Early Predictions for Washington Wizards' Starting 5 Next Season
It's hard to believe that just a few seasons removed from the disastrous Gilbert Arenas situation and Rashard Lewis' contract that the Washington Wizards fans are thinking playoffs, and all because of the prospect of the team's starting five for the 2013-14 season.
After slowly rebuilding through the draft, the Wizards are ready to roll out their best starting lineup in years.
There have been some slip-ups along the way, such as John Wall's injury that took him out of the lineup for the first half of last season and the 2011 draft. But through the draft and several crafty trades by team president Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards have rebuilt their roster and are ready to be contenders.
The Wizards are primed to have a solid mix of young talent and proven veterans who, together, have a reasonable chance to make basketball relevant again in the nation's capital.
Point Guard: John Wall
If the Wizards are going to make the playoffs this season, John Wall will be the one to lead them there.
Wall is the leader in the locker room, and is the general and shot-caller on the court. Just by looking at last season, it's easy to see that Wall makes Washington a better team.
After missing the first half of the year with a knee injury, Wall came back and energized the team, leading them to 29 wins after starting with a 5-28 record without him in the lineup.
Wall had his best statistical season in his three years in the NBA, averaging 18.5 points, 7.6 assists and four rebounds in 42 starts.
By season's end, Wall had career-highs in shooting percentage, points and free-throw percentage.
If everyone else can stay healthy, Wall will probably play a smaller role on the Wizards, focusing more on dishing the ball out rather than scoring. Last season, he only had the likes of Garrett Temple and Trevor Ariza to help with the scoring, but now he has a much better supporting cast.
When the season comes to an end, you should be able to determine how well Washington did by looking at Wall's assists. If they are up from the 2012-13 season, expect the Wizards to be a better team.
There's nothing wrong with Wall's scoring output, especially the games when he breaks 30 points, but the Wizards would be better off with Wall taking less shots and being more of a distributor than he's been in his first three seasons.
Wall is the face of basketball in Washington right now, and deserves to have more minutes than anyone else on the team.
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal
After averaging 14 points in his rookie season in Washington, Bradley Beal is poised to make a leap in his second year out of Florida.
Beal, 20, fits in well with the rest of the young players on the Wizards, but he had to deal with several injuries throughout the year, and only made 46 starts.
However, when he was playing, Beal was very impressive, averaging 14 points and 3.8 rebounds. When John Wall was hurt, Beal was the leader on the team, but his numbers greatly improved when Wall came back, averaging 15 points per game in January and 17 in February.
That leads fans to wonder what the Beal/Wall combo can do when they are both healthy.
If Beal wants to make a greater impact and push the Wizards beyond the .500 mark, he needs to start taking better shots. Beal only shot 40 percent from the floor on the year, and greatly struggled with shooting mid-range jumpers from behind the key.
That was partially because he was Washington's main offensive threat with no Wall, but he still needs to work on driving to the hoop and taking better shots, and knowing when to pass the ball off (he only averaged 2.4 assists per game in his rookie year).
But a full season of a healthy Wall could do Beal wonders, so expect him to take a leap forward in his second year out of college.
Small Forward: Martell Webster
Similar to Bradley Beal, Martell Webster really came on as a starting small forward when John Wall returned to the lineup.
After averaging nine points per game during the first three months of the season, Webster really came on with Wall back from injury, averaging 12.3 points during the remaining four months of the season.
The 26-year-old had previously spent time with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers before coming over to Washington. Clearly, the Wizards were impressed by Webster's performance as a starter, since they re-signed him to a four-year, $22 million contract.
However, it's unclear if he'll average the 28.9 minutes per game he had during the 2012-13 season since the Wizards drafted small forward Otto Porter with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Porter has struggled out of the gate in the NBA, missing far more shots than he's made in the NBA Summer League. Still, Washington would still be wise to take some minutes away from Webster and give them to Porter, who is the small forward of the future in Washington.
Webster's experience will undoubtedly help Porter as he grows into a NBA player, but at only 20 years old, it seems as if Webster will be the starter to give Porter time to age alongside Wall and Beal.
When he is starting, Webster needs to focus on his defense. Although he finished with a career high in points last year, he only pulled down 3.9 rebounds per game—a number that should be up on a defense-first team.
But while Porter continues to develop, Webster is certainly a viable starter, and he'll need to prove to the Wizards that he is well worth the $22 million.
Power Forward: Nene
While Nene will definitely be the starting power forward for the first game of the season, there's certainly no guarantee he'll be there later in the season.
The 30-year-old has constantly battled with injury throughout his NBA career, only appearing in all 82 games in one season out of the 11 for his career.
When the Brazil native is on the floor, he is a great veteran asset to have. Although his scoring was down last season from his previous 10 years with the Denver Nuggets, he still averaged over 12 points per game.
Even when he's on the bench, Nene could be a valuable mentor to younger power forwards Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, who will likely be splitting time off the bench this season.
Nene is a defensive threat, picking up 6.7 rebounds per game and 0.9 blocks, but he needs to improve his shooting. The decreased point production likely comes from Washington's struggling offense in the 2012-13 season, but the 6'11" big man only shot 48 percent from the floor, only two seasons removed from a year when he played in 75 games and shot 61 percent.
Obviously, the Wizards would love it if Nene could play a whole season, but at this point in his career that seems extremely unlikely.
Hurt or not, Nene is a quality veteran that brings experience to an otherwise young lineup and is still a great rebounder.
Center: Emeka Okafor
The 6'10" center started 77 games for the Wizards and ended the season leading the team in rebounds with 8.8 per game and blocks with one per game.
With new head coach Randy Wittman at the helm, he chose to take Washington in a defensive direction, and Okafor was the most valuable defensive player on a team that ended up finishing eighth in the league in scoring defense.
Okafor currently has the highest-paying contract on the Wizards, making over $14 million this season. He'll be looking for a new contract at the end of the 2013-14 season, which should give him some incentive to play even better than he did last year.
Although his new contract likely won't be anywhere as large as $14 million per year, Washington should consider signing Okafor to a two- or three-year extension. At 30, Okafor brings a veteran presence that the team could use and he has proven to be a good defensive player despite a decline in his scoring.
There's not much else as far as centers go on the roster at this point, so no one will be competing for Okafor's job. He likely continue to fight for boards and he isn't afraid to cash in below the rim, averaging 12.3 points for his career.