I've been spending most of the morning pouring through the new Basketball Prospectus book, which is outstanding. I'm not a fan of projection statistical models, but the authors of the book, led by the great Kevin Pelton, are smart enough to realize potential limitations in their SCHOENE projection system and not use it as gospel. (It's also better science than, say, WoW). They also supplement their model with tons of observational analysis and individual scouting reports, which makes the whole thing an absolute must read for under $10.
That said, the model is not very kind to the Wizards. Basketball Prospectus' model projects the Wizards to be the worst team in the league, with just a 22-60 record next season. BP feels that John Wall will be good eventually, but will struggle initially as most rookie point guards do. They project the Wizards to be the league's worst offensive team (101.9 projected offensive rating) and only the league's 16th-best defensive team (109.7 projected defensive rating). Because of that, and because they expect so much of the team's play to run through Wall, they are pessimistic about this year's team despite being optimistic about the future.
Here's a quick excerpt from Bradford Doolittle's team preview, printed at Pelton's request. Below the jump, I'll re-print the short blurb I contributed for their preview, which ironically disagrees with Doolittle's projection.
This year's key questions are worth following. What do the Wizards have in Blatche? He can put up big counting numbers, but how does he fit into the team concept? Can McGee begin to move beyond his "project" label? If so, he could lift the Wizards into the league's top 10 defenses. Is Nick Young as much of a head case as has been suggested? If so, there is no reason for him to be around.
As pointed out in last year's book, point guards in Saunders' system carry a lot of responsibility, so this will be Wall's team from the get-go. Can Arenas, after all the physical problems and the relatively light workload the last three years or so, adapt to being a pure two? Can Saunders sort out what Yi does well and take advantage of situations in which you can hide his defense? After all, the guy still won't even be 24 by the end of next season.
With a raw rookie having so much control, Washington projects as the league's worst offensive team and as the worst overall team. However, there is nowhere to go but up, especially if Wall is efficient and productive right away and some good things happen with Blatche and McGee. There will be no playoffs this year, but Grunfeld has gotten the Wizards back into reasonable shape much quicker than one would have thought possible after the Arenas incident. That doesn't excuse Grunfeld for his misreadings of rosters past, but it does buy him another year in the front office.
Washington was an elite offensive team for years, but that trend came to a screeching halt last season. The Wizards finished 25th in Offensive Rating and struggled to adjust from Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense to Flip Saunders' pro-style Hawk system.
Saunders' system calls for rigid positional differences, and that was an issue with a Wizards roster stocked with combination players. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, in particular, struggled to adjust to their new roles. Before his suspension, Arenas was uncomfortable being a pure point guard, while Butler could never learn how to be more of a catch-and-shoot player. The Wizards ultimately settled for too many poor perimeter jump shots -- only the Bulls took more attempts per game from 16-23 feet.
With John Wall coming in and Andray Blatche's emergence, Saunders now has a group of players better suited for his style. The Wizards should eventually be able to reclaim their place as one of the league's offensive juggernauts.