Early Predictions for Washington Wizards' Starting Lineup This Season
Last season, the Washington Wizards' success completely relied on the production of the starters.
Even without Nene for 19 games, Washington's starters scored the seventh-most points per game (74.6) of any team's starters, according to HoopStats.com.
The starting rotation that generally featured John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Trevor Booker when Nene was hurt and Marcin Gortat scored more points per game than Oklahoma City's, Miami's and Dallas' starters.
Early in the offseason, it looked as if the Wizards were going to bite the bullet on overpaying for Gortat and Ariza to retain that starting lineup. While Gortat ended up getting his new deal, Washington's front office drew a line on Ariza's deal that it wouldn't cross and ended up letting him go to Houston.
Now with free agency basically complete for the Wizards, we can look at what the starting lineup will look like when the first game of the season rolls around in late October.
These are the predictions for each starter plus the sixth man, how they looked last year, what they need to improve upon if the Wizards want to go further in the playoffs and their statistical projections for the upcoming season.
Sixth Man: Otto Porter Jr.
It's safe to say that Otto Porter had a forgettable rookie season. After missing training camp with an injury, Porter was never able to get involved off the bench once he was healthy.
He played in just 8.6 minutes per game and oftentimes would just disappear on the floor because he simply wasn't involved. But with Trevor Ariza gone and Martell Webster out until November or December, the door is now wide open for Porter to show that he was worthy of the third-overall pick in last year's draft.
Webster would have been the lock for sixth man prior to his injury, but that falls to what will likely be a combination of Porter and Glen Rice Jr. (your 2014 Summer League Most Valuable Player), but Porter gets the nod here because of where he was taken in the draft. The coaching staff will just likely use him more than Rice.
So far, Porter looks like he's up to the task, averaging 19 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in six Summer League games, while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor.
Because it's the Summer League, and Porter had an extra year of experience over most of his opponents, fans shouldn't put much stock into the pure numbers.
Still, Porter's jump shot looked much smoother than it did last year, and he showed that he's willing to get to the basket to either take a layup or dump the ball off to a big man.
We hardly saw anything from Porter last season besides some wayward jump shots, so it will be interesting to see what he shows on the real stage while Webster is out. Who knows, he may even push Webster down on the depth chart.
Projected per-game stats (while Webster is out): 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 43 percent shooting, 38 percent three-point shooting
Point Guard: John Wall
Part One of the House of Guards, John Wall took a huge step forward last season after receiving a max contract extension last offseason.
Wall finished the regular season with career highs in points, assists, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage.
His biggest strength, once again, was driving to the hoop. He averaged just under 50 percent shooting on drives and loved to look for Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal or Martell Webster on the wings for open threes.
Wall also cut down on the number of two-point jumpers he attempted. During the 2012-13 season, he attempted 45.1 percent of his shots from mid-range, compared with just 39.42 percent from in his fourth year in the league. However, his field-goal percentage in the paint fell to 26.67 percent from 44.86 the previous season.
If he wants to continue to improve, Wall still needs to cut down on the contested mid-range jumpers. There's always an extra pass he could make, or he needs to at least try to draw a foul near the basket.
Many times, Washington's offense would struggle because Wall and Beal would just settle for jump shots that wouldn't go in, and both have great strength to get to the hoop.
The Wizards also need their star to start performing better in crunch time. In overtime games last season, Wall shot a terrible 31.7 percent, and he shot 39.9 percent in the last three minutes of quarters, according to Basketball-Reference. Having Paul Pierce in the lineup will give the Wizards that extra option when games come down to the wire, but Wall should be the go-to guy in those situations.
Projected per-game stats: 20 points, 8.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 4.5 rebounds, 44 percent shooting, 38 percent three-point shooting
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal
No one on the Wizards improved more last season than Bradley Beal, who established himself as an elite 2-guard.
He made just about two threes a game, and his shooting improved across the board, making 38.8 percent of his shots from three and proving to be most effective at the top of the arc rather than in the corners, where Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster operated.
Beal also improved his shooting percentage by about four percent at the rim, although like John Wall, he still needs to cut down on the number of contested two-point jumpers he takes.
