Washington Wizards season preview
The NBA season will be here before you know it and FanSided is here to get you ready. In the lead up to Opening Night, we’ll be previewing two teams each day, reviewing roster changes, discussing important players and challenges, and hearing the perspective of our FanSided site experts. Let’s get ready for basketball!
Inputs: Trey Burke (PG, traded from the Utah Jazz); Ian Mahinmi (C, signed for four years, $64 million); Jason Smith (PF, signed for three years, $16 million); Andrew Nicholson (PF, signed for four years, $26 million); Daniel Ochefu (C, signed for three years, partially guaranteed); Tomas Satoransky (SF, signed for three years, $9 million), Danuel House (SF, signed for two years, partially guaranteed); Sheldon McClellan (SG, signed for two years, partially guaranteed); Johnny O’Bryant (PF, signed for one year, partially guaranteed); Casper Ware (PG, sign for one year, partially guaranteed)
Outputs: Nene (C, signed with the Houston Rockets); Ramon Sessions (PG, signed with the Charlotte Hornets); Garrett Temple (SG, signed with the Sacramento Kings); J.J. Hickson (PF, unsigned); Jared Dudley (SF, signed with the Phoenix Suns); Alan Anderson (SG, signed with the Los Angeles Clippers); Drew Gooden (PF, unsigned)
Retained: Marcus Thornton (SG, signed for one year, veteran’s minimum); Bradley Beal (SG, signed for five years, $128 million)
Biggest question mark
The biggest question mark surrounding the 2016-17 Washington Wizards has to be the health of shooting guard Bradley Beal, the proud recipient of a five-year extension with the club during his restricted free agency this summer.
When healthy, Beal and point guard John Wall form one of the most dynamic starting backcourts in the entire NBA. The problem is that Beal has never played a full NBA season in four years as a professional. In 2015-16, Beal played in just 55 games for the Wizards, starting in only 35 of them.
Yes, he is only 23 years old, but Beal may not have the durability to ever play a full 82-game NBA season. Beal doesn’t have to play every game for the 2016-17 Wizards, but has to be on the court for more than 61.75 of them, his career average for games played per season.
He’s not changing the way the game of basketball is being played on defense, his career Defensive Box Plus-Minus is -0.6. However, Beal is crucial in getting the Wizards’ offense off the ground. He is a career 16.0 points per game scorer, shooting at a 42.9 percent from the field, and 39.7 percent from long-range. Beal also averages 3.0 assists per game.
2015-16 might have been Beal’s statistically best season with a career-best PER of 15.5. He’s good enough to be the second-best player on a strong playoff-caliber team, but this is a prove-it year for him nonetheless.
Washington has as a solid shot to win the Southeast Division title, one of four teams with a shot at that crown this season. Only the rebuilding Miami Heat lack the realistic upside to compete.
With the Orlando Magic probably topping out as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed this season, they aren’t going to be the Wizards’ primary rival this year. Though the Charlotte Hornets can win the Southeast, Charlotte could also finish 10th in the Eastern Conference and miss the NBA Playoffs entirely.
That means the Wizards’ biggest rival this season will be the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta has qualified for the Eastern Conference Playoffs nine straight seasons. Only the Western Conference’s San Antonio Spurs have made the NBA Playoffs more consecutive seasons than the Hawks.
Atlanta isn’t a championship-caliber team, but neither are the Wizards. Either the Wizards or the Hawks could win upwards of 48 games and win the Southeast.
Where the division rivalry intensifies is in the backcourt battles. Wall and Beal are better than Dennis Schroder, Kyle Korver, and Kent Bazemore. However, Schroder antagonizes opposing point guards and that may not sit well with the Washington faithful.
Keep in mind that Atlanta beat Washington in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals. One could argue that if Wall didn’t hurt his wrist, Washington would have made the Eastern Conference Finals that season instead of Atlanta. This will be the best rivalry in the Southeast Division in 2016-17.
What does success look like?
Scott Brooks was brought to Washington to develop the young players. Brooks, in a way, is everything former head coach Randy Wittman wasn’t. He’s known for getting the most out of his talent and Wittman was quite the opposite. Washington’s front office wants to make sure the juice will be worth the squeeze. Everyone on the roster – from John Wall to Otto Porter – have the potential to get better. The team’s success will be measured by the amount of growth each player shows.
Wall has to get to the free throw line more. Bradley Beal has to make the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Kelly Oubre and Porter have to become productive consistently, not just occasionally. Success for the Wizards will be having their developing players doing exactly that – developing.
As the core grows, the win/loss record will too. If things go according to plan, the Wizards should be able to compete with any team in the East not named the Cavaliers. Making the postseason is a clear goal and advancing, as they did in 2014 and 2015, will be a priority once they get there. The keys to the franchise have been given to the young players. Now it’s up to Brooks and the talent to take their respective games to the next level.
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