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Washington Wizards Season Preview: Wizards seek to reinvent themselves after frustrating season

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NBA: Washington Wizards-Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What significant moves were made during the off-season? By Albert Lee

The Wizards’ three biggest moves were signing Dwight Howard in free agency, trading Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers, and signing Jeff Green in free agency. All of these moves give the Wizards some much-needed talent to put around their core trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter.

Howard fills the Wizards’ immediate need at the center position with Gortat now on the Clippers. Although he is no longer in his prime, he is still a very strong and athletic big who will give the Wizards a double-double on most nights.

Rivers should be a big boost for the Wizards’ bench. Last season, he averaged career-highs in scoring and 3-point shooting efficiency. If Rivers can build on last season, that will help both the Wizards’ playoff hopes this season and his hopes for another big contract in 2019.

Green adds depth at both the small forward and power forward positions. Last season, he was the most consistent performer for the Cleveland Cavaliers off the bench where he averaged 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. In Washington, Green should be able to provide the same impact that he did for Cleveland, but he also wouldn’t intrude on Otto Porter’s minutes too much. I would be a little concerned on how much Green’s presence affects Kelly Oubre’s impact.

Though Howard, Rivers, and Green could help the Wizards advance far in the playoffs this season, they are on short-term contracts. Howard is likely to opt-out and sign elsewhere for one more payday if he plays well and the Wizards advance deep in the playoffs. Rivers and Green will likely do the same because the Wizards are maxed out with their cap space. So these moves are great for the short term, but the Wizards may not have enough to keep them beyond 2019.

What are the team’s biggest strengths? By Alan Jenkins

Last season, the Wizards’ most-used lineup—Tomas Satoransky, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortatoutscored opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions, tied for the fourth-best mark among lineups that played at least 500 minutes together last season. Adding a healthy John Wall back into the lineup this season, and replacing their squeaky wheel with Dwight Howard should only make their starting unit more effective this season.

Even with all the uncertainty surrounding this team, once again, they’ll trot out one of the best starting fives in the Eastern Conference. Even if the bench is better this season, they’ll still rely on their starters to do most of the heavy lifting.

Washington will also lean on their efficient three-point shooting again this season. Last season, shot 37.5 percent from deep, tied for the third-best mark in the league. They’ve finished top-ten in long-range accuracy in five of the past six seasons. They have one of the most accurate three-point shooters in the league in Porter, and if Beal can rebound after a dip last season, Washington could make a serious run at posting the best 3-point percentage in the league this season.

The only bugaboo for the Wizards here is that they don’t shoot enough. Last season they only averaged 23.9 threes per 100 possessions—slightly below the league average. But with a healthy John Wall back in the lineup, that should lead to more opportunities for his teammates, especially in transition.

What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? by Ben Becker

The Wizards won 43 games last year, and were right around league average in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their weaknesses should be viewed through that lens. Their problems won’t make them a bad team, but could well keep them from being a very good one.

  • Lack of Elite Production: Talent is squishy and hard to define. And ultimately, it’s irrelevant when considering actual production, which is what really matters! In terms of production—doing the actual things that lead to wins—the Wizards’ stars are a couple of tiers below the league’s best players. A healthy John Wall produced at an All-NBA level two seasons ago. There’s a good case to be made that Otto Porter actually did the same last year. But for the Wizards to be a really good team, they need a marked, material improvement from the triumvirate of Wall, Porter, and Bradley Beal.
  • Depth: The good news is that the team doesn’t have a historically bad bench like they did two seasons ago. It’s still unlikely that the Wizards bench unit is going to do much better than break even against opposing reserves.
  • Scott Brooks, Inside the Box: Brooks is solid—a credible NBA coach. But he has shown a pretty consistent lack of creativity over the course of his coaching career. In DC it manifests via not staggering the starters’ minutes and therefore too many all-bench lineups. Brooks has also shown a troubling lack of faith in Tomas Satoransky, who played last season like he belonged on the 2014 Spurs. If the Wizards are going to matter, Brooks has got to find a way to #FreeSato alongside a healthy Wall. Building the offense to get more—a lot more—shots for Porter is pretty important too.
  • John Wall’s Usage: Wall can do things that few others on the planet can. He has embraced DC in a way that should make any Wizards fan feel warm and fuzzy. But (you knew it was coming), entering his ninth season, his weaknesses are still the same as they were as a college freshman. Simply, Wall has got to stop shooting so much, especially from the wrong spots on the floor early in the shot clock. He has dutifully developed into a viable shooter from deep (he shot 37 percent last year, and 35 percent over his last three years) such that he should never shoot a long two unless he has to. Learning the dark art of Moreyball would do him and the team wonders. Unless Wall unlocks the best version of himself—which includes a consistent defensive effort—the Wizards will be stuck in neutral.

What are the goals for this team? By Jake Whitacre

At the end of the day, only one person truly sets the goals for the Wizards, and that’s owner Ted Leonsis. He’s left some room for interpretation with goals in recent years, but in September, he made things quite clear.

“We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I’d like us to win 50 games. I’d like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals.”

John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter are entering their sixth year together—an eternity by NBA standards, especially for a core that hasn’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals or posted a 50-win season together. If they can’t put it together this season, it’s hard to see how Leonsis will be able to stomach paying them for another season when Wall’s supermax extension kicks in and the trio will make over $90 million.

Why on earth did the Wizards add Dwight Howard to this locker room? By L.W.

To put it bluntly: Short of blowing up their core (something they rarely leads to short-term success) they are out of options. They have no cap room. The only players with real trade value are key cogs in the rotation, which makes it hard to add more than you lose in a deal.

Talented players without red flags and question marks don’t come cheap. The Wizards are paying Howard just $5.3 million this season—slightly less than Jason Smith. If things go well, he could be the best value on the team by a long shot. The team will still be underdogs in the East, but they will have someone to clean up their mistakes on defense and play above the rim on offense. The Wizards have relied heavily on transition scoring for years, and Howard can maximize those possessions with his defensive rebounding and by running the floor.

This might be a disaster. There might be three players-only meetings by February. The social media sniping might get out of control. The Wizards might end up attaching an asset to Howard to ship him off at the trade deadline. But standing pat was not an option. Signing Howard was a risk, but it’s the right kind of risk for a team in Washington’s position.

What’s the deal with John Wall? Is he overrated, underrated, or properly rated? by Marcus Atkinson Sr.

John Wall is one of those players that is rated differently based on who you ask. Some people who watch him see the unlimited physical potential, wonder why he isn’t the best point guard in the league, and walk away disappointed. But then you have people who have seen how he has steadily improved, up until last year, and see the lack of consistency from players around him (outside of Bradley Beal) and think he is making the best of what he has been dealt.

The truth is somewhere n the middle. His biggest thing keeping him from elite status is his efficiency. Last season he had a .515 true shooting percentage, the 11th-best mark on his own team. This season, he will need to show more restraint in his shot selection—especially with Dwight Howard on the roster—to get the offense where it needs to be to be a serious threat.

The other thing he has to improve to get back in the elite point guard discussion is his defense. He spends a great deal of his time going for steals or allowing his man to beat him off the dribble so that he can get a chase down block, but his gambling habits force the defense to scramble and give up open shots. Perhaps now with a better rim protector, Wall won’t feel as much pressure to make the big play and he can go back to a more consistent, positional approach. If Dwight Howard’s presence can make Wall’s perimeter defense improve, there should be no question in pundits minds that Wall is an elite point guard.