Wizards New Faces: Mike Scott, Jodie Meeks, Tim Frazier, Donald Sloan, Carrick Felix
Wizards 2016-17 Weaknesses: 30th: Center Points. 29th: Bench Points. 25th: Points in the Paint. 24th: Defensive Rebounding, Blocks, Field Goal Percentage Defense. 23rd: Frontcourt Points. 22nd: Total Rebounding, Free Throw Attempts. 21st: Opponent Points. 20th: 3-Point Attempts, 3-Point Defense, Defensive Rating.
Wizards 2016-17 Strengths: 2nd: Steals. 3rd: Field Goal Percentage, Non-Paint Points, Starters Points. 4th: Fast Break Points. 5th: Scoring. 6th: Assists, Shooting Guard Points. 7th: 2-Point Percentage, Offensive Rating, Backcourt Points, Point Guard Points. 8th: 3-Point Percentage.
2016-17 Leading Scorer: John Wall, Bradley Beal, 23.1 points
2016-17 Best Defensive Rating: John Wall, Otto Porter, Marcin Gorat, 108
The Washington Wizards have a 38 year Eastern Conference Finals drought in the books, a woefully tragic dry spell they are desperate to bury. What is standing in their way is a consistently effective defense, rebounding, and a bench that is hungry and skilled.
The Wizards were a terrific offensive team in 2016-17, top-10 in every category. It didn’t go unnoticed even as a pervasive light was turned on John Wall 24-7, who had the greatest year of his pro life and set the table for the second half of his career, John Wall superstar. No longer is John Wall a forgotten name when reciting the league’s best point guards. When you say Chris Paul, Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, you must also drop in the convo John Wall.
As John Wall rose, Marcin Gortat descended, after a decade in the league. When guarding younger and more athletic bigs he was painfully lost. At 33, almost 34 years old, Gortat has a lot of mileage and doesn’t fit the space the floor dynamic that has swept the NBA. The strategic change in the league that pushes big men out to the perimeter has not served Gortat well. He can’t travel far so guarding a player like Al Horford is just impossible. Even in the post, he struggles. Yes, his body is still big but he can’t keep up with versatile athletes and he is helpless on pick and roll. He can still rebound but there isn’t much left of his offense game and in the playoffs, a few months ago, he was a wash.
A year ago, Otto Porter did what all players want to do. Save the best for last, even if in the playoffs he didn’t deliver, only hitting 28% of his threes. The playoffs aside, Porter made sure his spectacular season was going to line his coffers. He was a hot commodity this summer, a small forward who can shoot, drive to the rim, finish and defend, not to mention the ability to play with All-Stars, to understand his role.
Now that Porter has gotten paid, what is next? Can he take his game to a consistent level where he is a truly feared third option? The money- more than Klay Thompson- means he is going to be put through a different evaluation. He is going to have to earn his contract by achieving on the court in meaningful mintues.
Here is the dilemma. The Wizards needed to upgrade their bench. They halfway did. They signed Jodie Meeks. Meeks had his best years in the D’Antoni Lakers, parlayed that into a rich contract from Detroit which was an overpay and Meeks couldn’t live up to it and struggled with injuries. He has played on five teams and hasn’t played 70 games in 4 years. The past three years his shooting has been blah. 41.6%. 35.0%. 40.2%. Meeks is a three point shooter without much foot speed and lacks any creativeness to be able to get to the rim. He still is draining 40% from three. But plays zero defense. He’s 30 years old. With an injury history, how much can the Wiz trust his body to stay healthy?
But who cares about a mediocre bench when there is the offensive brain trust. John Wall 1. Bradley Beal 1A. Beal signed a massive contract last season and delivered in the playoffs when the Wizards needed him. He had a couple of off games but then dug deep and continued to attack and make shots. Beal and Wall were the reasons the Wizards nearly came close to 50 wins. The Wizards have yet to crack the 50 win mark in the John Wall era. Or any era after 1979.
What is excellent about the Wizards is what is wrong with the Wizards. It is Wall and Beal or it is nothing. There isn’t much versatility or pure skill beyond the great guards. They cannot do everything. A tired John Wall had to gut through game 7 in last year’s heartbreaker.
I love Wall. He’s like Chris Paul and unfortunately has the same no conference final mark on his resume. But Wall has reshaped the Wizards and he and Beal are the East Coast version of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Unfortunately for them, Beal and Wall don’t have the luxury of an offensive system (like the Warriors) that extracts 110% of their talent while also making everyone else better. Scott Brooks legitimizes the two scorer offense but neglects empowering everyone else.
And so here we are. Again. Wall and Beal will have to crank it up one more time. Markieff Morris is out and shooting from distance will make or break the Wiz. Yes, the Wizards are a legitimate factor in the East but they have the least amount of depth.
As of today, the Wizards have a goal and a desire to get 50 wins done. Great is the goal, though. The Wizards are not there yet, not great. Almost ready doesn’t get you into the conference finals. Rebounding and defense does.
photo via llananba