Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards – 41-41

Key Additions: Scott Brooks (signed five-year, $35 million deal to replace Randy Wittman), Trey Burker (traded 2021 2nd round pick to Utah), Ian Mahinmi (FA – four-year, $62 million deal), Andrew Nicholson (FA – four-year, $26 million deal), Tomas Satoransky (2012 32nd draft pick – three-year, $9.0 million), Jason Smith (FA – three-year, $15.7 million deal), Marcus Thornton (FA – one-year, $1.3 million deal), Locked up Bradley Beal with a massive five-year max extension ($127.2 million)

Key Departures: Randy Wittman, Alan Anderson, J.J. Hickson, Nene, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden, Ramon Sessions, Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Will Bynum

2015-16 Season Review

I had forgotten that the Wizards finished .500 last season. It was so disappointing and they were so far off the radar by the time the playoffs rolled around, I just assumed they won like 30 games.

This was coming off the 2014-15 season, a season in which Paul Pierce seemingly imbued his leadership skills to John Wall and the Wizards rode the fifth best defense to a 46-36 record. A season in which they swept the Raptors in the first round, driven by the miracle of all miracles: a genius coaching adjustment by Randy Wittman (playing Paul Pierce at the 4). A season in which the Wizards looked poised to challenge the one seed Atlanta Hawks after winning Game 1 in Atlanta convincingly (until John Wall’s injury in that series).

The Wizards got out to a slow start in 2015-16, Bradley Beal was hurt (again) and by the end of January, Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst were labeling the Wizards terrible season as an under-the-radar story line and openly describing the Wizards coaching staff as the worst in the league.

Injuries were a disrupter for the Wizards, starting with Beal (played in 55 games, started 35) and Nene (started 11 and played in only 57 games). Beal’s injury led to much too many minutes for Garrett Temple, almost 2000 for a player who topped 750 minutes only one other time in his 7-year career.

Nene’s injury led to a merry-go-round at the power forward spot, including Jared Dudley, Kris Humphries, and Markieff Morris after a midseason trade. The Wizards most common lineup last season included Jared Dudley and Garrett Temple along with John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and Otto Porter, according to Basketball Reference.

But more concerning than the injuries and the instability in the lineup was the lack of any strength whatsoever for the Wizards. Though their offense struggled the year prior, their stifling defense was a foundation for them to build on. Last season, the team’s defense was barely average, they still couldn’t shoot from the outside, despite playing more and more small ball, and beyond John Wall/Marcin Gortat pick and rolls, there was very little offensive creativity.

Season/Roster Outlook

So, where do the Wizards go from here? With the extension of Bradley Beal, the Wall/Beal/Porter/Gortat core is intact. But as a whole, more than half the roster has turned over since the start of last season, including the coach.

What should we expect out of the Wizards next season? A slightly better than.500 team fighting for the 8th playoff slot in the East? A bounce-back season leading to an All-NBA John Wall season and flirting with 50 wins? Another injury riddled campaign with questions at both forward slots all season long? All of it is in play.

It is Scotty Brooks’ job to re-establish this Wizards unit as a defensive force. I don’t think anyone is expecting Brooks to act as an offensive guru for a team that hasn’t ranked in the top half of the league in Offensive Rating (Basketball Reference) since 2007-08.

The biggest concern for the Wizards in my mind is their bet on internal development. It became apparent early in free agency that the Wizards weren’t going to be in the mix for big names (not even a meeting with Durant, the entire reason they had cap space this summer to begin with).

After that, Bradley Beal got his deal done. But it’s the two other players looking for rookie contract extensions before the season starts that could be the catalyst for this team to coalesce: Otto Porter and Trey Burke. Barring a Kelly Oubre breakout season, Porter and Burke are the players that could provide the most upside for the Wizards and both would need to play well to see Washington make a run at 50 wins.

Predictions: 36-46

Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre stagnate developmentally, the Mahinmi/Gortat front line isn’t quick enough to play with most Eastern Conference lineups and the Wizards struggle to fill the four in most lineups. Beal is in and out of the lineup once again and frustrations boil between he and John Wall.

Scott Brooks has little to no impact and by the trade deadline, the Wizards consider panic moves as they get nervous about losing their superstar point guard sooner rather than later.

Sorry Joe House.

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