With training camp just around the corner (first practice 9/28), WashingtonWizards.com editors Jacob Raim and Jeremy Hyman take a look at what to expect from the Wizards in 2013-14.
For the past few years, the usual cliches have been echoed when Wizards camp starts. "We want to be a playoff team." "Our goal is to compete for the eight seed." "We want to reach .500," etc... While nobody will knock players or coaches for saying that or for making that the goal, this may be the first year since the rebuild that there are people outside the locker room picking the Wiz for the playoffs.
Over the final 50 games of last season, the team hovered right around .500, going 24-26. They went 15-7 in games John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Nene were all available on the same night, which bodes well if they can stay healthy this season.
The phrase "if they stay healthy" is usually stated before anyone anoints the Wizards a playoff team, which is a fair statement because it's likely the truth. They dealt with numerous injuries a year ago to many of their key cogs, most notably missing Wall for the first 33 games of the season. If the Wizards are to make a serious run at the playoffs, they will need their core players to remain healthy for a majority of the year. They have already lost Emeka Okafor (herniated disk) and Chris Singleton (foot) to injuries, which no question will hurt, but they do have depth on the roster and still have enough key contributors available to start the season off right.
Here is a more in-depth look at the roster breakdown as the Wizards get set to enter training camp.
For the upcoming season, the players in the backcourt have the most defined roles of any unit on the team. Wall and Beal will start and receive the bulk of the minutes at the one and the two. All they have to do is stay healthy, something that was difficult for them last year. When the two of them were in the lineup together, however, the Wizards went 16-9. Wall showed dramatic improvement after he returned from his injury last year, his third year in the league. Averaging a career-high 18.5 points per game and shooting 44.1 percent from the field, Wall added 7.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. This season, he will be looking to take the next step to become one of the NBA's elite point guards. Beal had a phenomenal rookie campaign, and only improved as the year went on. He and Wall work well in tandem together, with Beal as the shooter and floor spacer and Wall with the ball in his hands.
The guys playing behind them will be Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple and Glen Rice Jr. Maynor will be the backup point guard and he will bring a steady hand to the position, with a career 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. Garrett Temple will play both positions behind Wall and Beal. He proved last year he could manage some minutes at the point and will have heavy defensive responsibilities. Temple was a player who Wittman relied on late in games last year when the team needed a stop. Glen Rice, Jr. is the wildcard. Rice Jr. was a prolific scorer in the D-League last year and could be in line for minutes if he proves he can shoot and play defense on a consistent basis. Finally, Webster, Porter and Ariza all could see minutes as the two guard in a big lineup.
The wing position is probably the deepest on the roster. Between Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter, the Wizards have three small forwards who will all see major minutes. Martell Webster is likely to be the starter at the outset, thanks to a breakout campaign last season that earned him a long-term contract. In the 2012-13 season, Webster was one of the best three-point shooters in the league, hitting at over 42%.
Ariza was the team's best perimeter defender, consistently taking on the opponent's best scorer. Ariza also shot the three ball at 36%, the best number of his career. Porter comes in with lofty expectations after being taken #3 overall in the draft. Thanks to Webster and Ariza, Porter may not have too much responsibility placed on him too early in his career, but he possesses enormous upside.
An extremely versatile player, Porter does almost everything well. He has the potential to become an elite perimeter defender who can shoot the ball well and beat his man off the dribble. Porter's high basketball IQ means that the NBA learning curve should not be overly steep for him.
All three of these wings have the ability to play multiple positions; and they will be asked to do so, particularly until Okafor returns to the lineup. Ariza and Porter could both see minutes at the four, while all three could potentially see minutes at the two. There are certain combinations where you can envision seeing all three on the floor at the same time. Chris Singleton can also play on the wing, though it would be expected that when he gets healthy he will see most of his minutes in the front court.
The Wizards big-man situation took a hit before camp even started, as starting center Emeka Okafor was diagnosed with a herniated C4 cervical disk, which will sideline him indefinitely. While he is out, the Wizards will have a few options to fill in the hole that Okafor will leave at the center spot. One option would be to move Kevin Seraphin into the starting lineup and have him start alongside Nene. Seraphin has shown flashes and has some experience in the starting lineup, but being the opening day center would be a big step up for the fourth year big man. The other option would be to move Nene to the center spot and play either Trevor Ariza, Otto Porter, Al Harrington, Trevor Booker, or Jan Vesely at the power forward spot. This would be a smaller lineup than what they would have gotten from Nene and Okafor, but the Wiz used plenty of these smaller lineups with "stretch fours" last season at certain times.
Regardless of what starting unit they choose to use, the Wiz will need a solid year from the veteran Nene, who is entering his 12th season in the league. Last year, Nene entered camp rehabbing his plantar fasciitis, which caused him to miss the first nine games of the season. By all accounts, Nene is entering this camp healthy and will be relied upon as a post threat right from the start. Being that Nene has dealt with numerous injuries over the past few years, the Wiz will likely give him some rest from time to time, but barring any major injuries this season, he will be the Wizards most dependable post player.
Harrington, another veteran of the league, is the newcomer to the group and adds a new skill set to the roster. He is a true "stretch four," in that he is is 6'9", can play in the post and can move out to the perimeter and be a three-point threat. He could be just what the Wizards need when they want to play four shooters on the floor at one time and need versatility.
Off the bench, look for Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely to compete for playing time in a crowded Wizards front court. Booker is entering his fourth year and has often been called an "energy" guy. He'll look to take the next step in his game and be another post option Wittman can go to off the bench. As for Vesely, he had a disappointing sophomore campaign, but after a promising Summer League and Eurobasket showing, he'll also look to prove that he belongs in the Wizards rotation. We'll often hear from Wittman that not everyone can play, but competition brings out the best in players, so expect this training camp and preseason to be competitive and an audition for many of the Wizards' bigs.
Media Day is scheduled for Friday, September 27 with training camp set to begin on Saturday, September 28th.