5 Reasons John Wall and the Washington Wizards Can Surprise the NBA This Season
The Washington Wizards have been labeled as one of the league's worst teams. That's fair. Last year, they were. But there's a lot of reasons to expect things to improve this season.
With expectations so low, it won't take a phenomenal season by John Wall and company to exceed them. Still, Wizards fans can take solace in the fact that the team has a lot of talent and has ridden themselves of the cancer that was Andray Blatche, as the team amnestied the overpaid forward this offseason, which will help them clear cap room moving forward.
Make no mistake, the Wiz are rebuilding, but even rebuilding teams (theoretically) want to win as many games as possible, and it's worth taking a look at why the Wizards may be better than expected—low though those expectations may be.
1) Strong Defense
The Washington Wizards have a much stronger defense than last year's performance indicates. In 2011-12, they posted a defensive efficiency rating of 103.8, which was the seventh worst in the NBA, but there's a lot of reasons to believe their defense will be above average this year.
First off, the acquisition of Nene Hilario late last season provides a great pick and roll defender. Nene isn't quite the shot blocker that the departed JaVale McGee is (at all), but he is very mobile and defends well in the post due his strong upper body. Blocking shots can be overrated in many senses, and the Wiz defend better with Nene on the court.
The Wizards have a great interior presence in their other three front court players, too.
Kevin Seraphin is a big body and is going to be about the same quality and type of player as the veteran Nene in front of him.
Trevor Booker is a good combo forward whose position is undefined, but his talent indisputable.
Emeka Okafor has been a top-class defender since his days at UConn, though he never panned out to his high upside (comparisons were made between Okafor and a young Ben Wallace).
Beyond the front court strength, they have a couple of lock-down wing defenders in Trevor Ariza and second-year Florida State product Chris Singleton. Singleton had a lackluster rookie season, but only offensively. Prior to the 2011 Draft, he declared himself the best defender in the draft class, and compared himself to Scottie Pippen.
That's a huge stretch, but he's very good and can learn a lot playing behind Ariza. Ariza's calling card has been defense, and he's been an effective NBA player because of it. There's no better player than Ariza for Singleton to take tips from as he learns how to adapt to life in the NBA.
2) High-Scoring Backcourt
The Wizards' main weakness this year is going to be matching other teams' offensive output. But it won't be due to a lack of scoring in the backcourt.
John Wall averaged 16.3 points per game last season, and is reasonably the kind of talent that can and will average over 20 a game—perhaps even this season.
The Wizards need him to. Wall has the speed and athleticism to shine and be a perennial All-Star and great offensive talent, but the problem thus far has been the lack of talent surrounding him.
Defenses have been able to key in on Wall all too easily, and it's resulted in him taking a lot of bad shots (see: 41.6 percent career field goal percentage).
That's why Bradley Beal was drafted.
Beal is a very good shooter on a team with very few, and his presence on the wing will make it more difficult for opposing two-guards to cheat off and play help side defense on Wall.
Expectations for Beal must be tempered, because he is just a rookie, but he's NBA-ready and a good enough talent that the Wizards felt confident in reaching for him with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 draft. Basketball Monster, (subscription required) a popular fantasy basketball site, projects Beal to post 14.9 points per game this year.
Adding to the true backcourt of the future in Beal and Wall, the Wizards also have 23- year-old Jordan Crawford. The Xavier product posted 14.7 points per game last year and had a per-36 scoring of 19.3 points. He's going to have a reduced role as the Wizards develop Beal, but will make a great third guard off the bench to provide scoring punch.
Crawford will be joined in the second unit by Martell Webster, who offers great value as a shooter and bench scorer. Webster has battled injuries over the last four seasons, but was drafted No. 6 overall in 2005 and theoretically still has a lot of talent and potential at just 25 years of age.
In addition to Webster, the Wiz signed 32-year-old Jannero Pargo, a good shoot-first point guard capable of scoring some, and if they can get anything from A.J. Price and second-year man Shelvin Mack, that's just a bonus.
