The NBA All-Star break was a win for the Washington Wizards. John Wall showed some strut in both the All-Star Game and the dunk "contest," and the team, now healthy, got some rest for the playoff push in the Eastern Conference.
When thinking about the Wizards, one may encounter feelings of disappointment. But this version of the capital's team shows promise, taking advantage of a weak conference and the development of an exciting backcourt headed by one of the premier point guards in the Association.
However, hidden beneath the promising surface of Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat is an ugly bench of Eric Maynor, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter—players brought into Washington by general manager Ernie Grunfeld whom coach Randy Wittman hasn't been able to do much with short of throwing them on the court.
The Wizards bench has the third-worst net rating per 100 possessions in the league, according to NBA.com statistics.
But the future is bright in Washington. As of publication, the Wizards are 26-28 and hold the No. 6 seed in the playoffs—just 2.5 games behind a top-four seeding.
They will likely make the playoffs and, in the next few slides, I'll predict how they get there.
Statistics and records accurate as of Feb. 19, 2014. Follow Wes on Twitter @wcgoldberg.
When talking about the Wizards, it can be easy to forget that they already made their big trade when they shipped off Emeka Okafor's expiring deal to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat.
At the time, some had already layered Washington onto the NBA's tank sandwich. That move showed the Wizards planned on going after a playoff spot this season.
Gortat has been a clear upgrade from Okafor, and the front line of Nene and Gortat doesn't get bullied around.
As far as another trade, Washington has a sexy expiring contract in Ariza. Ariza has played well this season and could command extra dollars this summer, which could tempt Washington to get something in return for him by the deadline.
However, the Wizards are seeking to make the playoffs, and Ariza is an important piece, especially since Otto Porter hasn't been up to snuff (next slide).
Besides Ariza, the Wizards have various pieces but nothing quite demanding on the market. If they can somehow parlay some of their rookie-scale deals for Jameer Nelson or Andre Miller, that would be a huge boost to the bench.
With that said, I don't know that Wizards have what it takes to get a deal done. Since they are still rebuilding and don't figure to win the title this season, I don't see them pulling the trigger on any major future assets.
1, 0, 7, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0.
That's a list of Porter's minutes played in February.
He's averaging the fewest minutes per game on the Wizards roster and, even if he does see increased playing time, doesn't have the run in the NBA that would lead me to expect he can make an impact in his rookie season.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Munshaw has a nice piece on how disappointing Porter has been. To summarize it, Porter's minutes have gone down because he is shooting 29.1 percent from the floor—29.1 percent!
His shot chart looks like the floor of the cargo container that led to Dexter Morgan becoming a serial killer.
He has made zero three-pointers this season, and putting him on the floor with Wall, who likes to slash and kick, is like playing four on five.
Porter has some work to do, and simply putting him in the lineup isn't the answer. Hopefully for Washington, an offseason of training and working on his shot (and Ariza leaving in free agency) will help him earn some playing time next season.
Check out Wall's per-game stats from either side of last season's All-Star break, via NBA.com statistics.
|Pre-All-Star break||14.7 PPG||7.3 AST|
|Post-All-Star break||20.7 PPG||7.8 AST|
Before the break this season, Wall averaged 19.8 points per game and 8.5 assists in what has been a career year. Wall getting healthy played a part in his improvement last season. He hasn't missed a game yet in 2013-14, but the rest of his team has and is healthy now.
Staring into my crystal ball, I predict that a healthy supporting cast will help Wall improve his numbers.
Opponents won't be able to key in on him as much with Beal and Ariza stretching the defense and Nene and Gortat taking care of things down low.
For the sake of specificity, I'll improve Wall's stats by last season's rate—29 percent in points and 6 percent in assists.
|Pre-All-Star break||19.8 PPG||8.5 AST|
|Predicted post-All-Star break||25.5 PPG||9.1 AST|
Holy crap. OK, let's knock that down a notch. How's 22 points per game while maintaining nine assists? Yeah, let's go with that.
In his first two games back from New Orleans, Wall had 22 and 21 points and 19 total assists. In other words, 21.5 and 9.5—h'm.
Splitting its first two games since the All-Star break, Washington (26-28) has the No. 6 seed. But February has been a mixed bag for the Wizards, with great home wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers and an important victory in Atlanta, but bad losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors at home.
But it gets easier.
The Bulls have been competing really well despite the losses of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, but they have the third-hardest schedule remaining of teams in the East and had an easier schedule than the Wizards before the break. They may have been overachieving so far, and Washington has the chance to leap them in the standings.
As for the Raptors, the Wizards have lost all three meetings to them so far. Toronto has their number, and the two teams meet just once more in the regular season.
The Raptors are built for the push into the postseason with one of the best point guards in the conference; scorers like All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Terrence "51" Ross and Amir Johnson; and a deepened bench thanks to the Rudy Gay trade.
They're also three games ahead of Washington with just 28 games left.
I can see the Wizards taking the No. 4 seed, and that's about it.
That's just fine.
Wittman isn't what you would call a fan favorite among Wiz fans, but if the team makes the postseason for the first time since the 2008-09 season, his lukewarm seat may feel a bit cooler.
Wall is now an All-Star player, and All-Star players can save the jobs of coaches (see: Mike Brown). Wall will lead Washington to the playoffs, and Wittman will keep his job for at least one more season.
Next year, when expectations will probably change, is a different story.
The bottom line is that the Wizards are set to make the playoffs, and it's hard to justify firing a coach who takes a team to the postseason for the first time in three seasons in his second full year coaching.