Every team starts the year hoping to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards, this hope did not turn into a reality this year, but there is hope for the future.
With their new-look jerseys reveled and ownership changing hands from the Pollins to Ted Leonsis, there is a new feeling surrounding the Wizards. They have finally gotten rid of Agent Zero and his contract and have given the keys to the franchise to Kentucky standout John Wall. They also ditched their old jerseys and logo for a more traditional red, white and blue look.
Along with the emergence of John Wall, I will give you six reasons why Wall will follow through on his guarantee of the Wizards making the playoffs next season.
John Wall’s rookie year was overshadowed by Blake Griffin’s ridiculous “rookie” campaign. Wall averaged 16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 8.3 APG. Comparably, Chris Paul averaged 16.1 PPG, 7.8 APG, and 5.1 RPG during his first year in the league. Current league MVP, Derrick Rose, averaged 16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 6.3 APG in his first season. From the numbers, you could see that John Wall averaged similar, if not better numbers than both Rose and Paul, with limited talent around him.
Wall does need to work on limiting his turnovers, but high turnover numbers are expected for a point guard in his first year in the NBA. Wall will cut down his turnovers with more experience. With this experience will also come a higher assist total, as he begins to completely grasp Flip Saunder’s offense and continues to work with his teammates.
Wall struggled against the elite point guards in the league defensively, but he has all the skill to be a great defender. He did average 1.8 SPG, a very good number for a rookie, but he consistently let his man get into the paint. With his explosiveness and size, he should also be among the top in terms of blocks by point guards. If Wall could harness his athleticism and focus on staying in front of his defender in pick-and-roll defense, he could be an above average defensive guard.
Wall is a true point guard, so his scoring numbers will not increase too dramatically from where they are now, hovering around 20 PPG. As a point guard, his scoring is not nearly as important as getting his teammates involved and his leadership. With his second year in the league, Wall will emerge as a mature leader and lead the Wizards’ to the seventh or eighth seed in the East.
I know McGee does not have the prettiest post game, but he is sure a force on the defensive end. McGee finished this year second in the NBA in blocks per game at 2.44. McGee is also over 7’0" with a 7’6” wingspan, so he is able to cover a lot of the paint. With someone like this in the middle of the defense, guards are able to take defensive risks knowing McGee will provide help defense if needed (recall his unorthodox triple-double against the Chicago Bulls where he recorded 12 blocks).
Even though McGee has been in the league for a few years, he is only 23 years old. If he continues to work on his game, especially his rebounding, he could be a consistent double-double threat and an elite defender. McGee will probably never be a dominant offensive force, other than throwing down dunks via John Wall, but if he improves his rebounding and defense, McGee could help the Wiz sneak into the playoffs.
Nick Young is one of the most overlooked guards in the league. He is a knockdown shooter who locks down the opposing teams best scoring option (when he wants to). Before getting hurt, Young was putting up 17.4 PPG, a solid number for a two guard.
Wall used Young's shooting abilities as a vice, commonly driving into a congested paint and finding Young in the corner for a three-pointer. Young is a restricted free agent this season, but I expect the Wizards to pay what it takes, to a certain extent, to re-sign him. The Wall-Young backcourt could be one of the most exciting backcourts for years to come.
It was unfortunate to see Young go down with an injury late in the season, but it opened up playing time for rookie standout Jordan Crawford, who averaged 11.7 PPG. Crawford and Wall had great chemistry while on the court together, even exceeding the chemistry between Wall and Young.
Unlike Young, who is better off the ball, Crawford performs best with the ball in his hands. Although this takes the ball out of Wall's hands, the combination between Crawford running the team and Wall running the team seemed to work. To give up Kirk Hinrich for Crawford was perhaps the biggest steal at the trading deadline. If the Wizards are able to keep both Crawford and Young, bringing one off the bench, they will be very deep at the shooting guard position for the upcoming season, with a scoring punch coming off the bench.
Atlanta made the playoffs as the fifth seed in the East with only 44 wins. In comparison, the Grizzlies, who were the eighth seed in the West, finished the year with 46 wins. The Pacers manage to make the playoffs with a losing record and the 76ers grabbed the seventh seed with a .500 record. In other words, next year the Wizards will probably only need a .500 record to make the playoffs as the eighth seed.
The East is top heavy with Chicago, Boston, Miami, New York and Orlando (assuming Dwight Howard stays on the Magic) leading the conference. The top six teams, which includes the Hawks, are probably going to remain in the playoffs in some order, but the rest of the conference is incredibly weak.
