Playoff success is something that has avoided the Washington Wizards for quite some time. Can they reverse that trend this year?
Despite playoff aspirations in recent years, the Washington Wizards have not yet legitimized themselves as a bona fide championship contender. However, with star point guard John Wall nearing the end of his prime and the acquisition of a key veteran to the roster, the team’s intensity must be revamped to spark some life into their postseason play.
In a Lebron James-less Eastern Conference, the Wizards’ expectations will certainly be heightened this year, and head coach Scott Brooks has to inspire his team to perform at a higher level, or he could find his job to be in jeopardy.
2017-18 Season Recap
Even though the Wizards made the playoffs last year, it was still a disappointing season with only an eighth seed finish in the Eastern Conference and a loss to the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
This can be partially attributed to Wall’s suffocating knee injury causing him to miss exactly half the season, but the Wizards actually had a winning record (16-10) during Wall’s longest consecutive absence from the team.
Additionally, the loss of their passing aficionado didn’t affect the team’s ability to spread the ball around, as they ranked fourth in the NBA in assists per game.
Wall’s absence also forced the team to rely more heavily on shooting guard Bradley Beal, who shined as their primary option on offense. Last year, Beal averaged about 22 points per game on a fairly efficient shooting percentage of 46%, along with career highs of 4.4 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists per game. Beal proved not only that he can be a highly effective scorer without playing second fiddle to Wall, but also that he can support the team as a whole by being a solid passer and rebounder for his position.
The Wizards had some other bright spots on their roster, too. The former third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. played well as one of the team’s top scoring options, averaging about 15 points per game with an astounding effective field goal percentage of 58%. Also, Kelly Oubre Jr. established a solid role for himself coming off the bench, as he increased his scoring average over the previous year by 5.5 points per game.
By far the biggest (literally) and most important signing for the Wizards this summer was center Dwight Howard. At a relatively low price of just $5.3 million for one year, the league’s former three-time Defensive Player of the Year will provide immediate value to a Wizards team that hasn’t had a player average more than 1.5 blocks per game since the 2013 season.
Not only will Howard provide a strong presence on the defensive end, but he’ll also act as an efficient inside scorer and reliable rebounder. Last year, Howard averaged 12.5 rebounds per game, which was good for third in the NBA. He also shot a remarkable 67% from the paint while scoring 16.6 points per game.
Howard will serve as a replacement for former Wizards big man Marcin Gortat, who was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer. Even though Howard has had some chemistry issues with teammates (and head coaches) throughout his career, Gortat had the same issues in Washington, so this potential problem should be nothing new for Scott Brooks to deal with.
Two other acquisitions for the Wizards who will provide some help off the bench are point guard Austin Rivers and forward Jeff Green. While Rivers hasn’t been the most efficient scorer over the course of his career, he can make baskets in bunches at the point, which is something the Wizards desperately need coming off the bench. Green will add another athletic scorer to the frontcourt rotation with Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris filling out the starter spots.
In addition to these role-playing veterans, the Wizards also selected Oregon forward Troy Brown Jr. with the 15th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Brown Jr. will be a versatile wing to contribute to the Wizards’ rotation and will provide solid passing ability at the position. Also, he has a knack for causing turnovers, considering he averaged 1.6 steals per game at Oregon last year.
Upcoming Season Preview
While the Wizards don’t have the raw talent on their roster to match star-studded squads like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, they certainly have enough capable players to compete for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The team’s overall identity is similar to the Portland Trail Blazers, as both of their offenses flow through two guards who can score and pass at will and can play off of one another effectively. The biggest difference between the two teams is the Wizards have significantly better third and fourth options in Porter Jr. and Howard to work with, which will allow them to attack defenses with a variety of highly skilled scorers, forcing the opposition to pick and choose who to focus on and ignore quality players.
Similar to the Dallas Mavericks’ addition of DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard will provide a specific function to the Wizards on offense and defense: his interior presence. Although he isn’t the shot blocker he used to be, he can still be counted on to defend the rim consistently and will be a much-needed rebounding machine for a team that will most likely start Markieff Morris, who only averaged 5.6 rebounds per game last year, at the other frontcourt position.
Howard will also give Beal and Wall an easy target for their lobs and passes in the post, taking the scoring load off their shoulders even more.
As the starting five’s least offensively gifted player, Morris should focus most of his energy on the defensive end next season, especially considering it’s his strong suit.
Last year, shooters with Morris as their primary defender sank about six percent fewer shots than they normally make, including an incredible 15% fewer from three-point range. Porter Jr., on the other hand, must maintain his ability as a reliable scorer within the Wizards’ offense in order for them to truly be elite. His scoring presence behind Wall and Beal, if maintained at its efficiency displayed last season, could give opposing defenses fits trying to contain all three of them.
Two other contributors to the Wizards’ success next year will be guard Tomas Satoransky and the aforementioned Oubre Jr. Satoransky, who did a phenomenal job filling in for Wall as an efficient distributor last year, as he averaged about four assists per game with a remarkable 58% effective field goal percentage. Oubre Jr.’s further development could serve as a lightning strike off the bench next year, as he’s already a double-digit scorer at just 22 years old with plenty of room to improve his shooting efficiency.
The two most vital pieces to the team’s success next year, however, will be Bradley Beal and John Wall, especially given the chemistry they display with one another. After Beal’s somewhat of a breakout season, he has to remember that Wall is the most talented player with the ball in his hands on the roster and that he should, for the most part, play in a supporting role. On the other hand, Wall should understand that Beal is the better isolation scorer and shouldn’t be afraid to let the offense flow through Beal every once in a while.
Considering both of them have the talent to be the best player on certain NBA rosters, this relationship will certainly be tested throughout the season, and each star may get frustrated they aren’t getting the number of touches or shots they feel they deserve. However, if they can unselfishly share the ball, it should allow them both to operate as more efficient players according to their respective skill sets, creating a symbiotic relationship between the pair and for the team as a whole.
Even though the Wizards had a disappointing finish to the season last year, they seem to have exciting potential for the upcoming one. Not only is the team without significant injuries, but it’s deep and full of many weapons on the offensive and defensive ends to pester their opponents.
With one of the most talented rosters in the Eastern Conference, it’s on them and head coach Scott Brooks to come together and achieve significant playoff success next year. Anything less should be considered a bust.
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