Last season: 41-41, 10th in the East
Off-season Gains: C Ian Mahinmi (free agent), PG Trey Burke (trade), PF Jason Smith (free agent), PF Andrew Nicholson (free agent), SG Tomas Satoransky (draft stash)
Off-season Losses: PF Nene Hilario (free agent/Houston), SF Jared Dudley (free agent/Phoenix), PG Ramon Sessions (free agent/Charlotte), SG Garrett Temple (free agent/Sacramento), PF Drew Gooden (waived),
Off-season Stock: Just low enough that I think I can make a modest profit on them.
League Pass Team?: I'm here for John Wall, but I'll be able to put up with only so much Otto Porter before swearing off them by January.
For a team without any real title aspirations, the Wizards sure do have a lot to prove.
John Wall has to prove he can get along with Bradley Beal (who just signed a max deal, which means he'll be making significantly more money than Wall), and their relationship will be even more scrutinized after Wall publicly took the torch to Beal in the summer.
From an interview Wall participated in with CSN Mid-Atlantic's Chris Miller:
"Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I'm an All-Star. If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it's going to be his night, one night it's going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it's going to be tough to beat us."
Totally reminds you of the Spurs, huh?
Bradley, meanwhile, not only has to rise to Wall's challenge, but also show that he can be durable. He's played 63 games or fewer in three of his four seasons, and just 55 last year. He put up a career-high PER last season, which sounds positive, but it was only 15.5, which is barely above average. Giving him a max deal seems like quite a gamble.
Markieff Morris, who groused his way out of Phoenix, has to prove he can be a positive influence on a team and someone who can still improve instead of being just a guy out there.
Porter, making steady improvement from a guy with "all-time draft bust" as a rookie to functional starter by year three, has to prove he can hold off Kelly Oubre Jr., last year's first-rounder.
Finally, Scotty Brooks has to prove that he was deserving of another coaching shot, that he actually has the chops to do this, instead of simply being someone who came along at the right place and the right time for a nascent Oklahoma City Thunder squad with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, the kind of talent that's hard for anyone to screw up, in Gregg Popovich parlance. The speculation was the Wiz hired Brooks, along with Durant's high school coach to an assistant gig, to lure the D.C. native home, but he never even gave them a pitch meeting. So now the Wiz are left holding an empty bag, with just a bunch of salty, motivated dudes.
I'm on Team Wall, without reservation. Talent like his comes along once in a generation. Guys like Beal come off the assembly line. He's a bit like Chris Paul, in that he can rub people the wrong way, but there's nothing on the court he can't do. His jumper isn't as good as Paul's, especially from mid-range, but he's never played with an All-Star caliber big, either. I think his Kentucky background works against him. He came from a place where a bunch of guys were at his level to one in Washington where he's so much better than everyone. He's still adjusting to it. There are too many 5-of-17's in his statline, but I think we'll see fewer of them if the guys around him get more serious. For what it's worth, I think he's the best point guard in the East, and I'd take still take him over Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry without blinking.
Beal's percentages are fine. For all appearances he seems like a relatively efficient player, but something just doesn't add up with him. The Wizards were outscored with him on the floor and a tick over neutral when he sat. He's really a poor defender for a starter. His shooting range doesn't improve the offense as much as it should. He's improved since coming into the league, but not enough to project into superstardom someday. His ceiling is marginal All-Star, the kind that get voted in by the coaches, only he doesn't have the game to warrant coaches ever appreciating him. Wall is correct that Beal has to be substantially better for them to contend.
Markieff is a guy who whose frustration you can sort of understand. He should get more shots. 40 percent of his attempts are mid-range jumpers, which sounds bad, but he's really good at them, kind of like a homeless man's LaMarcus Aldridge. You wish other areas of his game were better. You wish he passed it better, guarded people better, got to the line more, all those things. But even as a limited player he should be getting the ball more, especially for a club that's challenged to score.
Gortat has long been one of my favorite dudes in the league. He's one of the best dive men out there, but one of those guys who's polarizing. You watch him every so often like a casual fan and you think, "I don't get why Wizards fans are so down on this guy." But if you watch him night in and night out, the warts are readily noticeable. As well as he plays the pick-and-roll on offense, he's hopeless against it on the other end. His numbers have been consistent the past five years, but he'll have wild swings in production from game-to-game. He's built himself into a solid, above-average center and one worth the contract he got from Washington, but I don't think you can win a title with him as your starter.
Porter came into the league with a strong defensive reputation, but so far I haven't seen it and the numbers don't reflect it. He's improved his offense to the point where he's no longer a laughingstock, and he's fine as a fifth starter there, in the Harrison Barnes with-the-Warriors role, but I don't know if his defense is good enough to justify starter's minutes. Oubre got his feet wet as a rookie last year and was mostly an inefficient black hole, but he's got more explosiveness and bounce to his game. Maybe he profiles better as a sixth man, but I'd like to see what he can do as a starter with Wall to set him up, and opponents focusing so much of their attention elsewhere.
Marcus Thornton got a cup of coffee for them last year and shot poorly, but he was re-signed anyway to be the other backup wing alongside Oubre. The Wiz have completely retooled their bench around them. Trey Burke was a total disappointment in Utah, to the degree they offloaded him to Washington for a second-round pick, and he'll replace the departed Ramon Sessions behind Wall. He's got a good mid-range jumper, but struggles to finish around the rim and isn't much of a play-maker. I'm surprised they didn't bring in more competition there.
Ian Mahinmi was their big free-agent signing and he's one of the better backup bigs in the league. He'll improve their second unit from last year, but his contract is weird. $16 million a year seems awfully high for a backup. Gortat still has two years left on his deal after this one. Are they going to try to move him? They also brought in Jason Smith from Orlando. He's a bit of a goon and not all that good, but he inevitably winds up getting more minutes than you'd think because he keeps finding himself on teams where people ahead of him on the depth chart get hurt. He doesn't rebound well for a 7-footer or finish well around the basket. Andrew Nicholson makes more sense as a backup four, he's an energy guy with three-point range, and his style isn't too different than Morris'. The one wild card is Czech guard Tomas Satoransky. He's played in Spain the past few years and is a 6'7 athletic guy who shot 43 percent from the shorter Euro-league three-point line last season. He can push for the backup two job if Thornton struggles but what's interesting for him is he's played point guard for most of his career, so he can push Burke too, possibly.
Heaven help me, but despite all my better instincts, I like this team. Or maybe I just dislike them less than Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte and Orlando. I like their size and the fact they upgraded their bigs and got rid of Nene, Drew Gooden and DeJuan Blair. I think Porter, Oubre and Morris will all improve and Beal will play at least 70 games. I'm optimistic about them beyond all reason. I've got the Wizards as a five seed in the East and giving the Pacers a tough first round series. Now watch them win 35 games and make me look dumb.