All stats per basketball-reference.com
“The Wizards are a team on the rise again.” –Zach Lowe, 4/28/15
The Washington Wizards franchise has won 50 games five times and won 60 games just once, obviously back as the Bullets. By comparison, the Spurs have won 50 games each of their last 16 years, with four of those seasons reaching 60. The Wizards franchise is able to hold only a bit of credibility because it has four finals appearances, one NBA championship in ‘77-‘78, and because DC is a prominent city.
This year’s Wizards team can reasonably hope to win 50 games. The Wizards and LA Clippers are the only two teams to reach the second round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. This core has grown together and achieved success together, but it can be even better. The 5 seed for consecutive years, this year’s team wants home court.
Entering the regular season I am most interested in four main characters. I say this with apologies to Marcin Gortat, who was probably the team’s second most important player last regular season, and who plays two-way basketball and thrives in the pick and roll. The characters I’m most interested in before the 2015-16 season are Randy Wittman, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and John H Wall.
Randy Wittman has a career coaching record of 237-365 (1), winning games 39% of the time. He also has a career playoffs record of 12-9, winning games 57% of the time. He has been the head coach of a team for nine full or partial seasons with Cleveland, Minnesota, and Washington. He went 62-102 with Cleveland, 38-105 with Minnesota, and in his first year and a half in Washington, 47-84. These last two years, Wittman’s Wizards have gone 90-74 and played their best basketball in the playoffs.
Randy’s ineptitude is often cited as the biggest factor holding the Wizards back. But he has been present for every minute of this team’s growth and currently sits as the 7th longest tenured head coach in the league. Of the 30 current head coaches, he has coached the 10th most total games (2).
Wittman employs a defense first approach that has been good for a young team lacking stable scoring, and for a fan base that watched the Gilbert Arenas Wizards play only offense. He may have a long-2 fetish on O, but the man has led the Wiz to a top 10 finish in points allowed per game every full season as head coach. The last three Wizards teams have finished 5th, 9th, and 8th in ESPN’s John Hollinger Defensive Efficiency Rating (3). John Wall is a monster on defense and, this year, every other starter projects as good to solid.
This is not to say Wittman is close to flawless. His rotations often make me get angry, sitting in my living room, while the only thing more frustrating than the offense he runs is the way he explains it (4). He is not Steve Kerr that is going to take this core over the top. But he undoubtedly does bring a stability that does not get recognized enough. Surprisingly, stability should be one of the Wizards’ strengths this year. Wall, Beal, and Nene have played 134 games together. This will be the third year on the team for Gortat and Porter, and will be John Wall’s sixth season playing in Chinatown. Everybody is familiar with one another and they all know their roles. This team should receive a consistency boost from playing multiple seasons with the same core.
The Wizards want to improve their offense. The hope is that their strong offensive performance in the 2015 playoffs was a turning point. Last regular season the squad averaged 98.5 points per game. In their first round sweep against the Raptors they put up 110.25 points per, and for the playoffs as a whole they averaged 101.1. It’s more common to see a team score less points in the playoffs because defensive intensity increases, but the Wizards found a new small-ball identity centered around the five man unit of Wall, Beal, Porter, Pierce, and Gortat.
Over the summer the Front Office let center Kevin Seraphin go and acquired four wings in Dudley, Anderson, Neal, and Oubre. Randy Wittman, though, has never been a fan of the three ball. As a player he was a successful shooting guard without it (17 career made threes) and in his six full years as a head coach his teams’ average league rank in 3-point attempts is 23.5 (5). His 2000-01 Cavs team attempted an astonishingly low 8 three pointers per game (6), while last years Wiz squad took the 27th most in the league with 16.8 a game (7).
Adrian Wojnarowski, in 2012, quoted Kevin Love, career 36% from deep, saying “Randy Wittman told me not to shoot 3-points. That got me very uncomfortable (8).” Wittman, of course, coached Love in Minnesota. Well it seems like things have changed since then in the Randy household, because in last year’s playoffs the Wizards shot 23.3 threes a contest.
Never in a million years did I think Witt would actually change the Nene/Gortat starting big man duo, but he’s done it. Nene is a symbol to the franchise, as his acquisition signaled the end of the rebuilding era. But at 6’11, 260 pounds, Nene is a second center out there. Elite power forwards are at least ten pounds lighter and ten percent less bad at free throws. Swapping Pierce/Nene as the forwards for Porter/Humphries makes this years lineup significantly younger, faster, and more athletic. Hump can space the floor for the first unit while Nene’s creation skills are more valuable to the second unit. Kris Humphries=Draymond Green.
I should offer caution: this might not work. The ’13-14 Brooklyn Nets, with Pierce as starting PF, went 34-17 the second half of the season. Maybe the playoffs were all about Paul and nothing else. On the other hand, Wizards fans have been waiting since the day John Wall got drafted to see him surrounded by shooters and playing up-tempo basketball. A spread floor will do wonders for Wall’s game, and the defense should still hold up if he and Gortat are both on the court. Expect the Wizards to play frequent small-ball, and to take advantage of their large stock of wings by playing faster than in other Wittman seasons.