Wall and Beal work so well together because when Wall gets to the hoop, Beal can be a knock-down shooter from almost anywhere. He made 41.9 percent of his shots in catch-and-shoot situations and 35.9 percent on pull-up jumpers.
Marcin Gortat made for a great pick-and-roll partner with both Wall and Beal, so having him back on the team will help both players' production.
Beal will only continue to improve, and as long as his rookie year was a fluke in terms of health, the House of Guards will make a serious case for being the better backcourt than the Splash Brothers in Golden State (barring any Kevin Love trade for Klay Thompson, of course).
Projected per-game stats: 18 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 43 percent shooting, 40 percent three-point shooting
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
At this point, everyone knows what Paul Pierce brings to the table. He's probably 75 percent of what he was in his prime with the Boston Celtics, but he is a future Hall of Famer.
There's plenty of things to love about bringing in a player of his caliber to the Wizards: He can mentor Otto Porter and Glen Rice, he will be the top scoring option in crunch time and overtime and he brings a fire and energy that fits well with Washington's team personality.
When he's playing, Pierce can still run with John Wall and Bradley Beal in transition. He loves to trail back on fast-breaks and take open threes, which Wall can give him with his speed.
The biggest loss in the Pierce/Ariza exchange is on defense. The lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat last season was 18th among all five-man rotations in defensive rating last season, holding opponents to 105.8 points per 100 possessions.
Pierce isn't as laterally quick as Ariza, and the Wizards no longer have a go-to defender. But Pierce is an underrated interior defender. He played the 4 for the Brooklyn Nets last season when Kevin Garnett began to fossilize and Brook Lopez was lost for the season.
Besides Lopez and Garnett, Pierce was the best rim-defender for the Nets, holding opponents to 48.2 percent shooting at the rim.
Adding Pierce was a great move for the Wizards, even if he's not the player he used to be.
Projected per-game stats: 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, 45 percent shooting, 39 percent three-point shooting
Power Forward: Nene
There's no doubt about it: When Nene is healthy, the Wizards are a significantly better team, as was shown in the playoffs.
Nene and Marcin Gortat were the two biggest reasons the Wizards advanced out of the first round against the Chicago Bulls, who were favored by analysts to win the series.
The 31-year-old knocked down 44.16 percent of his mid-range shots in the playoffs and 43.35 percent in the regular season.
With Marcin Gortat down low, Nene helps space the floor for the Wizards and helps Gortat protect the rim.
Nene held opponents to three field goals per game at the rim, and although he's not a great shot-blocker, he can still disrupt plays.
Joakim Noah, who averaged 12.6 points per game in the regular season, was held by Gortat and Nene to 10.4 points in the Washington series.
Unfortunately, Nene is going to get hurt at some point. He hasn't played in all 82 games since the 2009-10 season and missed 19 games last year. But after adding Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, the Wizards are prepared for that.
As long as he can be healthy for the playoffs, the Wizards will be set.
Projected per-game stats: 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 blocks, 50 percent field-goal shooting
Center: Marcin Gortat
Rounding out the starting five is Marcin Gortat, one of the easiest players in the NBA to love (e.g this picture of him with a pig in a Polish grocery store) and the most important player for the Wizards this offseason.
It's much easier to replace a starting small forward in the NBA than it is to replace a starting center. Had Gortat not re-signed, the Wizards could be looking at Kris Humphries as their starting center rather than as a backup.
Gortat was second to only John Wall in player efficiency rating among the starters in Washington last season, and he was eighth in the East among centers who played at least 50 games in PER, according to ESPN.
He was also the best starting rim-defender for the Wizards (only Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster held opponents to a lower shooting percentage there), and he recorded 1.5 blocks per game.
The biggest concern surrounding Gortat is the length of his contract, because he'll be in his mid-30s by the time the contract ends.
But at least for this year, Gortat brings a consistent presence that is important to have with Nene's injury history. He needs to step up his defense away from the hoop, sometimes losing his defender or sagging too far back when defending pick-and-rolls.
But on offense, he can score at the rim and can bang around with the other big men in the conference at a high level.
Projected per-game stats: 13 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 blocks, 53 percent shooting
Note: All stats used were from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted