WASHINGTON (AP) There is no doubt whose play will dictate how good the Washington Wizards are: John Wall and Bradley Beal.
No matter how much ”small ball” coach Randy Wittman decides to go with, no matter who gets the departed Paul Pierce’s minutes and late-game shots, no matter how the offseason additions pan out, it’s those two guards who will dictate whether the Wizards return to the playoffs, whether they finally can secure home-court advantage in the first round, whether they finally can get to the conference finals.
”It starts with us two,” Beal said. ”We both have to be leaders of this team now. We have to be vocal and lead by example. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
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Each of the past two seasons, as Wall blossomed into an All-Star starter at point guard, and Beal became more assertive at shooting guard, Washington made progress but bowed out in the second round of the playoffs. Coincidentally, both season-ending exits came on May 15.
”I’m going to circle (that date) with a big red marker,” said Wall, whose wrist injury was a factor when the Wizards bowed out against the Atlanta Hawks.
After pulling out a smaller lineup with Pierce as a ”stretch-4” power forward in the postseason, Wittman has given every indication that will be his go-to setup during the regular season this time.
”We’ve seen successful teams going smaller and winning ballgames, even against bigger lineups,” forward Drew Gooden said. ”So I think this is the identity we’re thinking about going towards.”
Plus, with the speedy Wall at the point, a team that already loved to run should do so even more.
”We’re going to be faster,” Beal said. ”The floor’s going to be a little bit more spaced. … We’ve got Nene shooting 3s now. Whatever `Witt’ wants us to do.”
Here are other things to know about the Washington Wizards this season:
REPLACING PIERCE: Replacing Pierce, who signed with the Clippers, won’t be easy – on the court or in the locker room. ”We definitely lost a great leader, a great basketball mind, a great finisher in the fourth quarter,” center Marcin Gortat said. Pierce was the one who had the ball as the final seconds ticked away in playoff game after playoff game. At media day, Wall and Beal were asked who takes those big shots now. Wall’s answer? ”Me.” Beal’s? ”Me, for sure.” And Wittman’s? ”That’ll be determined by them as we grow here and see.”
3-POINTERS: Last season, the Wizards averaged 16.8 3-point tries, putting them 27th in the 30-team NBA and earning criticism for taking long 2s. That should change. In its preseason opener, for example, Washington attempted 26 3s, making 15. Even a guy like Kris Humphries, who last made a 3-pointer in a regular-season game as a rookie more than a decade ago, was launching `em. Wall said he made 1,000 3s per day in the offseason.
WALL GROWS UP: Wall is entering his sixth season since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and much is expected of him. Asked where he ranks Beal and himself among NBA backcourts, Wall replied: ”The best.”
PORTER’S TURN: Otto Porter Jr. is expected to join the starting lineup, three years after being the No. 3 pick in the draft. As a rookie, he barely played. Last season, he blossomed in the playoffs. ”He took another step last year in his improvement and development as a player,” Wittman said, ”and now you want to see a third step.”
BETTER BENCH: Wittman is counting on the offseason additions of reserves such as Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson (recovering from left ankle surgery) to provide minutes while playing a style similar to the starters. ”One of the things I wanted to try and do this summer was improve our bench,” Wittman said. ”I thought our bench had to get a little bit stronger. We had to play a little bit differently when we went to our bench.”
Freelancer Harvey Valentine contributed to this report.