We continue our look through the Eastern Conference, looking today at the enigma that continues to be the Washington Wizards.
The Washington Wizards survived without former All-NBA point guard John Wall for half of last season to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
That was the positive spin on last season.
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The more realistic spin was that the Wizards were a disjointed mess last season, with former starting center Marcin Gortat and Wall engaging in a very public beef via social media, a situation which led many to question just how well-liked Wall is inside the Washington locker room.
Gortat tweeted after a Feb. 1 win that it was a “great ‘team’ victory” and Wall took exception to the portrayal of the team’s cohesiveness and ball movement in his absence, pointing to his assist totals.
The Wizards were 22-19 in Wall’s 41 starts and 21-20 in the games he missed, as Wall averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in 34.4 minutes per game and shot .420/.371/.726.
Against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, the teams exchanged home-court wins through the first five games of the series before Toronto captured a 102-92 win at Washington in Game 6 to close out the series.
Wall was outstanding in the series, averaging 26.0 points, 11.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in 39.1 minutes a night, even as his 3-point shot abandoned him — his slash line for the series was .441/.190/.851.
But while guards Wall and Bradley Beal teamed up for 49,2 points a game, Otto Porter was the only other starter to average double-figures (10.0 points per game) and the Wizards struggled to defend the 3-point line as the Raptors shot 41.0 percent from deep in the series.
Because, you know, adding Howard to a team that already had locker-room issues is sure to solve everything.
It’s hard not to have the sense that the Wizards should be better than they have been. In 2014, Washington returned to the playoffs after a five-year absence, winning 44 games and reaching the second round.
But instead of progressing, the team has made the postseason three times in the last four years, missing in 2016 (which led to the firing of coach Randy Wittman and the hiring of current bench boss Scott Brooks), never winning more than 49 games and reaching the second round twice more.
The team is 92-72 since Brooks’ arrival and enters the season as a playoff contender. What they are beyond that, however, is a huge question.
43-39, eighth in Eastern Conference
Lost to Toronto in first round, 4-2
106.6 PPG (13th), 106.0 OPPG (15th)
109.3 Offensive Rating (14th), 108.7 Defensive Rating (15th)
Team Leaders (minimum 42 games/82 made 3-pointers)
Scoring: Bradley Beal 22.6 PPG
Rebounding: Marcin Gortat 7.6 RPG
Assists: Bradley Beal 4.5 APG
Steals: Otto Porter 1.5 SPG
Blocks: Marcin Gortat 0.7 BPG
3-point shooting: Otto Porter 44.1 pct.
Bradley Beal (All-Star Game), John Wall (All-Star Game, replaced due to injury)
Bradley Beal, G
Troy Brown Jr., G-F
Thomas Bryant, C
Chris Chiozza, G
Jeff Green, F
Dwight Howard, C
Tiwian Kendley, G
Ian Mahinmi, C
Jordan McRae, G (two-way)
Jodie Meeks, G
Markieff Morris, F
Kelly Oubre Jr., F
Otto Porter, F
Austin Rivers, G
Devin Robinson, F (two-way)
Tomas Satoransky, G
Jason Smith, F-C
John Wall, G
Troy Brown Jr. (draft), Yusuf Sanon (draft rights, not signed), Austin Rivers (trade, L.A. Clippers, June 26), Thomas Bryant (waiver claim, L.A. Lakers, July 2), Jeff Green (free agent, Cleveland, July 10), Dwight Howard (street free agent, July 11), Chris Chiozza (undrafted free agent, Sept. 7), Jordan McRae (street free agent, two-way deal, Sept. 10), Tiwian Kendley (undrafted free agent, Sept. 10).
Marcin Gortat (trade, L.A. Clippers, June 26), Tim Frazier (free agent), Ty Lawson (free agent), Chris McCullough (free agent), Ramon Sessions (free agent), Mike Scott (free agent, L.A. Clippers, July 9).
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Against the Brooklyn Nets
Last season (Home team in CAPS)
Dec. 12: NETS 103, Wizards 98
Dec. 22: NETS 119, Wizards 84
Jan. 13: WIZARDS 119, Nets 113, OT
Nov. 16: at Washington
Dec. 1: at Washington
Dec. 14: at Brooklyn
Feb. 27: at Brooklyn
Projected Depth Chart
C: Dwight Howard, Ian Mahinmi
PF: Markieff Morris, Jason Smith
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green
SG: Bradley Beal, Austin Rivers, Troy Brown Jr., Jodie Meeks
PG: John Wall, Tomas Satoransky
The Washington Wizards are taking some gambles, but they had to considering they had little cap space and not a lot of pieces that were tradeable.
Marcin Gortat is gone, but the additions of Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers — subjects of their own locker-room dramas in the past — might not help team chemistry.
Jeff Green is being asked to replace Mike Scott as a stretch forward and Scott did that job very well last season, shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range.
Green is a 33.2 percent career shooter from deep, hit just 31.2 percent last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers and has never shot better than the 38.9 percent mark he put up in his second NBA season, 10 years ago with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09.
The Wizards did not manage to put themselves ahead of anyone, but through attrition on other squads could move up in the East’s pecking order by maintaining much the same record as they had last season — which is about as good as it appears it will get in D.C.
Projected record: 43-39