We are deep into the fifth week of the NBA playoffs now, and the Washington Wizards are nowhere to be found. Instead of playing on, the Wizards are now starting a very important offseason for the team.
Heading into their series with the Indiana Pacers, fans and analysts were ready to go all-in on the Wizards advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. But as we’ve learned with the Pacers this year, nothing can go as planned with that team.
For two games, headlines were saying that the “Bad Pacers” were back and the Wizards were going to dispatch them in five or six games.
But for the other three games, the Wizards were the ones drawing criticism.
In Game 4 of the series, Washington blew a 19-point lead, due to what Michael Lee of The Washington Post described as “a muddy puddle of terrible shots, nervous passes and shoddy defense.” Lee also used the words “unraveling” and “devastating” in his description of the game.
Lee was right, Game 4 was a terrible game for Washington. So was Game 6, when the Wizards had a clear chance at the end of the game to win, but couldn’t produce enough offense and instead fell off in the last two minutes. David West took over and the Pacers advanced.
Then, the “Bad Pacers” talk was over. The momentum in the playoffs swung to the Pacers, and people quickly forgot about how great of a postseason the Wizards really had. They won a playoff series for the first time since 2005, and a second-round game for the first time since 1982.
Washington has a lot of be proud of heading into the offseason, despite choking away the 19-point lead in Game 4 and losing to Indiana. The Wizards actually overachieved in these playoffs; most people didn’t even pick them to beat the Chicago Bulls.
Here’s why Wizards fans need to be positive about the outcome of these playoffs.
Washington Shouldn’t Have Won the Indiana Series
Let’s forget about Indiana’s first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. If you were to take the Pacers (a team that people seem to forget at times were the No. 1 seed in the East) and match them up on paper against the Wizards, most people would take the Pacers.
The Wizards shouldn’t have won the series against the Pacers, assuming the Pacers were playing like a No. 1 seed. Although there were two games when the Pacers looked like they were beatable, overall for the series, it was the “Good Pacers” that came out on the floor.
In that situation, the Wizards simply don’t have the experience or the bench to beat Indiana.
Paul George is one of the five best players in the NBA, John Wall isn’t an effective enough shooter just yet to take over a game and the only experience Wall and Bradley Beal had in the playoffs at that point was their five-game series against the Bulls.
In a seven-game series when the Pacers are playing close to their peak, it’s an accomplishment for the Wizards to even take it to six games.
Look at these stats from Indiana’s two most important players (George and Roy Hibbert), comparing their numbers in the Washington series against their numbers in December, which was arguably the best month for the Pacers this season.
|George and Hibbert December Stats vs. Round 2|
|Player||Dec. PPG||Dec. FG%||Dec. Reb.||Round 2 PPG||Round 2 FG%||Round 2 Reb.|
The numbers aren’t spot-on, but they are close enough to show that the Pacers were back to playing close to the level that got them the top seed in the conference. Also, keep in mind that the second round numbers are including Washington's two blowout wins in Game 1 and Game 5 (Hibbert had no points and no rebounds in Game 1).
As a team, the Pacers allowed just 92.3 points per game in the regular season, good for second best in the league. In the Washington series, the only two games when the Wizards scored more than 92 points were the two games that they won.
In Indiana’s four wins, the Wizards scored 82, 63, 92 and 80 points.
Washington should be upset that they blew that now-infamous 19-point lead, but the Wizards aren’t a top-three seed in the East, and no one should have expected them to beat the Pacers in a series if Indiana got back to their early-season form.
The Nene/Marcin Gortat Frontcourt Can be a Staple
The concern over Washington’s big men is that Marcin Gortat won’t be back. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but it appears that Gortat wants to be back in Washington. He told Ben Standig of CSN Washington that he would “love to” be back in Washington, referring to the Wizards as “we.”
So, if Gortat is back, the Wizards know they have a solid frontcourt in Gortat and Nene.
I went more in-depth on why this combination works so well earlier in the playoffs, but if Nene can stay healthy and Gortat is back, this could be a staple for the Wizards on offense and defense.
Nene showed that he can be a great mid-range shooter, which really showed through in the first-round matchup against Chicago. Nene was able to create space between himself and either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer, and his shot from the elbow was smooth.
Gortat’s offense in the playoffs was inconsistent, but in Game 5 against the Pacers he went for 31 points and 16 rebounds, along with two assists, a block and a steal. He showed that he can set screens and also pass if needed, as shown in this play against the Pacers in Game 2.
On defense, Gortat and Nene both held opponents to 50 percent or less shooting at the rim, and Nene was actually a better defender at the rim than DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Noah and Zach Randolph in the playoffs, some of the elite big men in the league.
Look out for this tandem going forward if Gortat is able to work out a deal.
John Wall and Bradley Beal Will Only Get Better
Based on age and potential, this is by far the most important part of Washington’s future in the playoffs. Wall’s shooting did get better this season, but everyone will remember Wall passing up a wide-open shot in Game 4 when George Hill was trapped on a screen, instead giving it to Beal, who missed a three.
Don’t let that one play ruin what Wall did this year shooting. His overall shooting percentage fell, but he developed more of a floater on drives, and his three-point shooting went up by just under nine percentage points.
Next to him in the backcourt, Beal had a huge postseason that catapulted him into the spotlight of the national media.
Among players this postseason who have played at least 10 games, Beal is 11th in scoring and Wall is 14th. Before exiting the playoffs, Beal was only averaging 0.6 points less than Chris Paul and two points less than Joe Johnson.
This one-two punch in the backcourt allows Wall to drive and either get to the hoop or kick it out to Beal, illustrated by this play in Game 2 against the Pacers.
A backcourt duo was all the rage again, only this time it was the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal. Like Curry and Thompson the year before, Washington’s duo turned its wealth of potential into an unexpected run to the second round, drawing praise from opposing coaches and players along the way with their tantalizing speed and mature play.
If Washington gets Wall and Beal to develop to the point of being up there with Thompson and Curry, this will be a team to compete in the future, making people forget all about that blown 19-point lead.
All stats are from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.