Last season: 44-38, 2nd Southeast Division (5th Eastern Conference), Lost 4-2 to IND in Semifinals
Notable Acquisitions: F Paul Pierce (free agent, BKN), F Kris Humphries (free agent, BOS), F/C DeJuan Blair (free agent, DAL)
Notable Losses: F Trevor Ariza (HOU), F Trevor Booker (UTA), F Al Harrington (China)
Burning Question: How will Washington fare on defense after replacing Trevor Ariza with Paul Pierce?
We all know Pierce is a spectacular player destined for the Hall of Fame but in 2014-15, he is a subpar defender. Ariza was Washington’s consistent lockdown force on the perimeter and took on the challenge of stopping the opposition’s best player (WAS finished top 10 in defensive efficiency for the second straight year).
The Wizards will need to focus more on containing dribble penetration and shading help towards the bigs this season to offset the loss of Ariza.
Just when everything was looking up for Washington, it went crashing down: Bradley Beal is out for the first two months of the season after suffering a wrist injury. It is a tough blow to the Wizards since Beal is an emerging star and the team is finally seen as a contender for the first time since the Gilbert Arenas-era.
After an impressive first-round victory over Chicago last season, Washington re-signed Marcin Gortat (5 year/$60 million deal) and signed Paul Pierce to replace the departed Trevor Ariza. With the “Truth” now in the fold, the Wizards have a nice blend of veteran leadership (Gortat, Pierce, Nene, Andre Miller) to go along with their up and coming young talent.
So, it’s easy to see why they were picked by many to win the Southeast Division, right? Now, everything is in flux for Washington. John Wall, the team’s top player and All-Star, has to play at an “other-worldly” level for the Wiz to overcome tough teams like the Hawks, Hornets and Heat.
If anyone is up for it though, Wall is. He thrives off pressure and remains as one of the league’s top dime-droppers (averaged 8.8 in 2013-14). Outside of Wall, Washington’s young guns must step.
Yeah, we’re talking to you, Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter. Rice will likely be thrust into a starting role until Beal returns, one that he may or may not be ready for. Though he lit up Summer League play, Rice is a former second-round pick who barely got off the pine last year.
Same goes for 2013 number 3 overall pick, Otto Porter. Right now, he is primed as Pierce’s primary backup. But with Beal sidelined, Porter should receive a greater dose of minutes. Both Rice and Porter have to grow up quickly for the Wiz not to lose a ton of ground.
In Washington’s favor, they are a veteran team with plenty of options up front. So, until they get their dynamic shooting guard back, Wall can feed Nene, Gortat, Kris Humphries and others to slow down the pace.
Coach Randy Wittman will face a tough test in keeping Washington afloat for the first couple of months. But if they succeed, the Wizards will regain their footing as one of the top contenders in the East come postseason time.
Projected Starting 5:
Boom, John Wallin’
If you haven’t figured it out yet, John Wall is a special, special player. He averaged 19.3 ppg and almost 9 assists on the way to leading Washington to its first playoff berth since 2007.
He was named Dunk Contest champ, shot a career-high 35% from three, and was invited to participate in training camp with Team USA. But since he was snubbed from both Team USA and the All-NBA teams, Wall will have a bigger chip on his shoulder than ever before. And the scary thing is…he’s only 24!
What we like…Hunger. The Wizards are a team who is always searching for more. More recognition from the media, their opponents, anyone you can think of. And it all comes from their veteran leaders. Paul Pierce wants to show people he can win a title outside of Boston, Nene continues to try and justify his enormous contract, Andre Miller wants to finally win a championship, so on and so forth.
Mix the attitudes of the wily vets with young players like Wall and Beal and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success.
What we don’t like…Injuries. The season has not even tipped off and the Wiz are already without three key pieces for an extended period of time: Bradley Beal (wrist), Kris Humphries (finger) and Martell Webster (back). Historically, John Wall, Beal, Pierce, Nene, and Webster have all battled nagging injuries.
If the team continues to get hit by the injury bug, they could take a nosedive in the standings.
Best Case: Washington stays relatively healthy the rest of the way, Wall plays at an All-NBA level, the old vets mesh well with the young talent and they reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Worst Case: Pierce can’t turn back the hands of time, Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter aren’t ready for extended action, Washington struggles defensively, and the Wiz are bounced out in Round 1.
2nd, Southeast Division (5th Eastern Conference), Second-Round Exit
“PREPARE. FOR. GLORY!”- Marcin Gortat