Last season Brad Beal attempted the 66th most threes per game in the league, the same per game as Marcus Smart (9). Two seasons ago he scored a very inefficient 17 points per game, and last year he battled injury and scored an inefficient 15. He takes long twos off the dribble and he doesn’t get to the free throw line. And because of these things he’s never had his PER reach the league average of 15.
But Beal is also a 22 year old, 3-year NBA vet with a career 3pt% of 40. He has been the leading scorer of two playoff runs, averaging a team high 19.2 ppg in 2014 and a team high 23.4 ppg in 2015. In his rookie year Beal had the second most made threes ever in an age 19 season (10) and in his sophomore year he had the third most makes in an age 20 season (11). Beal is one of the best shooters in the league and needs to be taking as many threes per game as other top marksmen. He averaged at least 2 made threes a game in both playoff runs, and last playoffs he attempted 6.3 per, which would have put him in the top ten last regular season. This year Brad needs to be a three-point bomber.
He is on every list of candidates to break out this season, whether it is on ESPN (12), Yahoo (13), Sports Illustrated (14), or nba.com (15). Beal has had the green light to use the second most possessions on the team since the day he was drafted, and signs indicate this might be the year he is really ready for that role. He averaged 21.5 shots a game in the second round against the Hawks last year, and had 34 points in the team’s game four loss without John Wall that could have given the Wizards a 3-1 lead. Beal has always been clutch, as evidenced by his game winning shots against the Magic, Knicks, and Thunder, but now he is playing with an edge.
It is common thought that Leonsis and Grunfeld will forego giving Beal an extension by the November 2nd deadline and wait to resign him in the summer. That allows Beal’s salary to not cut into the team’s open cap space next summer to sign a free agent—if said free agent signs first—because teams can go over the salary cap to resign their own players (Bird Rights). The Wizards also can offer Beal a five-year contract over the summer but only a four-year extension right now. The Spurs pulled this move perfectly over the summer with Kawhi and Lamarcus.
Beal will command a huge contract, which the Wizards will have to pay. My opinion is that we should try and extend Beal now on a slightly below max contract (think Klay Thompson). We could feel good that we got a discount before his breakout year, and could feel safe knowing he’s locked in. We could still accommodate a max free agent by not retaining Gooden, Blair, or Webster and by possibly making some small moves.
For Wizards fans, up till now, watching the precocious Bradley Beal grow and have a couple individual moments of greatness has been more than enough. This is the year we hope he can finally become the running mate that John Wall has never had in Washington. Be a high-volume three point shooter, take the ball to the rim, be a strong defender at the position, and create off the pick and roll: If Beal can do those things this year he will be that player.
Otto Porter Jr:
Hogwarts School of W&W had a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year since Voldemort applied for the job. The Washington Wizards have had a new starting small forward every year since Caron Butler was traded. The Wiz have been trying to be good for the past three seasons, and have employed starting small forwards Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza, and Martell Webster (hopefully Chris Singleton’s 62 starts were part of the tank job). The three of them all had good years in Washington, acting as running mates to John Wall. They were all asked to defend, hit threes in the half-court and in transition, and be stable night to night. Pierce was the only one who was asked to create for himself, Ariza was the only lockdown defender, and Webster played the most total minutes on the team in ‘12-‘13. This year a young man named Otto Porter has been asked to step in and impact the team.
Otto Porter Jr, from Sikeston, Missouri, Big East POY at Georgetown, had been written off a year and a half into pro his career. Not even mentioned when analyzing the 2013 draft (16). Then Wittman rested Pierce towards the end of last season and Otto got to play some full games without fear of being yanked. He ended the year with 13 starts. When the playoffs started, the fans, craving anything Otto-related to cheer about, got their wish.
Otto played the second most total minutes in the playoffs, the third most per game, locked down Demar Derozan, found ways to contribute on offense, and became the third player under age 22 to average at least 10 ppg, 8 rpg, and 1 three per game in the playoffs (thanks Bulletsforever)—along with Kawai Leonard and Lebron J (17). The Dude Zach Lowe tweeted about him twice (18) in four days (19).
As the season approaches we all wonder how Otto will actually do as a starter. Everyone knows Paul Pierce was a big loss. He was a legend. Partly because of that, most projections have the Wiz winning a number of games in the mid forties. Nate Duncan has gone on record questioning Porter’s value (20). If Otto beats expectations this year then so do the Wizards.
The first thing Porter must overcome is that he’s projected to be the worst three point shooter of recent Zards SF’s, which is doubly bad because J-Wall does not shoot a consistent three ball. Last regular season Porter shot 33.7% from three and made less than 1 per 36 minutes. During their seasons as Wiz starters, Pierce, Ariza, and Mebster made 1.6, 2.3, and 1.8 threes per game, respectively. Porter is unlikely to reach those numbers, but his three point shooting should go up this year based on how he shot in the playoffs and in the preseason so far.
