5 Players Who Must Step Up for Washington Wizards' Remaining Games

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2014

5 Players Who Must Step Up for Washington Wizards' Remaining Games

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    Trevor Booker will now be picking up more minutes with Nene injured, and he'll need to player his best ball of the season if he wants to help the Wizards improve their playoff position.
    Trevor Booker will now be picking up more minutes with Nene injured, and he'll need to player his best ball of the season if he wants to help the Wizards improve their playoff position.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    With Nene, arguably the second-most valuable player on the Washington Wizards, out for up to six weeks, there are only a handful of players now who can cement Washington's playoff chances. 

    Nene was a big part of what the Wizards were doing, but now it is more important for their lesser-known guys to step up their games and get them to the postseason, a place they haven't been since the days of Gilbert Arenas. 

    But the Wizards are still a strong team heading into the home stretch of the season, and their chances of making the playoffs remain strong in a weak Eastern Conference. 

    After that, the Wizards need to play better if they want to really make some noise in the playoffs. If they get the seventh or eighth seed, their chances of beating the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat are pretty slim. 

    That would be a much different story if these five players can step up and improve the team as well as the players around them. The Wizards have the ability to finish as the sixth seed or higher, which would put them in perfect position to win their first playoff series since 2005. 

    Now, just who exactly are these five players who, with improved play, can take Washington to that seeding? 

    Note: All stats are as of Feb. 25 prior to Washington's game against the Orlando Magic. All stats are from ESPN unless otherwise noted.

5. Bradley Beal

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    Bradley Beal has had a great sophomore season in the NBA, but he has been inconsistent at times and has recently been in a shooting slump.
    Bradley Beal has had a great sophomore season in the NBA, but he has been inconsistent at times and has recently been in a shooting slump.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    There's no question that Bradley Beal has been one of the best players for Washington this year. He nearly won the three-point competition in this year's All-Star competition, and he played in the NBA's Rising Stars Challenge for the second year in a row. 

    But if he wants to make sure the Wizards win a seven-game series in the playoffs, he needs to cut out the inconsistency he's shown this year. 

    Each month since December, his shooting percentage has fallen, and in his four games since the All-Star break, Beal has only shot 38.9 percent. 

    Over this weekend against the New Orleans Pelicans, Beal only made four of his 13 shots from the floor. They weren't bad shots, either, he just isn't feeling it right now. 

    Beal is having a much better year statistically compared to his rookie year, but he has to find a way to get out of his current shooting slump for the Wizards to take that next step this season in the playoffs. 

    But, he's still putting up points, so his improvement isn't as necessary as some of the others on this list. 

4. Martell Webster

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    The sixth man for the Wizards, Martell Webster, could get some more playing time if the Wizards decide to go with a more small-ball lineup without Nene.
    The sixth man for the Wizards, Martell Webster, could get some more playing time if the Wizards decide to go with a more small-ball lineup without Nene.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Like Bradley Beal, Martell Webster is currently in a shooting slump. That will need to change with news of Nene being out, because the Wizards could look at going with more small-ball lineups in his absence. 

    Without Nene, Washington could run a lineup of John Wall at the point and Marcin Gortat at center, then play Webster, Beal and Trevor Ariza on the perimeter to make up for the lack of depth at power forward. 

    Even in situations when they aren't using that lineup, the Wizards need Webster to get back into the form he was at at this time last season. 

    Webster's numbers this year have slightly dropped off in points, assists, rebounds and three-point shooting. Most will point to the fact that he is not starting like he was last season, but Webster is almost getting the same amount of minutes as he was as a starting small forward. 

    Washington is currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage, so going to a smaller lineup wouldn't be the worst move. 

    No matter the lineup, though, Webster needs to break out of his February numbers. This month, he is only scoring 8.5 points per game, and his shooting percentage has slipped to 41 percent in the last 11 games. 

3. Andre Miller

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    The newest Wizard, Andre Miller, needs to bring a spark to the bench at point guard.
    The newest Wizard, Andre Miller, needs to bring a spark to the bench at point guard.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Heading into the All-Star break, Washington knew its biggest weakness was at backup point guard with Eric Maynor playing so poorly. 

    But, the day of the trade deadline, Andre Miller came to Washington in a three-team deal that cost the Wizards Jan Vesely, Maynor and a second-round draft pick. 

    Looking back, it would have been nice to have the depth at power forward now with Nene out, but hindsight is always 20/20. 

    Now, with Miller on the roster, he should be able to boost the Wizards' bench, which has been one of the worst in the league. 

    Following his first game with the Wizards on Saturday against the Pelicans, he told the Washington Post that he thinks he'll fit in fine with the rest of the bench players. 

    I got some shooters with Martell [Webster], some athletes with Booker and Seraphin, coming in and banging around. I’m going to try to get the ball up a little bit more, quicker and speed up the tempo, probably stabilize the bench a little bit more.

    At his age, Miller won't be making highlight plays, but he is capable of putting up solid assist numbers, and with his experience, fans can sit comfortably knowing that he won't turn the ball over a lot. 

    Miller hasn't played enough yet to point to one thing that he can do to help the team, but any sort of production from him will be a huge boost to the team given what it was getting out of Maynor. 

2. Trevor Booker

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    Trevor Booker is the most likely candidate to take over the starting spot at power forward in Nene's absence.
    Trevor Booker is the most likely candidate to take over the starting spot at power forward in Nene's absence.Don Ryan/Associated Press

    It's almost unfair to put Trevor Booker on this list. By all standards, he has had a great season so far.

    But with Nene out now, he is the most likely candidate to take over the the role of starting power forward. 

    As a starter this year, he's shot over 56 percent from the floor and pulled down over eight rebounds per game. 

    What Booker has struggled on, though, is his scoring ability. The Wizards are used to Nene's ability to put up games of 20 or 25 points. 

    Nene had seven games of 20 or more points this season, compared to only one for Booker. 

    On the defensive side of the ball, Booker's defensive rating (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) is three points higher than Nene's, according to Basketball Reference. 

    By no means is that belittling the strong season that Booker has had, but if his numbers drift too far away from what the Wizards were getting with Nene, it could lead to a few more losses than they'd like toward the end of the season. 

1. Kevin Seraphin

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    Kevin Seraphin has suddenly found his way in the rotation after the loss of Jan Vesely and Nene.
    Kevin Seraphin has suddenly found his way in the rotation after the loss of Jan Vesely and Nene.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    The main difference between Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin is that Booker has experience this season starting, whereas Seraphin is going to see a huge spike in his minutes. 

    Washington has suddenly gone from a team with five candidates to play in the frontcourt to just three, due to trading away Jan Vesely and Nene suffering his injury. 

    Seraphin is going to take on a much bigger role this team, which means he'll have to step up and improve his defensive play if the Wizards want to get above the .500 mark and into the top five seeds or so in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

    He's traditionally had an issue on defense, often looking slower than the rest of the players on the court and generally being out of position. But as fellow featured columnist D.J. Foster points out, Seraphin has a lot of comparisons that can be drawn to Nene:

    Replacing Nene's impact on both ends will be awfully difficult, but Serpahin at least provides similar size and rebounding ability. Per 36 minutes this year, Seraphin is averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, with better shooting percentages across the board than Nene.

    Seraphin has just 22 blocks and two steals on the season, which again points to the defensive drop-off between he and Nene. But if Seraphin can come in and log some solid minutes at center to give Marcin Gortat a break, Booker (and possibly a free-agent signing by Washington) can hold down the power forward position.