Teams like Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit will inevitably be terrible next year as their rosters lack talent in a big way. New Jersey has who I believe is the best PG in the league in Deron Williams, but not much else around him. Charlotte does not have a leader to carry them to the playoffs after trading away Gerald Wallace to Portland. Milwaukee has a great young center in Bogut and a fairly good guard in Jennings, but other than these two players, the Bucks do not have much else on their roster.
Out of the teams who actually made the playoffs this year, let’s focus on the seventh and eighth seeds. The 76ers have a high possibility of falling off next season. Even though Andre Iguodala is an athletic freak, he should not be the leader of your franchise. Evan Turner showed rare flashes this year, but he did not show consistency that would garner a No. 2 overall pick.
Elton Brand is aging and is no longer the low-post threat he used to be. Young players like Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday and Marreese Speights are great, but they all played out of their minds last year. The only way that the 76ers make the playoffs next year is if all these players play as well, if not better, than they did last year and that is difficult to see.
In terms of the Pacers, they have a lot of young talent, including Collison, Hansbrough and Hibbert. Hibbert and Hansbrough greatly improved their games last year. I expect this upward slope to continue as they both still have room for improvement. The best player on their roster, Danny Granger, did not even play in their first round matchup against the Bulls, yet they still managed to put up a fight. In the end, I see them moving up to the seventh seed while the 76ers fall out of the playoffs. The Wizards will sneak into the playoffs and grab the eighth seed.
The Wizards finished the season going 6-4, a good mark for a team that only won 23 games all year. The spark to their late season surge could be attributed to the "fight" between John Wall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Some people saw this as a sign of immaturity by John Wall, but I saw it as competitive fire and the mindset that he was simply not going to be pushed around anymore.
Wall showed leadership and the ability to stand-up for himself and his team with this altercation. Although the Wizards went on to lose the game against the Heat, they won their next three games, sadly their longest winning streak of the season.
I understand that not too much stock can be put into games at the end of the year that don’t really matter, but the Wizards played the best basketball at the end of the year. It could be a situation where the other team simply did not care, but the Wizards, a young and fairly inexperienced team, could’ve taken the same approach. Instead, they fought hard and ended the season strong. This strong play has the potential to carry over to the beginning of the next season. If it does, the Wizards could be in good playoff position in April and May.
This years draft is weak, but the Wizards have the potential to land the best post player and one of the few elite players in the draft. Enes Kanter is without a doubt the most overlooked player in this year's draft since he did not play a single game at Kentucky this year. Kanter measures in at an athletic 6'11" with the ability to play either PF or C at the NBA level.
In an interview, Kanter mentioned that he wants to play for the Wizards and alongside John Wall. The Wizards have needed, and continue to need, an inside scoring threat. Blatche has the potential to be a post scorer but prefers the perimeter jump shot. Kanter is a inside bruiser who could provide toughness, post scoring and rebounding for the Wizards. Putting him inside next to McGee could give the Wizards one of the best and most athletic front courts in the league.
With the Kirk Hinrich trade, the Wizards also picked up the Hawks first-round pick (No. 18 overall). The Wizards could look to package their sixthoverall pick, the 18th pick and possibly either their second-round pick or a player (maybe Andray Blatche) to move up to the third slot and draft Kanter. Of course, the Wizards could sit and hope that Kanter simply falls to them at pick No. 6.
If the Wizards decide that Kanter is not worth the cost, look for them to draft Jan Vesely or Kawhi Leonard. Vesely is a 6'11" forward from the Czech Republic. Vesely is a high-risk, high-reward prospect, as most international draft picks are. Leonard is a more solid pick which would sure up the Wizards small forward position but does not have the same ceiling as Vesely. Either pick should see solid playing time at the small forward position this upcoming season.
In terms of the Wizards other two picks, look for them to pick up either Chris Singleton or Kenneth Faried. Singleton is the best defensive player in this year's draft and has the ability to guard forwards and guards. The Wizards were one of the worst defensive teams this year and this pick could give some defensive firepower coming off the bench. Faried is the best rebounder in NCAA history. Even though he is a little undersized at 6'7", he has the technique and determination to grab rebounds at any level.
With their final pick, the Wizards will look to draft a backup point guard in either Shelvin Mack or Josh Selby. When John Wall needed a breather this year, there was a significant drop off in talent, including such names as Mustafa Shakur and Othyus Jeffers. Mack and Selby have the potential to be solid backup point guards for Wall and Flip Saunders.