Washington Wizards season preview


The year 2015 has been a letdown for D.C. teams unless you’re the Mystics or the Wizards.

The latter was a John Wall hand injury away from making their first Eastern Conference Finals since the invention of the wheel.

After a dreadful February, a month where they went 3-9, coach Randy Wittman decided to make an offensive scheme change that helped them run up the scoreboard in the playoffs. He traded in his traditional two big men lineup for a small-ball lineup, playing the smaller Paul Pierce or Otto Porter, Jr. at power forward in place of the bulky Nene.

In the first round of the playoffs, this fast, new offense created open three-point shots, opened up driving lanes for John Wall and Bradley Beal, and completely baffled the Toronto Raptors, leading to a 4-0 sweep.

The Wizards weren’t the first team to apply this method, they were actually slow to catch on. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals last June because they ran this scheme to perfection.

The idea of a ‘stretch four’ instead of a traditional power forward helped them play with a quicker pace and added another deep shooter onto the floor. And the fact that they had arguably the greatest three-point shooter of all-time, reigning MVP Stephen Curry, alongside Klay Thompson created a duo that torched defenses.

The Wizards don’t have the offensive arsenal that Golden State has, due to the fact that John Wall is abysmal from beyond the arc and Pierce left for the Los Angeles Clippers, but the emergence of Beal and Porter gives them hope.

Bradley Beal averaged 23.4 points per game in their 2015 playoff run, and hopefully he can contribute more this upcoming season; he needs to focus on hitting three-pointers and stop settling for deep twos. And Otto Porter was impressive at the stretch four position, specifically on the defensive side, as he averaged 8 rebounds per contest in the postseason.

Washington has a lot riding on this season. If they make a deep playoff run and the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t, it might persuade Kevin Durant, a D.C. native, to sign with the Wizards in free agency next summer. But if the Thunder find success under new head coach Billy Donovan, and the Wizards aren’t competitive in a weak Eastern Conference, he might stay on his current team or travel elsewhere.

The loss of an experienced leader in Paul Pierce is devastating. His clutch performances and the inspiration he gave the team were vital in their success, but truth be told he is a couple steps too slow on the defensive side and starting Porter isn’t that big of a drop-off.

Now Wall has to show that he’s not only a top five point guard, but a leader who can guide this team. This is John’s team, and they will only go as far as he can take them.

Their offseason additions from this past summer (Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre, Jr.) weren’t necessarily jaw-dropping, but they acquired guys who fit the new scheme because they can shoot threes and guard multiple positions. Dudley was actually a key role player on the Phoenix Suns during the inception of the small-ball offense, so he’s equipped for the job.

In the ‘Leastern’ Conference, they should easily make the playoffs, but let’s not get carried away. The Cleveland Cavaliers look destined to take another trip to the NBA Finals because they have no real competition, including the Wizards. Washington will probably be in a close race with teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks.

The Wizards do have a real shot to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but only if Beal and role players provide enough help for Wall to lead the team. Prediction: 51-31 (3rd in Eastern Conference)