last year and what to declare that he’s arrived when in reality I believe he is starting to scratch off the layer above what he is going to be in this league. Although earning his first All-Star team honor and leading the Wizards organization to a place they hadn’t been in decades there are individual areas where Wall has to continue to develop if he wants to be in that Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose company.
To me it starts with taking less of those ‘I want to prove I’m a shooter’ type shots and driving and drawing more fouls than he did last year. We saw career highs in PPG (19.3) and APG (8.8) and I believe he can turn the corner on both this year and post 20+ PPG and 9+ APG keeping him in rare company from a point guard standpoint.
From a mental standpoint I believe playing another year, this time accompanied by a couple championship winning contributors and a guy named the Truth, John Wall will continue to use outside motivation and lead the Wizards to another successful season.
This past offseason, the Wizards parted ways with an elite defender in Trevor Ariza and a young, high-energy role player in Trevor Booker. How much are they going to miss them?
Abdullah: I can’t lie, it was a bit hard watching the Houston Rockets the few times I’ve seen them since preseason, for two reasons: I feel sad when I watch Trevor Ariza make a sharp play on defense, a reminder of the contentment the Wizards acquired with Ariza as their chief defender. I also get sad when I notice that sometimes maybe he notices that he’s no longer relishing in a John Wall-led offense. But whatever. This isn’t about him. Yes, surely the Wizards will miss Ariza’s efficiency as a spot up 3-point shooter and surely we’ll miss his disruptive behavior as a defenseman. But while there will certainly be a regression talent-wise, I feel the Wizards made the best possible move they could to, if anything, compensate for one (or a few) lost assets in exchange for a few new ones; the Wizards lost a good defender and 3-point shooter but gained an edgy veteran who can still ball and more importantly, they got him at a very reasonable cost. I do miss Trevor Booker too, though. Goddammit.
Jamal: Not too much, I think. With Ariza’s departure, you lose the obvious defensive anchor. Trevor took the burden of guarding the opponent’s toughest assignment every night, and in some instances, switching to whoever got hot. He could reasonably lock down four different positions and used his length well to bother shots. The Wizards will miss that effort, obviously, but as a team, they can make up for it. Wall and Brad Beal are an above average defensive backcourt, and Marcin Gortat has proven to be a solid rim protector.
With Booker’s loss, I think the Wizards lose more of a fan favorite than a reliable contributor. Booker was drafted by Washington at a time when the roster was in flux, the team was bad, and fans were clamoring for any sort of intensity from the team. Booker’s edginess and ability to get off the floor were welcome additions. He could get people out of their seats.
Along with his potential, however, came several bits of disappointment, including many injury-plagued seasons, and Booker’s general inability to employ a consistent facet of his game. We saw flashes, but nothing that really beamed. For a team that’s on the cusp of championship discussions, I’m completely comfortable not overpaying a player who’s likely already reached his ceiling.
Saam: Call me crazy, but I actually think the Wizards will miss Booker more than Ariza. I’m not taking anything away from Ariza, he was a great player when he was here. Great defender, hit a lot of clutch shots and played lock down defense against the other team’s best players every night. With that said, Booker did a lot of little things on the court that don’t show up on the score sheet. The hustle plays, loose ball efforts, rebounding and his good defense in the front court gave the Wizards options in their limited front court. A lot of Ariza’s shooting and scoring success stemmed from John Wall and Bradley Beal dribble penetration and kick outs which lead to lots of wide open Ariza shots. I think Paul Pierce can provide a similar kind of offensive spark in the same way Ariza did. While we may lose a little defensively with Pierce over Ariza, I think we make up for the defensive effort as a whole with the additions of Humphries and Blair.
Joe: The bigger loss of the two is obviously Ariza but what Washington got instead makes it feel like a wash if not in their favor. For what Trevor brought to the table defensively he was certainly not the closer that Paul Pierce is and what the Wizards lacked in the playoffs was a finisher. Washington will have to make up for the defensive lapse with growth from the backcourt of Wall and Beal, and the continuing development of Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr.
