Additions: Dwight Howard, Jeff Green, Troy Brown, Austin Rivers
Subtractions: Marcin Gortat, Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Otto Porter
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Dwight Howard
Key Bench Players: Kelly Oubre, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, Ian Mahinmi, Tomas Satoransky, Troy Brown, Devin Robinson
With the NBA tipping off last night with wins for the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors, the Washington Wizards are the final team to be covered in my 30 Teams in 30 Days series. This is a much improved Wizards team from last year. First and foremost, John Wall is returning from his left knee injury that caused him to miss 41 games last season. During his last preseason game, he admitted that he was not in the best shape, per Fred Katz, but being on the floor in general will help the Wizards. In addition, they upgraded from Marcin Gortat to Dwight Howard (more on Howard later) and the bench improved with the signing of Jeff Green, the trade for Austin Rivers, and the draft selection of Troy Brown. Ultimately, the team’s success still rides on the shoulders of 5-time All Star John Wall and his health.
When healthy, John Wall is a borderline top-five point guard in the league behind Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving and fighting with Ben Simmons and Damian Lillard for the fifth spot. One of the best playmakers in all of the NBA with a career assist average of 9.2 dimes per game, Wall is the undisputed floor general and leader of this Washington team. Last season, the former number one pick out of Kentucky posted a career high in three-point percentage at 37.1%, but is yet to be seen if that number can be maintained, as he has been incredibly inconsistent from deep throughout his eight year career thus far. He may also be the best defensive point guard in the entire NBA due to his incredible lateral quickness and active hands, while being the best shot-blocking point guard in the league not named Ben Simmons after averaging 1.1 per game in his 41 games last season. He still struggles with turnovers, but that is to be expected with a usage rate over 29%. If Wall is healthy for a full season, the Wizards will be looking at a possible top-four seed behind the Big Three of Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.
While Bradley Beal is well-known as John Wall’s sharpshooting, scoring sidekick, newly signed Dwight Howard is this team’s real X-factor. Don’t get me wrong, Marcin Gortat was a huge part of the Wizards’ success over the past several seasons, but Howard is a huge upgrade. Howard is not the same dominant force that he was early in his career with the Orlando Magic, but still produces much more than Gortat. Last season in Charlotte, Howard averaged 16.6 points on 55.5% from the field, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, while Gortat averaged 8.4 points on 51.8%, 7.6 rebounds, and only 0.7 blocks per game in five less minutes. Howard is the superior athlete, rebounder, scorer, and rim protector. Everybody has to stop with all the Dwight Howard hate because he is still an extremely valuable player in the NBA today even if just for his rebounding and shot blocking. With Howard in the mix, John Wall now has a lob target every time down the court and in transition.
Bradley Beal may not be living up to his Ray Allen comparisons coming out of college, but he is still one of the top shooting guards in the game. Last season, Beal earned his first All Star appearance while averaging 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He is also still only 25 years old. As Wall’s partner in crime, this is probably the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference.
Joining the Big Three of Wall, Beal, and Howard are Otto Porter and Markieff Morris at the forward positions. Otto Porter is this team’s Swiss Army knife, a versatile defender with the ability to score, rebound, and act as a secondary or tertiary playmaker. He is turning into one of the most consistent three point shooters in the league after knocking down 43.4% and 44.1% in the last two seasons while shooting over 50% from the field and 80% from the charity stripe and 1.5 steals per game. He is set to earn over $81 million over the next three seasons and is worth every penny for this Wizards squad as he is one of the best glue guys in all of basketball. The Philadelphia native and twin brother of the Celtics’ Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris is a stretch-four who has knocked down over 36% of his threes over the past two seasons in Washington and is also an average defender. Right now, it looks like he will continue to operate in the starting power forward role but there is one player on this roster who could challenge Morris for that role.
Kelly Oubre is that player. The 15th overall pick out Kansas in 2015 is only 22 heading into his fourth NBA season and took huge strides in 2017. He upped his three-point percentage to a career high 34.1% (up from 28.7% the year prior) on a career high 4.6 attempts per game. He may not be as consistent from three as Morris yet, but his defensive versatility and superior athleticism could help him steal minutes from the power forward. At 6’7 with a 7’3 wingspan, Oubre has the length and athleticism to cover the 1 through 4 positions on the defensive end. He is not an established shot creator yet, but with John Wall running the point, Oubre can pick his spots via cuts and spot-ups for scoring opportunities. Will head coach Scott Brooks have the same idea as me? Probably not, but it is a very feasible possibility.
Joining Oubre in the second unit is newly signed Jeff Green and the return for Marcin Gortat, Austin Rivers, who will join Oubre as the first three off the bench for Washington. Green is another Swiss Army knife-type player who can contribute in every statistical category but will not blow anybody away in a specific stat. Like Oubre, he could also challenge Markieff Morris for starter’s minutes. Austin Rivers is a score-first guard who will run the show along with Tomas Satoransky in the bench unit. Filling out the bench will be Ian Mahinmi at center in an energizer role, 15th overall pick versatile wing Troy Brown, and the high-flyer Devin Robinson. Brown and Robinson are most likely to be the odd men out of this rotation but could still see some minutes to assimilate them to the NBA game. Troy Brown is very similar in playing style to Evan Turner, but may be more athletic. Brown played the point-forward position in his one year at Oregon, showing off his playmaking ability to the tune of 3.2 assists per game and proved to be a solid defender. If his three point shooting comes around, he could be an extremely valuable piece off the bench.
The Wizards are a definite playoff team, but their seed is a different story. After the Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors, seeds four through six are fair game between the Wizards, Bucks, and Pacers. I like the Wizards’ chance to attain that four seed if Wall can remain healthy for a large portion of the season. Their depth is much improved and is better than the Bucks’ and Pacers’ bench units. The Wizards are in an exponentially better place than they were last season and should improve from their 43-39 record last season.
Picture Courtesy of The Washington Informer
*For yesterday’s article on the Utah Jazz, click here
University of South Carolina ’21