The Washington Wizards enter the 2013-14 season having not reached the playoffs since 2008/ Here are three questions facing the Wizards entering the season:
Does John Wall take the next step?
The Wizards went all in on John Wall this season. In late July they gave their point guard the max contract of $80 million over five years. He looks the part of the contract, especially after his play the end part of last season. Now a big question for the Wizards heading into the season is if Wall is going to take the next step and become the All-Star point guard they anticipated when they drafted him No. 1 overall three years ago.
The last 25 games of the 2012-13 season Wall averaged 22.6 points per game to go along with 7.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals. To put that in perspective, no point guard in the league last year put up those numbers for the entire season. Yes, it is a small sample size, but he put up those numbers to close out the year. It shows what he is capable of. The Wizards are hoping he carries that momentum into this season.
He was also excellent in attacking the basket and feeding his teammates. Wall played a huge role in why Martell Webster was able to shoot better than 50 percent on corner 3s. His ability to drive and kick the ball is critical to the Wizards offense and he is extremely effective at it.
But questions still loom about Wall as a max contract player and his ability to make the Wizards a playoff team. The main concern is his health. Wall is yet to play a full season in the NBA. The most he has played is 69 games in his rookie year. Last season, he only saw action in 49 games because of a stress injury to his knee. In his three years he has had injuries in both knees. That is never a good sign for your franchise point guard. If Wall wants to take the next step to being an elite point guard the injury gods must be on his side this season.
How will the frontcourt fare?
It was devastating news for the Wizards when it was announced a few weeks back that starting center Emeka Okafor would be out indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck. The Wizards were already slim in the frontcourt and this makes them even slimmer.
Okafor was productive both offensively and defensively in his first season as a Wizard last year. He piled in 9.7 points per game to go with 8.8 rebounds and one block. Not All-Star numbers by any means, but you could count on Okafor. He has been a consistent player his entire career. Also, you lose a veteran voice on the court to direct the defense. Luckily, Okafor is optimistic he will not need surgery, according to Mike Prada of Bullets Forever, which will speed up his return.
So, with Okafor out who do the Wizards turn to anchor the defense and be a consistent low-post threat on offense? A lot of the burden will fall on veteran big man Nene. Even though Nene is a superior offensive player to Okafor, he is not as good as a rebounder or defender. Also, he turns 31 this season and last year was his worst season statistically since the 2007-08 season. We could be witnessing the decline of Nene being solid starting big.
Besides those two guys the rest of the crop is relatively weak. Kevin Seraphin has shown flashes of being a productive big and his per-36 of 15.1 points per game and 7.1 rebounds is rather appealing. He will get a chance to play those type of minutes with Okafor sidelined and could contribute. Chris Singleton is out six to eight weeks after having foot surgery and Trevor Booker will go into preseason sidelined with a sore calf. Lastly, Jan Vesely, well, we will let his foul shooting percentage (30.8 percent last season) explain everything.
I think the best option for the Wizards is to go small. My colleague Michael Badger wrote about this yesterday in his column. Putting Trevor Ariza at the 4 is an intriguing lineup. Small ball has taken the league by storm and the Wizards may want to latch on until Okafor is back. Ariza is an solid shooter who can spread the floor and open up the offensive and driving lanes for Wall. Just by putting Ariza out there the defense has to adjust its strategy. Also at 6’8″ and extremely lengthy, Ariza should not have problems defending many other 4s.
What to expect from rookie Otto Porter?
The Wizards played it safe in this summer’s draft. With the No. 3 overall pick, they went with the do-it-all 6’9″ forward from right down the road at Georgetown. Most No. 3 picks are asked to come in and contribute immediately. However, for Porter that will not likely be the case. For one, he is currently out with a hip flexor and will miss the beginning of training camp. Training camp is crucial for any rookie in order to get acclimated. This will play a part in Porter’s role to start the year. Secondly, he is behind Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza at the small forward position. Webster and Ariza are two players who have already established themselves in the league.
In the long run, not being asked to contribute in a big way right off the bat will be good for Porter. It will give him a chance to make those mistakes in practice instead of games. Not many lottery pick rookies have success right away because they are asked to do too much. This won’t be the case for Porter.
Porter is quick to improve, as evidenced by the jump he made in just one year at Georgetown. He went from averaging 9.7 points per game his freshman year to 16.2 last season. He went from being a 22.6 percent 3-point shooter to a 42.2 percent. The ability to not be thrown into a tough situation will allow Porter to possibly have a jump like he did at Georgetown in the NBA.
Otto Porter is the small forward of the future for the Washington Wizards, but do not expect him to start from Day 1 and put up top rookie numbers. It is not going to happen and that could be the best thing for him.