Apr 29, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and Washington Wizards forward Martell Webster (9) battle for a loose ball during the second half in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at United Center. The Wizards won 75-69 and won the series 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Wizards: Where Do They Rank In The East?

May 9, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) shoots over Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi (28) during the second half in game three of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Pacers won 85 – 63. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards finished in fifth place last season in a depleted Eastern Conference. The franchise made some key offseason moves so far, re-signing big man Marcin Gortat, adding future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, and bringing in solid role players such as Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.

By all accounts, the Wizards are on the right track to expand on last season, in which they advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season. But where do they rank among the rest of the Eastern Conference?

For starters, the Wizards may have the best starting lineup in the conference. I suspect the opening day starting lineup for the Wizards will be John Wall-Bradley Beal-Pierce-Gortat-Nene.

That is a nice mix of youthfulness and experience. Wall and Beal are undoubtedly the best backcourt in the conference. They were last year and I only expect them to keep getting better (scary, I know).

Pierce is a guy who will knock down open 3-pointers, be able to create off the dribble, although not as much as he used too, and most importantly knock down big shots. We saw at times last season where it got to the end of games and everyone looked around at each other like, “so who wants to win this game for us.”

Pierce will be that guy until he can’t walk anymore. Having him late in games will take pressure of the young backcourt of Wall and Beal.

Gortat and Nene are as physical as a frontcourt as you are going to find outside of Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They will bang down low but what makes them hard to defend is their ability to be effective in the mid-range as well as the pick and roll game, especially Gortat.

His ability to mesh with Wall and run the pick and roll is giving me flashbacks of him running it with Steve Nash during his time in Phoenix. Wall is no Nash, but Gortat helps make him look really good.

Gortat and Nene are also big bodies who anchored the Wizards eighth-most efficient defense last season.

So, right from the tip, the Wizards are going to be able to play with just about anyone in the Eastern Conference. That’s a really talented starting lineup.

However, Cleveland and Chicago have solid arguments for that as well, especially if one of them adds Kevin Love to their roster.

Apr 11, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; [Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) shoots in front of Orlando Magic forward Maurice Harkless (21) in the first half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards have also improved their bench this offseason and a lot of it was in-house improvement. If summer league was any indication (it is not always) then the Wizards can expect to get solid contribution from last year’s draft picks in Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr.

They both looked extremely comfortable in summer league and hopefully can carry that over to the regular season.

The additions of Blair and Humphries add two veteran role players. While I was a big fan of Trevor Booker (signed with Utah), Blair and Humphries are the same type of players, if not better than Booker.

This also allows the Wizards to not have to rely on aging players like Drew Gooden and Al Harrington in crucial situations like they had to last season.

The Wizards have certainly improved since last season. They are a top-four team in the Eastern Conference as of right now, in my opinion.

The Cavs are the best team in the East right now. They have the undisputed best player on the planet, an electrifying point guard in Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and some other solid assets.

LeBron James makes almost any team an instant contender.

The Bulls are the other team I would say are better than the Wizards. The Wizards knocked out the Bulls in the first round of last year’s playoffs, but this Bulls team could look a lot different than they did in the postseason.

For one, Derrick Rose will be back and they added Pau Gasol. A frontline of Gasol-Joakim Noah-Taj Gibson-Nikola Mirotic is the deepest and best in the league.

However, their season hinges on the health of Rose. Gasol will make their offense more bearable with his versatility and passing ability, but without Rose this team is not a true contender.

They need Rose to be close to back to normal in order to win the East. If Rose is not himself, I think the Wizards are better than the Bulls. We just have to wait and see.

You cannot count out the Pacers because they still have an elite two-way player in Paul George and a top defender in Roy Hibbert. I also like the signings they made with Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, but let’s face it, they are going to miss Lance Stephenson.

Stephenson was erratic at times, but he was their best playmaker (led the league in triple-doubles) and brought an edge to the team. The Wizards lost to the Pacers in the second of this year’s playoffs, but I think the Wizards took a step forward while the Pacers took one back.

Things are going to change, guys are most likely going to get injured, teams will make moves, and some things simply won’t work out so it is really hard to see how the season is going to go. However, the Wizards made some key offseason moves that will give them a chance to improve upon last season and be a top-three team in the Eastern Conference for the 2014-15 NBA season.

 

Tags: Eastern Conference Washington Wizards

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