3) Bradley Beal Has a Very High Upside
Bradley Beal has drawn a lot of comparisons to Ray Allen, and if his upside is that high, the Wizards scored the second best player in the draft.
The thing is, he may be an even better athlete than Allen was in his prime, which has many suggesting he is more Dwyane Wade-like than Allen-esque. He's a little undersized for a shooting guard, which only furthers the Wade comparison.
Beal is good at getting to the basket and finishes well, and John Hollinger of ESPN (subscription required) gives Eric Gordon as a reasonable high upside for Beal, citing the fact that he just doesn't shoot the ball as well as Allen, who is the best three-point shooter in NBA history.
If he is as good as Gordon, the Wizards got what they wanted. If he's as good as Allen, combining him with Wall will make the Wizards contenders with the right complementary pieces.
4) Developing Young Role Players
The aforementioned Kevin Seraphin offers a lot of promise as an NBA center. He has a big enough body (6'9", 264 pounds) to bang with the bigger centers in the league and he swatted away 2.3 shots per-36 last year. In addition to that, he also posted 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per-36.
Seraphin saw only 20.6 minutes per game last year, but that should increase to at least 26 minutes per game this year as he continues to develop. He impressed in the 2012 Olympics coming off the bench for France and is still only 22 years old.
Jan Vesely is a very athletic forward, and at 6'11", he has the height to play power forward but the speed and agility to play small forward. His leaping ability makes him a decent shot-blocker (1.1 blocks per-36), and if he can capitalize on that and begin to develop better court instincts, he could find himself a lot of easy buckets with John Wall setting him up for dump offs and lob passes.
Vesely doesn't have a high basketball IQ and he is going to have to learn how to stay out of foul trouble before he can play a lot of minutes, but he was taken No. 6 overall in 2011, so expectations remain high.
Singleton, as mentioned, has the tools to become a premier defender. The question is whether he can become much more than that. He has a decent three-point shot, but can't create shots for himself. He's a little undersized to play power forward, and right now, his primary position will be small forward.
Singleton still has a lot of work to put in offensively. If he doesn't, he'll never be much more than an emergency guy off the bench to put in when an opposing wing gets hot, and the Wiz have much higher hopes for him considering they spent the No. 18 pick on him in 2011.
The biggest problem Trevor Booker faces is being a tweener. At 6'8", he could benefit from an inch or two more to play the 4 spot, but he leaps well enough to compensate for it. He plays very hard and finishes well around the basket, but needs to work on his shooting so he can play more time at small forward. He's foul-prone and can't hit free throws either.
Booker is a work in progress but a very good project for the Wizards.
Booker was taken No. 23 in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves and wasn't highly regarded coming out of Clemson, but he has since proven he could be one of the steals of that draft class. Pity for the Wolves that they didn't reap the benefits.
5) John Wall Can Become an Elite Point Guard
John Wall is the marquee name on the Wizards. Some say he is a franchise player. But if you define "franchise players" as guys who are capable of being the best player on a championship squad, he may never fulfill that label.
Then again, he may.
Wall has the athleticism and talent to be an All-Star, but does he have the talent to build a team around? That's unclear.
Wall has great size for a point guard (6'4", 195 pounds) and is great for a team that loves to fast break. The Wizards don't have the talent around him to push the pace, though, so it's unclear how they are going to utilize Wall to the best of his capabilities. He also needs to work on both his shot and his shot selection, or he's going to continue to plateau—if not regress.
So why is Wall a reason that the Wizards will surprise?
Mainly his potential. Wall was a No. 1 overall selection in a weak draft, but a first pick nonetheless. He's going to have to learn to gamble less on defense and become a better leader, but once that happens, he could lead the Wizards to the playoffs.
Just don't expect that to happen this season.
The term "surprising" is very relative. If analysts and fans expect the Wizards to be one of the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference, then they definitely will surprise.
But that surprise likely won't mean a playoff berth, nor will it mean a .500 season.
Wall has the talent to take a decent supporting cast to a playoff berth, but save for an above-average defense, his teammates doesn't offer the level of support needed to be anything more than a lottery team.
Season Projection for Wall and the Wizards: 32-50