NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Washington Wizards
Coach: Scott Brooks (second year)
Last Season: 49-33 (fourth in Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: None
Notable Subtractions: Bojan Bogdanovic (free agency), Brandon Jennings (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 47.5
Best-Case Scenario: Nobody gets injured, Boston and Cleveland struggle to adjust to new rosters, and the Wizards find their way to the Finals.
After coming within a [gags] Kelly Olynyk explosion of the franchise’s first conference finals in nearly 40 years, the path forward for Washington seemed clear, if not entirely satisfying: run it back and hope for the best.
That’s not the worst plan! John Wall and Bradley Beal are bona fide studs. On their prowess alone, in a historically weak Eastern Conference, it is entirely plausible that the Wizards could find their way through the playoffs. The supporting cast for the best backcourt in the East, though, is … fine. The team gave Otto Porter Jr. a four-year, $106.5 million contract over the summer, effectively locking in the current rotation for the next two seasons.
So, with all due respect to Tim Frazier and Jason Smith, the Wizards are more or less going into battle with Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris (who will be out of action for six to eight weeks after sports hernia surgery), the corpse of Marcin Gortat, a maybe-healthy Ian Mahinmi, and Kelly Oubre Jr. At the trade deadline last season, the Wizards traded their first-rounder (which ended up being the 22nd pick) for a rental of Bojan Bogdanovic, who provided a scoring punch off the bench, but now plays for Indiana. As it was last year, depth will be the main concern for the Wizards.
But the core is still young. Beal and Porter are both 24, and Wall is 27. Though each made a leap last season (Wall into the league’s top tier, Beal into the role of a healthy scorer, and Porter into a serviceable third man), they all have significant room to improve. Beal played a career-high 77 games last season and enjoyed bests in almost every relevant statistical category.
Porter shot the lights out in his contract year, but his performance left some, including Wall, wanting more. Before the Wizards signed Porter’s deal, Wall openly courted Paul George, citing the need for a blue-chipper that would put the team over the top. “Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. [Porter] did great for us.” Of course, the Wizards don’t have George, and now they’ve bet the house on Porter. Much of their capacity to improve from last season will hinge on Otto’s ability to become a player that can go toe-to-toe with the best 3s in the league. Even Wall, who is on the fringes of the preseason MVP conversation, is aiming for concrete improvements this season after being challenged by Kobe Bryant to make the All-Defensive first team. (He hasn’t made any all-defensive team since 2014-15.)
The Wizard with the most room for improvement, though, is Oubre, who doubled his minutes and became a lockdown defender in his sophomore season. But the former Jayhawk is still budding as an offensive presence, averaging only 6.3 points per game on about as many shots last year. If there is any candidate on the roster to have the kind of offensive surge that Otto Porter did last year, it's Oubre.
The Wizards should be very good, and in this Eastern Conference, that could be enough to end up as conference champion. But if Wall and Beal are great, the team will be, too.
Worst-Case Scenario: Pick your poison. This Wizards team is a very finely tuned machine. In February, I outlined some of my concerns with the team as I nervously watched them wheel through their schedule like a Ferrari driving on an off-road trail. In the Run It Back Year, all of those issues remain: How long can the team get sufficient performance from Marcin Gortat in such heavy minutes? Will the roster be able to stay healthy and productive while getting worked to the bone? Can Scott Brooks make the right decisions in crunch time? Will Ernie Grunfeld be able to go the entire season without doing something horrific? It’s winning time for these Wizards, and if any player, coach, or executive strays off course, it will be a tough season to watch.
TL;DR: The Wizards will be about as good as they have been, maybe a little better. For D.C., though, that little bit would mean a hell of a lot.