The combination of an improved roster, internal development and a weaker Eastern Conference will propel the Wizards to their first NBA playoff berth since 2008.
What Happened Last Season?
That was the Washington Wizards' record Jan. 6 of this year, following a 99-71 loss to the eventual champion Miami Heat. It was not looking good for the Wizards, to say the least. The Eastern Conference cellar-dweller was last in the NBA in scoring and shooting.
Then star point guard John Wall came back.
All of a sudden, the Wizards were competitive and played .500 ball (25-25) over their last 50 games. That record, extrapolated over the entire season, would've gotten them the eighth seed in the playoffs.
With an overall record of 29-53 in 2012-13, many will overlook the Wizards' chances at the playoffs next year.
But that would be foolish.
Why will the Wizards make the playoffs next year? Let's look at the three main reasons:
The Wizards Made Some Key Additions
The biggest addition the Wizards have made so far is the drafting of Otto Porter Jr.
Porter, a 6’8” small forward out of Georgetown, is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades player.
While he won’t wow anyone with his scoring ability, he won’t need to with the Wizards. Wall and Bradley Beal already provide more than enough scoring ability at the guard positions, and Nene is a good scorer in the post.
Last season, Martell Webster started the majority of the games at small forward. Webster, while a very good shooter, brings very little else to the table, although he is not a bad defender.
On the other hand, Porter can pass, defend his position well, rebound and penetrate very effectively.
Don’t be surprised to see Porter seize the starting position at small forward for the 2013-14 season. He could average around 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists as one of the more NBA-ready players in this draft.
With Porter, the Wizards have a very strong defensive frontcourt. Starting bigs Nene and Emeka Okafor already protected the rim well last year, but Porter can make it even easier on them by preventing ball-handlers from getting to the rim as often.
The other big pickup for the Wizards was point guard Eric Maynor, who can spell Wall for several minutes when Wall needs rest.
Last season, the Wizards suffered without Wall in part because they had no true point guard on the roster aside from him. Garrett Temple started many games at point guard with Wall out but averaged only 3.6 assists per 36 minutes.
Maynor won’t score much, but he is an unselfish playmaker who has averaged 7.1 assists per 36 minutes during his career. This will keep second-unit scorers like Webster, Trevor Ariza and Kevin Seraphin happy.
The Wizards Are Young And Bound to Improve
Wall made a huge difference when he came back in the middle of the season, but he wasn’t the only difference. Other players made improvements in their game, most notably rookie guard Beal.
At the All-Star break, Beal was averaging 13.2 points per game with 3.3 rebounds on 39.3 percent shooting from the field, according to ESPN. After the All-Star break, he scored 16.5 per game and grabbed 5.7 rebounds on 47 percent from the field and 46 percent from three.
Now, Beal is currently rehabbing a stress reaction in his leg, but Roto World says he should be 100 percent by training camp.
Expect him to become one of the elite young scorers in the NBA in the 2013-14 season.
In addition to Beal, look for young frontcourt players like Trevor Booker and Seraphin to flourish off the bench. Both Booker and Seraphin increased their field-goal percentages by more than six percent after the All-Star break.
Then there’s the franchise cornerstone, Wall, who makes everybody around him look good
Once he shook off the rust, Wall was fantastic last season. After the All-Star break, he averaged 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists in just 34.9 minutes per game.
Two years ago, the lockout hindered Wall from getting the reps with his teammates that he could’ve. He got injured a year ago in the offseason, yet somehow came back with the best season of his young career.
This summer, he’s fully healthy and cleared for takeoff into superstardom, provided he continues to improve his jump shot.
Wall’s game against the Grizzlies late last season showed how lethal he can be once his jumper becomes consistent.
Now that is a superstar.
Look for a slight bump in minutes (and stats) in 2013-14 for the former No. 1 pick.
The East Isn’t As Deep This Year
But the final three spots are about as wide open as Rajon Rondo outside the three-point line.
Milwaukee should be a weaker team without their Nos. 1 and 3 leading scorers, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick, even with the addition of O.J. Mayo. They have nice, young, big guys, but nobody on the roster is near the matchup nightmare that Wall is.
The Atlanta Hawks might stay in the playoffs, but losing two-way forward Josh Smith will hurt. Jeff Teague and Al Horford will both have to play like All-Stars to carry the Hawks to the playoffs.
Another contender for the playoffs look to be the Cleveland Cavaliers, with new center Andrew Bynum. He is a huge question mark, both attitudewise and healthwise.
The Wizards possess a great mix of young, intriguing talent (Wall, Porter, Beal) and reliable veterans (Nene, Okafor, Ariza) that no other team outside the top five teams in the East has.
For this reason, they will wade through the mess that is the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference and grab the sixth seed.
And in a few years, who knows? Maybe their young guns develop according to plan and lead the Wizards deep into the playoffs.