Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Washington Wizards Season Preview

The Washington Wizards went into the 2017-18 season with high expectations for their core group. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr, and Marcin Gortat had seemed poised to take the “next step” for years now, and some predicted the Washington Wizards would be as high as a three or four seed come playoff time. But injuries and locker room tensions headlined the Wizards lackluster campaign and they ultimately ended the regular season with a 43-39 record, good for 8th in the Eastern Conference. 

After a quick exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Toronto Raptors and calls for better bigs and a deeper bench from Point Guard John Wall, the Wizards went out and gave their leading man exactly what he asked for. Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld stayed busy in the offseason, retooling the cast around his all-star backcourt. But will the new look Wizards have enough to compete amongst the best in the Eastern Conference? We’ll see. Here’s our 2018-19 Washington Wizards Season Preview.

Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Washington Wizards Season Preview

What Worked Last Season

Quite simply, not much worked for the Wizards last year. A disappointing 43-39 was the result of an offense that lacked creativity and a defense that didn’t seem all too concerned with getting stops. Generally speaking, the Wizards were thoroughly average across the board last season: 13th in point per game, 14th in offensive rebounds per game; 15th in opponents PPG and 15th in defensive rebounds per game.

However, the Wizards did rank amongst the league’s best in 3point%. Led by Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Washington finished the season 3rd in overall shooting percentage from behind the arc. Only the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics finished with higher three-point shooting percentage. However, in a league that continues to place more and more value on the three-point shot, the Wizards ranked amongst the bottom third in the NBA in three-point attempts (23rd) and makes (21st). Below the arc, however, the Wizards were a lot busier. They finished among the top 10 in both 2-point attempts and makes. That’s simply not a winning formula. The Wizards have the talent to shoot the 3 at a higher clip. They should.

Individually, there were some standouts amongst the Wizards last season. Bradley Beal had an impressive season with his third straight season with an effective FG percentage over 50, second straight season scoring 20-plus ppg and first season as an All-Star. John Wall was also selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star, although he was forced to miss the game due to an injury.

Second-year guard Tomas Satoransky showed flashes off the bench and as a starter in John Wall’s absence. After Wall’s injury, Satoransky was a catalyst in helping the Wizards win five straight, and 10 of their first 13 games without Wall, including wins over playoff teams such as Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks.

Unfortunately, the Ewing Theory didn’t quite hold up and the Wizards stumbled down the stretch, losing 14 of their final 21 games, securing the East’s final playoff spot during a season-ending loss to the Orlando Magic.

What Needs Improvement

According to John Wall and his post-playoff loss rant, the Wizards main concerns after last season were improving their bench and getting better, more athletic big men. No one can really argue with those complaints.

The Wizards bench ranked amongst the bottom third in the league in scoring and struggled all season to provide consistent support for the starting unit. Last year’s bench standout Mike Scott left for the Los Angeles Clippers via free agency, but Washington got something of their own from LA to help bolster the bench. In a move that sent the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, to Hollywood, the Wizards added veteran guard Austin Rivers. Rivers proved himself to be a competent feature guard after averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals in his one season in LA without Chris Paul.

Rivers should provide flexibility for the Wizards offense as he can play alongside either Wall or Beal while also being able to assume the lead ball handling and scoring responsibilities for the second-unit. The addition fills a huge hole for a team that struggled to find reliable guard play behind John Wall, signing Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson late in the season last year.

Fresh off a run to the finals with Cleveland, Georgetown alum and DC-native Jeff Green also joined the Wizards bench unit via free agency. Green can help provide the Wizards second-unit with a lot of what Mike Scott did last year for a much lower price. The additions of Rivers and Green, along with the continued emergence of Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr presents some exciting opportunities for a Wizards bench that could swing from the bottom of the league towards the top in one season.

Off-Season Changes

With Gortat gone to LA, the need for an improvement at the Center position was even more necessary than before. When Wall was begging management for better and more athletic big men in the offseason, he wasn’t envisioning Ian Mahinmi getting a promotion (even if Ernie likes him). Or at least I don’t think he was. And when the Wizards passed on the likes of Robert Williams III in the draft for a young, rangy wing project in Troy Brown Jr, many wondered just how the Wizards would address their Center situation.

Then, along came Superman. In a signing that landed him on his 4th team in four years, Dwight Howard became a member of the Washington Wizards. Some teams may have been wary of Howard’s locker room reputation. But after a season of public feuding between Wall and Gortat, could it really get any worse?

Besides, even if Howard isn’t what he was during his 2009 finals run with the Magic, he still averaged a double-double with the Charlotte Hornets last season and ranked 3rd in the league in rebounds per game. For a Wizards team that ranked 22nd in defensive rebounds and 21st in team rebounds last season, Howard should be an instant upgrade on the boards. And he’s certainly an upgrade over Gortat. Howard’s ability to dominate the glass and add a level of offense that Gortat could not, adds another dimension to a Wizards offense that looked stagnant at times last season under Scott Brooks.

Bench improved: check

Center position improved: check

Aside from John Wall’s horrific Team USA photo, it was a successful offseason for the Washington Wizards.

2018-19 Season Prediction

The offseason additions make the Wizards better (on paper) at the start of this season than they were at the start of last season. And promising young players such as Oubre and Satoransky should continue to improve with more time in the league. But this team only goes as far as its core three (Wall, Beal, Porter) will take it.

John Wall is one of the most electric players in the NBA, but he’s now in his 9th season and needs to stay healthy for Washington to stay competitive. And while Otto Porter has shown his ability to be a top-tier scoring option (shot a career-high 44% form 3 last season) and a valuable player (led team in win shares for the second straight season), he often disappears throughout the game and needs to be more assertive within the offense. It’s something even Paul Pierce harped on during his time in D.C. and something Porter’s vowed to fix this upcoming season. In a LeBron James-less East, this could finally be the year the Wizards put everything together.

In last year’s Washington Wizards season preview, we predicted the Wizards would secure a top 4 seed in the East (some even predicted a 1 seed). It didn’t quite happen.

After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Wizards will return to the top of the Southeast division and win it for the second time in three years. Beal and Wall both return to the All-Star game. Kelly Oubre’s play on the court continues to elevate alongside his off the court style. Otto Porter becomes more of a focal point and less of an afterthought. The Dwight Howard experiment doesn’t completely blow up. And the Wizards finish 47-35.

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