As for Trevor Booker, I love the guy. He was the ultimate pro and a hard worker but if we are going to be honest, Kris Humphries is an upgrade on both ends of the court. Humphries will make defenders come out to guard him and he’s going to be physical on the glass and on defense.
But then, Paul Pierce became a surprising (and exciting) acquisition for the Wizards. What’s his role on this team besides igniting scuffles and pressing his finger into Joakim Noah’s face?
Abdullah: Ah, yes. The edgy vet I was just discussing. This, circumstantially, could not have been a better sequence for the Wizards after losing Ariza to a more secure and monetarily beneficial situation he was presented to in Houston. With the Wizards deeply in consideration of its financial outlook, Ariza’s departure fell nothing short of an inevitability. What wasn’t inevitable and, as the bold print above suggests, was rather a shocking move was luring in Paul Pierce as the interim replacement – for at least one year. Pierce arrived in DC with a few checked bags that included scattered, yet serviceable skill sets along with an oversized carry-on stuffed with grudgy leadership and championship experience. In other words, a young, self-acclaimed backcourt’s wet dream. Pierce, if managed correctly minutes-wise at the age of 37, will be the element that completes this Wizards squad as a force in the East come May. At least we’re banking on it.
Jamal: For Paul, I’d like to see the following:
– A solid 28-32 minutes per game (with some nights off)
– Some play at the power forward position
– Playoff experience
Pierce has embraced his title as a role player. He has a ring. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. He came to Washington because he saw something special developing.
With a deeper bench this season (albeit a little thing on the wings to start), Paul will not need to play a large complement of minutes. I’d like to see the Wizards keep Pierce on ice some nights, similar to how the Spurs treat their aged pillars.
Pierce is also reportedly practicing playing at the four, where he’ll help stretch the floor – something that Humphries and Blair won’t be called on to do. It gives the team an interesting element to play matchups.
Finally, I’d like to see Piece’s veteran leadership help project the Wizards into at least an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Washington was oddly less successful at home than they were on the road last season (including the playoffs). Pierce has already vowed to help the Wizards defend their home court, which will be sorely needed with the likes of other battle-tested conference opponents being the gatekeepers in the East.
Saam: I think this team and ownership believe that Paul Pierce can still play 25-30 minutes a night at a very high level and brings a championship attitude to a team that has a lot of young pieces in play to maybe make a run one day for a title. For that reason, I expect Pierce to start and play effectively throughout the season. I think playing with a guy like Wall will give Pierce new life as he will constantly find himself wide open due to John Wall dribble penetration. As the double team and low post defenders collapse on Wall, I’m looking forward to seeing that silky smooth corner 3 from Pierce much like the way Ariza did it for the last few seasons here.
Joe: Pierce’s role to me is like that of the Godfather. When players have questions about what to do in certain situations it’s going to be him they go to. Looking for someone to lead the way in regards to practice habits, daily routines, nightly rituals it will be him they look to – the young guys at least. On the court I believe it’s all about closing out quarters and games. Pierce was never the fastest or strongest guy on the court but when it was go time he was always to be found and never shied away from wanting the ball. He was the Celtics version of ‘Boiler Room’ in that he was always closing – games that is of course. The biggest winner in the Paul Pierce to Washington Show has to be Otto Porter who in the words of Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis “is about to receive a master’s degree in how to play that position.”
It was everything but a cruel summer for Otto Porter, lighting up the Summer League before having a very successful preseason. Can you be confident his improved game will transpire in the regular season?
Abdullah: When Otto was being dissected and probed during the few months before the 2013 Draft, the label used to describe his value was “safe”.
“He’s the safe pick.”
Jalen Rose even told me: “he’s the safest pick in history.”
