The crucible approaches. No, not the postseason. Not for DC ... not yet. Just the grueling stretch of games the Wizards face this season. Nine days of rest. Five back-to-backs. Two back-to-back-to-backs. Sixteen games in twenty-five days. Part of me suspects maintaining our lottery standing won't be much of an issue.
I've had this stretch of games circled on my calender since the schedule was released. Here's a few considerations I was looking for back in early December:
Wanted: A Deep, Balanced And Settled Rotation.
Tall order, given the roster construction, but I love the job Randy Wittman has done distributing minutes. He's been aided by a rash of injuries to underperforming players but there's no doubt the Wizards have been a more effective team since the firing of Flip Saunders. The rotation feels as settled as possible in the wake of a franchise-altering trade. And while the Wiz aren't deep, there are clear backups at every position (the Wizards are just missing a starter or two). Randy will have to integrate Nene carefully but the rotation seems surprisingly (and livably) settled for the stretch run and none too soon.
Wanted: Team Identity.
Glimmers in the dark ... dependable post play from Trevor Booker this season and Kevin Seraphin in a small sample size have taken some of the heat off John Wall. Nene Hilario is a core piece going forward, like it or not, and identity is going to have to work itself out along the way. Improved defensive play has my eyebrow up, although sustaining that kind of furious effort over the scheduled murderor's row will be difficult if not impossible.
I also had some quick questions, here's how they played out:
- What does John Wall at 100 percent mean for his man defense? Not a whole lot, yet.
- How will Jordan Crawford function in a more disciplined offense? Pretty much the same. Long way to go here.
- Will a healthy Nick Young (if he returns) make us forget about last season's post-injury Nick Young? Can he achieve Flip's goal of improved playmaking? No and no. Although there was that six assist swan song performance...ah, what might have been and wasn't.
- Can Trevor Booker hit a jump shot? Hallelujah.
- Jan Vesely IS a question mark. Earlier in the year I wrote that Jan Vesely could take a lesson from Grant Hill's current game...or maybe we could just start with Kenneth Faried?
- Can Chris Singleton hit the corner three while providing lockdown perimeter defense? Haven't seen much of the corner three...but he's shooting about 32% on the year, so there's hope. As far as the defense goes...Ben Swanson over at Rufus On Fire wrote an article about how despite complaints to the contrary, the Bobcats are still better than any NCAA team, and while he hit plenty of angles, he dwelled on the massive divide between strength and conditioning at the college and pro levels. Chris has a long way to go here, but it's worth pointing out that part of our disappointment may be partly due to artificially high expectations.
- Will Andray Blatche put on the hard-nosed attitude every NBA power forward must embrace to find sustainable success in the postseason? Nope.
- Does Javale McGee actually expect Chris Singleton to hold down the post while he goes hunting for blocks? JVM did a better job staying home (for a second or two longer than last year)...but we'll say he didn't.
- Will either primary big learn how to set a pick? Yes and no. Our first three bigs all know how to set a pick...they're just different players is all.
- Just how much progress did Kevin Seraphin make with Caja Laboral? How much will being in basketball shape affect his season? Hard to say. He looked clueless when the season kicked off, but has looked remarkably steady for a stretch. It's a good bet he isn't showing what he has so far if he's worried about conditioning, so we'll all be keeping a close eye on the Frenchman with an eye towards next year. Watching him score with a bizarre sort of effortlessness is slightly jarring, but every time I snap back to reality, thinking, 'I'll take it.'
- Will this be the season Hamady N'Diaye wins the Wizards fashion competition? Can he find the floor and become a legitimate back-up, back-up Center? The fashion competition may be over with two of its primary instigators out of town while H and the Wizards have parted ways. Can't help but feel a little sad talking about big personalities who won't be wearing the unis anymore. Good luck, H.
Everybody knows there's plenty of work left to do with respect to the roster...but a question for you. With a Top 3 draft pick that turns the front court lineup into Trevor Booker, Anthony Davis/Thomas Robinson, Nene Hilario and Kevin Seraphin, throw in a major FA acquisition at SG or SF ... are the Wizards one piece away? Believe it or not, that might be the road the Wizards have to take. It's hard to overstate the urgency ... the Wizards are going to have quite a few rookie contracts ending down the road while still paying Nene and possibly two major FAs. Figuring that situation out is going to be a bit of a headache; how would you feel if the man leading the Wizards through that impasse is Ernie Grunfeld?
All things considered, the next 16 games can mean a lot for this team moving into next season, have an impact beyond lottery seeding. I've said it before, but Jordan Crawford willing, this team has another big chance to grow as a team and we'll all be watching with bated breath.