Although Paul Pierce was only in Washington for one season, he became known as the leader of the team. John Wall was the unquestioned best player on the squad, but it was Pierce who the Wizards went to when the game was on the line. It was also Pierce who became the most prominent voice in the locker room. This season, Washington will display a talented lineup across the board but how will they replace Pierce’s veteran leadership and late-game heroics?
The Wizards will replace Pierce by playing a different style of basketball. Simply put, this is John Wall’s team now. Pierce was an excellent spot-up shooter last season, but he did not fit very well into Wall’s style of play. Wall thrives in transition as an exceptional scorer and passer on the break. Since the 1996-97 season, only LeBron James averages more fast break points per game than Wall. Pierce, 38, was unable to effectively run the break with the rest of the Wizards team which is full of athletes such as Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat.
Otto Porter Jr. has replaced Pierce in the starting lineup this season and he should fit in perfectly. Porter is an athletic small forward, and will be able to run with Wall and Beal effectively. When teams key on Wall during a fast break, he will be able to dish it to Porter who has displayed that he can play in transition.
In Washington’s first game this season, Porter showed his versatility with 7 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals but he only shot 30%, a potential trouble spot for the Wizards going forward. Is Porter only able to score in transition? In his second game he looked equally lost, scoring six points. But in the loss against the Knicks he had 16 points and shot 53%. Porter is a young player so his ups and downs will happen but how long will it take for consistency? And do the Wizards, in a tough division fight, have that sort of time to wait?
On the plus side, Porter is a better defender than Pierce. The Wizards struggled to defend against the wing last season as an aging Pierce was forced to guard players over a decade younger than him on a nightly basis. Porter will bring great length to Washington’s starting lineup, as he is 6’8″ with a 7’1″ wingspan. He also has strong lateral quickness for his size which makes him capable of defending several different positions. This team ranked fifth in defensive efficiency last year with Pierce in the starting lineup, so they should have a chance to lead the league this year. In the first game of 2015-16, Washington held Orlando to 87 points, which could be a sign of things to come.
Pierce’s biggest contribution to the Wizards was his leadership. He provided the young team with a veteran presence, an experienced mind, and a high basketball IQ. This season, John Wall will be counted on to take over as the Wizards’ leader both on and off the court. He is completely aware and comfortable with this.
“It’s all on me now … I have to go in there from Day 1 and try to [lead my team].” Pierce was also instrumental in giving Wall the confidence to be a leader, and Wall has played with enough veterans that he should be able to display quality traits of leadership.
Wall has already shown that he is capable of taking over Pierce’s role as a clutch player. In the Wizards’ first game of 2015-16, Wall scored the game-winning bucket against the Magic with a beautiful drive and floater. John Wall has been the best player on the team for years, but he is now poised to become the presence that his teammates will look up to.
Pierce’s departure also paves the way for a bigger role for budding star Bradley Beal. Although he struggled at times last season, in the playoffs Beal averaged 23.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. These numbers are partly skewed because John Wall missed a couple playoff games, and Beal played over 40 minutes per game. Regardless, it shows that he is capable of playing at an extremely high level, and being a great second option. He is off to a hot start this season as he poured in 24 points and 6 rebounds against Orlando in the season opener. This may be the season in which Beal is ready to explode, as he will be given the opportunity to do just that.
The Wizards have the chance to take a big leap in the coming years. John Wall must become a formidable leader. Otto Porter must excel and produce in his new, essential role. Bradley Beal must grow into an All-Star caliber player and an offensive force. If these things all happen, then we could see Washington in the Eastern Conference Finals as soon as 2016.
photo via llananba