Last season: 46-36, 2nd, Southeast Division (5th, Eastern Conference), Lost 4-2 to ATL in Semifinals
Notable Acquisitions: G/F Kelly Oubre (Kansas, 15th overall via trade w/ATL), G/F Jared Dudley (via trade w/ MIL), G/F Alan Anderson (free agent, BKN), G Gary Neal (free agent, MIN), G Ish Smith (free agent, PHI)
Draft Picks: F Aaron White (Iowa, 49th overall)
Notable Losses: F Paul Pierce (LAC), G/F Rasual Butler (SAS), G Will Bynum (free agent)
Top DOG: John Wall
Star UnderDOG: Bradley Beal
Burning Question: Is Randy Wittman’s faster paced offense enough to lift Washington over the hump on 2015-16?
A year ago, the Washington Wizards ranked 18th in the league in both pace of play and scoring. With John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the charge, there’s absolutely no reason to muck it up and play out of half court sets the majority of the time.
Coach Wittman has vowed to incorporate a quicker offense to generate more opportunities on the break.
If if weren’t for John Wall’s wrist fracture during last year’s Semifinals, many Wizards fans believe their squad would have advanced to the NBA Finals. The Atlanta Hawks took advantage of Wall’s injury, though the star guard fought through and played anyway, and won the series in six games.
The Wizards put forth a valiant effort but did not have enough firepower to get over the hump. Plus, Randy Wittman’s strategy, including favoring a slower-paced offensive attack was no match for Atlanta’s more uptempo, three-point heavy game. To Wittman’s credit, he has decided to give Wall even more responsibility in the open floor and run a faster pace with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
Beal is already one of the NBA’s top shooting guards, though there is still an extra gear the fourth-year guard can tap into. When healthy, Beal is one of the Association’s most reliable marksmen (41% 3FG) and can create his own offense off the bounce in certain situations.
To reach that next level, however, he needs to drive hard to the basket and get to the free throw lane at a much higher rate.
Optimism abounds for both Beal and Porter, the latter of which stood out during Washington’s postseason run a year ago. Once Wittman started using Porter as a hybrid stretch four, he was very effective. Porter averaged 10 points, 6 boards and shot the three ball at a 38% clip over the Wizards’ two-round run.
He finally started to justify his standing as the team’s top young prospect and cornerstone for the future to go with the already dominant backcourt.
But outside of improvement from Wall, Beal and Porter, are the Wizards the same predictable bunch that had trouble breaking through the Eastern Conference? Better yet, can they realistically defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, or, even, Miami Heat in a 7-game series?
Perhaps…But one thing is certain: Washington won’t advance far at all if they don’t get more help both on the interior and from beyond the arc. Nene and Marcin Gortat are both solid on the inside but, in this day and age, they don’t really complement each anymore. And if Washington really wants to get out on the break, it’s a wrap for that combo.
So far in the preseason, Washington has started Kris Humphries (remember him?) at the four, Otto at the three, with Nene coming off the pine…which could work. In fact, bringing Nene in as a sub is perfect; he is an excellent passer out of the post and can dish out to newly-acquired shooters Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, and Jared Dudley.
The success of Washington’s season will largely depend upon how well Porter can adapt to a larger role, how Wall can impose a stingier defensive mindset on the perimeter (2nd-Team All Defense in 2014-15), and if Wittman’s new system can produce cleaner looks from beyond the arc.
Washington could jump to the top of the Eastern Conference or take a huge step back.
Either way, it’ll be another interesting season, to say the least, for Wall and the gang. If healthy, Washington is a true dark horse title contender.
Projected Starting 5:
SF: Porter Jr.-Dudley-Oubre Jr.
C: Gortat-Gooden III
-Though it makes a ton of sense to bring in Nene as a Sixth Man, the starting spot is still a toss-up between he and Humphries. Once Jared Dudley returns from injury, throw his name in the mix as well.
-Drew Gooden III may be 76 years old but he’s been solid off the bench as a midrange shooter behind Gortat. DeJuan Blair is another option for spot minutes.
-Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, and Martell Webster are all vying for playing time behind Beal and Porter. There’s an immediate opening with the departure of Pierce and Rasual Butler.
Otto Porter Jr. is desperately trying to live up to the hilarious “Otto-Matic” that he’s uncommonly referred to as. This preseason, the results have been very encouraging. Porter has played a bit at both the 3 and 4, while showing a more concentrated version of his shooting touch from outside.
Porter is a true UnderDOG who is in a tremendous position to thrive next to one of the league’s most versatile backcourts in terms of explosiveness and shooting ability. He has a decent chance to duplicate Trevor Ariza’s production from a couple of seasons ago.
Projected Stat Line: 14 points/game, 7 rebounds/game, 37% 3FG
WHO We Like…Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oubre Jr. showed a lot of promise in Summer League play with the Wiz. He may not be ready to contribute right away but it’s not like Washington is just overflowing with talented wings.
Kelly needs to work on his ball-handling and shooting off screens but he is a true upside player in the lineup.
What We Don’t Like…Injury History.
It seems like Washington is hit by the injury bug every single season. Though Beal, Wall and Porter Jr. stayed relatively healthy in the regular year, the playoffs proved too much to overcome.
Coach Wittman has more options to toy around with this season, so expect to see the starters’ distributed more liberally.
Washington’s Best Case Scenario: John Wall is a top-10 player in the NBA and the Wizards plow their way to a Conference Finals appearance.
Washington’s Worst Case Scenario: Washington is extremely mediocre, can’t stay healthy and gets bounced out in the first round.
3rd, Southeast Division (6th, Eastern Conference), First-Round Exit
“I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of people to make proud.” – John Wall