Porter has weaknesses, but he also brings new skills to the table. He’s 15 years younger than Pierce, and is more cerebral than Ariza or Webster. These factors make him the best transition player of the group—he can lead the break or finish it. Porter is a strong cutter, passer, and rebounder. He’s good at being in the right place at the right time, whether he’s grabbing an offensive rebound or finding space to finish a play while attention is elsewhere. In the playoffs he was a strong defender, and he is exploring the best ways to use his length.
The Wizards drafted OP to be the ultimate glue guy, and I don’t know if I’m crazy, but it might just be paying off. If Porter can play a major role on this year’s team then he easily becomes their third most valuable asset. Porter is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Tayshaun Prince, his doppelganger from the previous decade. As a 22 year old, Prince famously scored more points in the playoffs than the regular season, and then came back the next year to play 33 minutes a game for a title team.
The Wizards picked John Wall with the first pick of the 2010 NBA draft. He came out on fire. His first home game he did the dougie and dropped 29 points, 13 assists, and 9 steals. In his 6th career game he had a triple double. Wall finished the season as 2nd in rookie of the year voting, and as the third ever rookie to average 16 points and 8 assists per game. People used to endlessly pick Wall’s game apart, but he has improved every year he has been in the league.
It is common to hear people say John Wall is now good because he has “slowed down” his game, learned to change pace. I say he has subtly improved different parts of his game every year. In his second year in the league he played in every game and averaged 0.9 blocks per. In his third year he came back from injury, fought for the 9 seed (21), and dropped 47 on Memphis. Two years ago he made the all-star team, won the slam-dunk contest, and made and won in the playoffs. Last year he started on the all-star team, shot a career high 45%, averaged a career high 10 assists per game, and was the best player in his two playoff series.
John Wall has led the Wizards in total points every year he has been in the league. The other players to lead their teams in totals points each of the last five years are Lebron, Melo (led Nugs in points the year he was traded), and Big Al Jefferson. Wall’s the only one to do it all five for the same team. Wall is also second in total dimes dropped during those five seasons, behind Chris Paul. This is too much burden for one man to carry, especially since his All-Defense selection firmly places John as the team’s defensive leader as well.
As it stands, the John Wall/Randy Wittman offenses have not been good. These last two playoff years the Wizards have still been in the bottom half of the league in points per game and points per possession. John Wall is not an efficient go-to option, with his best scoring season coming in his half-year in 2012-13. Wall puts on a show in transition, but the half-court offense is much less entertaining. For the Wizards to become an elite team Wall should not be their leading scorer.
Scoring efficiently does not have to be one of John Wall’s strengths for him to be projected as the second best player in the Eastern Conference by SportsIllustrated (22), Slamonline (23), and bballbreakdown.com (24) (still waiting on ESPN). John Wall is a two-way player who is an athletic freak. At 6’4, 194 pounds, he is listed as an inch taller and seven pounds heavier than Russell Westbrook, yet Wall is still the fastest player in the league. On defense his role is to cause mayhem while also staying within the scheme. He intercepts passes, picks pockets, and blocks shots, all while teleporting back to shooters who think they’re open. With the big men controlling the paint and Wall reeking havoc, the Wizards defense jumped to new heights last year.
Being one of the best athletes on the floor gives John the ability to control games with his energy. When Wall steps up his intensity everyone in the building knows it. He’ll start hounding ball handlers and using his size, speed, and wingspan to just take over parts of the court. In transition he can be a one-man fast break, or he can slow it down a step and be the league’s best at hitting transition three point shooters. Intense John will forget to protect his body for a few possessions and take the ball right to the rim. He’ll will his jump shots in that he had been missing, and he’ll feed the energy to his teammates, along with the ball.
Wall had to will the Wizards to a good amount of wins last year when no one else could create a shot. These were games the team was supposed to win and just could not afford to lose. The biggest game of Wall’s regular season last year came at home against Boston on December 12th (25). We had lost to the same Celtics a day before, in Mass. We’d won four in a row before the loss, but were clearly exhausted, playing our fourth game in six days. At the start of the 4th quarter we had a 16 point lead, but Wall sat the first 6 minutes and the thing went to overtime. The Celts had a five point lead in OT1, but the Wizards, running on the energy of the fans at Verizon Center, sent it to double. In OT2 the Wizards were down seven with two minutes left. Then John took over.
He scored 10 points in 78 seconds, including two and-ones and the last bucket of the game. He finished with 26 points on 17 shots to go along with 17 assists. On the way to the locker room he cried on camera, dedicated the game to Miyah, his six-year-old friend who had died from cancer, and locked in his starting spot in the All-Star game.
Two days later the Wizards were in Orlando, down 5 with under two minutes left. Wall scored their next six points and Beal ended it with a buzzer beater (26). These two games were in the middle of a stretch when the Wizards went 10-1 and Wall had double digit assists in 9 of the 11. As hard as everyone else in the Wizards organization works, John Wall means everything.
Bradley Beal Florida 2012 dunk of the year nominee: