The Wizards were 41-41 last year. In other words, they were the embodiment of an average team.
They finished 9th in the conference and missed the playoffs by a hair. They were one of the most injured teams in the league last season and struggled to find continuity on both ends before it was too late and the season was over.
So, reasonably, when someone gives an analysis on Washington the expectations are set low. Despite making the playoffs and advancing to the second round in two of the last three seasons with much of the same starting lineup, the team’s most recent picture captures the failures and inconsistencies of last year’s struggles.
That is largely why Hoopshype’s Jorge Sierra has Washington ranked as the 12th best team in the Eastern Conference and third best team in the Southeast division.
As far as strengths, the first thing the Sierra points to, and rightfully so, is Washington’s backcourt. John Wall is the best thing the Wizards have to offer and Bradley Beal is now the most compensated thing they have to offer which means expectations are high for him next season.
Their two playoff series wins in the last three years have been largely due to the dominance of their backcourt. Sierra also highlighted the frontcourt depth with Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi as well as the addition of Scott Brooks and expected improvement from Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.
But on the other hand, Sierra had some pretty scathing things to say about the team’s depth and health.
Here’s a look at what he had to say:
Overall talent level is nothing to call home about … Outside of Wall and Beal, any other Top 100 NBA player in Washington? … They don’t really make up for lack of star power with depth … Beal’s durability is a real issue … He has missed 20 games on average his first four years as a pro … A team like Washington can ill-afford to play without its second best player so many games … While Mahinmi should help there, don’t expect Washington to be an elite defensive or rebounding squad … They were near the bottom of the league in both rebounding and opponent shooting percentage last year … Washington could miss a glue guy like Jared Dudley, who was the team’s best three-point shooter in 2015-16.
Now, lets pick this apart. We’ll start here with Beal’s injuries.
Beal’s health factor
Many of those gripes with the Wizards roster are reasonable. Beal’s health is always a colossal question heading into any season and, because of that question, the team’s lack of a second star player really rears its ugly face.
While Beal’s production has always been questionable, the way defenses have had to guard him throughout his career is essential for Washington and creating space for drives from Wall and dives for big men. Sierra is right — the Wizards cannot afford to go long stretches without Bradley Beal. Especially not this season without a proven option behind him.
Can the defense improve?
The Wizards struggled defensively early on last season with different lineups and no continuity, but Sierra’s analysis is off base when he says there should be no expectation that Washington will return as an elite defensive squad this season.
Contrary to popular belief, according to stats from NBA.com the Wizards were ranked 14th in defensive efficiency overall last season and were the 5th best defensive team in the league after the All-Star break — largely due to the addition of Markieff Morris. This offseason they’ve added Ian Mahinmi, who was one of the best defenders on the Indiana Pacers’ third-ranked defense last season.
So sure, the Wizards struggled defensively last season. Especially early on in the year when Jared Dudley started and played heavy minutes as a small ball power forward to the best of his ability. But there is reason to believe that they will be one of the better defensive teams in the league this year.
Do the Wizards have a top 100 player outside of the backcourt?
This question is probably the most difficult one to answer. And the answer one person comes up with can be completely different from the one someone else has.
But I would say yes, the Wizards do have at least one top 100 player outside of John Wall and Bradley Beal. And I think there is an argument that they have another top 75 player in Gortat.
If we take a look at win shares from players last season who are on the Wizards roster, they are returning two players outside of John Wall who rank in the league’s top 100 in total win shares according to data acquired from basketball-reference.
Marcin Gortat is ranked 31st in the league with Wall and Porter coming in ranked 68th and 69th respectively. Mahinmi ranks 53rd in win shares as well.
No, this stat does not tell all about their seasons. But we can use it as a tool to see where players are relative to their peers. The team does not have the most talent in the league and there are huge questions about their wing depth. But Mahinmi and Gortat are both forces down low. Wall should be just fine and, if Beal can stay healthy, he will be too.
Ranking the Wizards 12th overall, behind the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, seems a bit steep. But it could be reasonable if health plays a huge factor in their season this year.
Either way, they have a lot to prove this season.