Otto’s draft class wasn’t one of the more memorable ones so in that regard I’ll just say the “safe” pick could also be considered best one. But while the safety of the pick is what appeased the Wizards into selecting him, the patience required in order to endure his unhurried growth is imperative. The good thing is, I feel like the hardest part (last season) is behind us. Otto overcame a season that involved injuries and a coach’s mere distrust due to prolonged basketball adolescence. These were the things that led to Young Otto accumulating the third lowest number of minutes for a top 3 draft pick. Watching Otto evolve is beginning to be like that 18-minute YouTube clip of an infant giraffe being born. And we’re JUST getting to the part where only the front legs have begun trying to get the body upright. Yes, I’ve seen it more than once.
Anyway, Otto has done only what Otto can do. He shined in Vegas. He was a noticeable difference-maker in the preseason on both ends of the floor (GOD I hope that 3-point shot of his sticks). Porter will have an opportunity to establish himself as a catalyst for the second unit, especially if Wittman continues to stagger guys like Wall and Beal with them. And with news that Pierce may see some extensive time at the 4, Otto may learn to have a field day in a small ball lineup that will keep him running, and in stride – where he thrives the best.
Jamal: I’m cautiously optimistic. I love the fact that the Wizards’ coaching staff gave Otto plenty of minutes during the preseason. While the competition was a lot stiffer than what he saw in the Summer League, Otto picked his spots on offense, shot well, and showed the overall poise that earned him the labeling as the most “NBA-ready” prospect in the 2013 draft. Mentally, he’s been primed by the staff and players alike to be prepared to take a big step forward in what essentially amounts to his rookie season.
If I could quibble, I’d say he’ll need to sharpen up his ball handling, but his ability to shoot after coming off screens should mask some of that. In sum, I think Otto can become an effective 6th man by mid-season.
Saam: While I don’t think Otto will start a lot of games this year, I do think he will see a lot of playing time and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Here’s a 2nd year player who missed a lot of time last year due to injury but in the summer, he proved that he’s ready to come in and play significant minutes right away. He’s going to have some growing pains early on but the kid can shoot the ball, there’s no denying that. This is an offense that’s based on fast paced transition buckets, pick and roll and John Wall finding open guys. As long as Otto can stay healthy and do the little things off the ball to get open, John will find him and that super butter of a jump shot will speak for itself.
Joe: Yes. Unless everyone in the organization is dead pressed on lying to the public about who Otto is as a person and player, you have to be excited about the upcoming season for him. Not only did he star in Summer League but all offseason, all training camp we’ve heard nothing but great things from Coach, from his teammates and from the guy who is teaching his NBA 101 class, Professor Pierce. Dropping 22 on Carmelo in his last performance before the live bullets start flying wasn’t a bad note to leave Wizards fans on either. Expecting career numbers from Otto across the board and honestly believe he could put a serious slow your roll attitude to the whole KD2DC movement. No folks, I’m not saying Otto is equal to or better than Kevin but if you are getting great production from your small forward, he’s already on your roster and happens to be a former number three overall pick why not hope and pray for the best from him. Like the song says, love the one your with.
Give us your season predictions.
Abdullah: I love the image of a number that’s 50 or higher in the win column for the Wizards. But I feel like predicting it means I’m expecting it which means I’m just prostituting my emotions square in the face of #SoWizards. So I’m going with 49-33.
This will most probably put them in the 3 or 4 spot in the East, granting them home court against a beatable team which should put them in the second round. I’m totally still not sure they can beat Chicago or Cleveland but I’m going with an ECF appearance anyway only because I’m choosing to go as far as John Wall’s expectations. So now I’m off the hook.
Jamal: I think the Wizards finally earn their billing as a top team and notch a 51-31 record.
The early injuries are a little scary, but with roster balance and a deep bench, I think Washington succeeds in keeping momentum going for full games. I see some Eastern Conference teams being overhyped (Charlotte), some that haven’t improved much (Toronto), and some that just won’t have it this year (Indiana).
Saam: I am predicting a division title for the Wizards this year.
Final record 54-28
Eastern Conference Finals Appearance
The additions of Pierce, Humphries, Blair got me feelin’ some type of way.