Having made my predictions for John Wall’s hopeful breakout sophomore campaign, here now is the perfect opportunity to assess the challenges facing this young squad with less than two weeks until their opening game on December 26 against the New Jersey Nets.
With the first of their two preseason games today, coach Flip Saunders and staff will have an expedited process to analyze the progress made in this shortened training camp and preseason.
So far,everything looks active and well in Wizards camp, but there will undoubtedly be several obstacles that arise throughout the upcoming fast-paced 66-game season. In this slideshow I will look at the biggest challenges that the Wizards can expect to face in the 2011-2012 season.
Much has been made this offseason about the maturity and leadership needed from both Blatche and McGee. Blatche (entering his sixth season) and McGee (his fourth), are in the most pivotal year of their careers here in Washington.
After this season, McGee will be a restricted free agent, and, thus far, will take three giant steps forward, only to turn around and take two steps back. With his flash-over-substance play up until this point, a lot was made of his dedication to working on actual offensive post moves over the off-season.
Ernie will be put in a tough position of whether or not to offer an extension to arguably one of the most athletically gifted and frustrating players in the entire league. The challenge for the Wizards' Coach Saunders, specifically, is whether they can finally get it into Javale’s head to play smart consistently throughout the season.
If Javale is able to live up to expectations this year, he will make a case for big money with the lack of talented centers in the league right now.
Blatche, coming into this year, is one of the seasoned veterans on the team, but due to his antics in the past, his leadership abilities and maturity have been questioned. He has made promising strides this offseason, attempting to organize team workouts during the lockout and committing to playing in the post during training camp.
Wizards fans have seen the talk before from Blatche, and subsequently the lack of substance to follow up the talk, which has a large portion of the Wizards' fan base ready to move him immediately.
With patience wearing thin, a consistent, drama-free year from Blatche would silence many doubters and restore confidence in the $35 million dollar extension given to him by GM Ernie Grunfeld.
Since the lockout eliminated a good portion of training camp and practices during the season that rookies generally need to learn and adjust to the differences of the NBA, the rookies will be hard-pressed to learn quickly on the fly.
Jan Vesley, Chris Singleton, and Shelvin Mack have come into camp with hopes that they can all contribute right away. Both Singleton and Mack have defined roles and expectations that help make their transition and development easier to envision in this expedited process.
Vesely, on the other hand, comes to a foreign place after several years pro in the more team-oriented Euro League. Needing to work on many individual aspects of his game, the Wizards have shown through patience and confidence that despite his high draft pick, he will be a work-in-progress throughout the next season.
Luckily for Vesely and the Wizards, the team has a good amount of depth at the small forward and power forward positions which should allow Vesely the time he needs to incorporate himself into his new surroundings and league.
It will be important for fans to temper their expectations of Vesely and the other rookies, as they work hard to improve despite more complex circumstances of the shortened season.
The DC area sports media is abuzz with the energetic and positive camp had so far by the team as a whole. Communication has been key, with several examples during camp where Wall, Blatche and McGee have taken much more vocal leadership roles and pushed the intensity throughout two-a-days.
With a schedule featuring several back-to-back games and five-games-in-a-week span, staying healthy and organized during the season will be a struggle for every team in the league.
This will be the biggest challenge for the Wizards next season, and their youth and depth will ultimately be crucial in having fresh legs as the season wears on.
Flip Saunders will have a tall task ahead of him keeping everyone focused with less practice time in order to squeeze in the extra games each week.
If the Wizards can overcome these three challenges, there is little doubt in my mind that they will be an explosive underdog possibly fighting for their first playoff berth in the Ted Leonsis/John Wall era.