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Observations from the Wizards’ final practice before the 2016 preseason begins

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Washington Wizards Media Day Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - “One. Two. Three. FAMILY!”

The Washington Wizards were hovered around each other, covered in sweat and hard work, in the middle of the practice court, like one big happy family. It starts with John Wall and then the rest of the team repeats after him, even the coaches.

Family certainly seems like the theme the team is trying to build around this season. During training camp in Richmond, Wall explained in-depth the type of family the Wizards want to become this season to Chris Miller of CSN Mid-Atlantic: “This is our extended family. We are away from our immediate family and who we have at home, but we are doing everything together. We are going to be around each other more than our regular families. These are all brothers to me. So, we have to use that and mean it. Because, every day, we are putting whatever we have across this line to play the game that we love for each other. So, we’re putting a lot of sacrifices out there on the court. And, if you don't think we are a family, then you don't need to be a part of our team.”

The Wizards will play seven games this preseason, starting at home in the Verizon Center against the Miami Heat on October 4th and ending at home on October 21st against the Toronto Raptors. With only eight guys returning from last year’s team, a lot attention will be paid to the new guys and what they can do to earn playing time or keep the time they had last season.

We won’t know what exactly this team looks like until they get some preseason and regular season experience together, but here’s what I was able to observe after the last practice before the actual competition tips off:

The Leader

John Wall is officially out for Tuesday’s against the Miami Heat and his status for the rest of the preseason remains unknown. On the flip side, Wall practiced with the team for a full fifteen to twenty minute stretch in 5-on-5, so his return to the court could be sooner rather than later.

Wall has said he will remain vocal while on the sidelines to encourage guys to play hard and compete every night. As for the rest of the Wizards starting five, they will probably use the preseason for conditioning. Brooks said he does not expect the Wizards starters to play more than twenty minutes on any given night, so seeing them in action much during the second half of these games is highly unlikely.

The Vibe

Everything is all shiny and new and the players seem to actually be focused on getting back into the playoffs and winning more games than they lost this past season.

The Wizards needed a fresh start this season, but it will require reworking the system—getting back to defense and playing with heart—which should heal some of the scars of the past.

Realistically, one has to wonder if John Wall has a lot to do with this. His recovery from double knee surgery this offseason has surprised and shocked a lot of people and I’m assuming if he were behind schedule, the mood around the team might be a bit different.

The team practiced for nearly two hours on Monday and their defensive intensity in practice has players excited about how this season could shape up. However, Scott Brooks is trying to keep expectations in check. “Defensively it is about trusting, about learning the system and understanding that we have to do it every time. When we play against each other, the intensity has been great,” he said. “But it’s a different level when you play against another NBA team.”

The Competition

At the end of practice, the team engages in a free throw competition utilizing all ends of the court dividing the team by six baskets with two to three players per rim. For example, Beal vs. Burke or Satoransky, O’Bryant and Ochefu. Apparently, these free throw competitions are key to keeping the intensity levels high and holding players accountable to making winning plays. Seeing as how free throws cost the Wizards several close games last season, it’s only right that they work on them as a team before the regular season starts.

Jarell Eddie, Danuel House, Casper Ware, Johnny O’Bryant, Sheldon McClellan, and Daniel Ochefu are all competing for the final roster spots on the team. Since the starters won’t play much during the preseason, the final two, whoever they may be, will have opportunities to show they belong.

The battle for those final roster spots, combined with the frustration over last year’s disappointing finish has created an atmosphere where players are ready to compete and learn. After Monday’s practice, Brooks said “The thing that I love about our squad is you don't have to focus on effort. It is already there. Coaches that always have to remind the guys that we have to play hard, you don't have a good team to coach and we haven’t had to deal with that. Hopefully, that trend continues and we just focus on learning what we need to do in a system in place. It’s hard to score when our defensive intensity is high. But our offense has been really good. I’m really impressed with our guys ability to make plays and pick things up.”