The Washington Wizards (26-56) will have to be Harry Potter like in order to get a playoff slot. Rebuilding is the name of the game for Washington. The good news is that they won the draft lottery and got Kentucky point guard and potential NBA star John Wall. That was a great initial step. They also made a smart move by getting rid of high payroll players such as Brendan Heywood, Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler.
With the relatively inexperienced JaVale McGee (.508 FG%, .000 3PT%, .638 FT%, 4.1 RPG, 6.4 PPG), who is entering his third NBA season, starting at center the Wizards will definitely be experiencing some growing pains. He’s shown some good defensive moves, averaging 1.68 BLK per game. Last season he averaged 16.1 MPG. That time should double this season.
The power forward position is occupied by fifth-year player Andray Blatche (.478 FG%, .295 3PT%, .744 FT%, 6.3 RPG, 1.05 STL, .88 BLK, 2.1 APG, 14.1 PPG). The power player, who signed a six-year deal worth around $30 million, had a breakthrough second half last year as he averaged 22.1 PPG and 8.3 RPG. The Wizards expect him to continue at that pace.
At small forward, Josh Howard (.405 FG%, .267 3PT%, .784 FT%, 3.6 RPG, 12.7 PPG) will try to do the job. He was signed to a one-year deal. Howard is in decline and recovering from a knee injury. This is a puzzling move. The Wizards also have three-year man Al Thorton (.473 FG%, .355 3PT%, .725 FT%, 3.9 RPG, 10.7 PTS) at the small forward spot. The good news is he has rededicated himself to the game, lost 25 pounds and seems to be focused. There may be hope at small forward.
The backcourt features nine-year vet Gilbert Arenas (.411 FG%, .348 3PT%, .739 FT%, 4.2 RPG, 7.2 APG, 22.6 PPG). Last season, he played in just 32 games. In the last three seasons, the injury prone Arenas has appeared in a total of 47 games. Behind Arenas is Nick Young (.418 FG%, .406 3PT%, .800 FT%, 0.6 APG, 8.6 PPG); Young is in his fourth NBA season. Last year, he averaged 19.2 MPG. This year expect the same or more.
The point looks to be the purview of rookie Wall who will be backed up by veteran Kirck Hinrich (.409 FG%, .371 3PT%, .752 FT%, 3.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 10.9 PPG). Hinrich is an able ball handler and stealer with a fine shot from the floor and downtown. He should be able to provide some stability while Wall learns the ropes.
On offense, the Wizards were 25th in efficiency (101.4). Arenas was tops in PER at 18.76, but he played less than half of the season. The problem for the offense is that the often-injured Arenas has four years left on his contract. Another dilemma last season had to do with the team’s shot selection from the floor. They hit only 47.1%, ranking them 28th.
From downtown they are lacking. The guys that can hit from the arc are reserve players who offer little else. They also lack players who are true playmakers and passers.
The Wizards were a little better on defense, earning a ranking of 18th (106.7). That was up from 28th the year before. MaGee proved to be a fine shot blocker and the team featured some decent pick artists. But that was offset by numerous turnovers on the other side of the ball.
Head coach Flip Saunders (613-454), who starts his second season with Washington, has built a solid reputation as an NBA coach. Prior to coming to the Wizards last season, he coached the Timberwolves for a decade and the Pistons for three years. Although he’s never won a championship in all that time, he’s missed the postseason just three times. Saunders is a smart coach with a good sense of talent and has the ability to mentor guys. Those are three things that the Wizards desperately need.
Washington has some able ball handlers on the perimeter and will be able to move the ball around to find the shot. But the team is deficient in the ability to be a team due to the fact that so many guys don’t seem to get the subtleties of the game. The good news is that Hinrich does get it and Wall may.
The down and dirty here is that Washington is rebuilding and Wall may be a key ingredient. If Arenas can maintain his health, he’ll be a force. There are some decent players but not a whole lot of big talent guys and that means last place in the East’s Southeast Division, which is the best division in the conference. There is always next year.
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