Posted Aug 13, 2013 8:23 AM
This is the first in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2013-14. For the other 13 teams and complete schedule, click here.
You don't often see a Lottery team keep almost its entire rotation intact. But the Washington Wizards have something to build on. They went 24-25 after John Wall returned from injury last season and were 22-19 in games that both Wall and Nene played.
So the Wizards mostly stood pat this summer. In fact, only four teams -- the Heat, Thunder, Bobcats and Spurs - are returning a greater percentage of last season's minutes. And Wall -- former No. 1 pick and owner of a new five-year, $80 million contract extension -- is cool with that.
"I think you just add a couple of pieces, a couple of veterans," Wall said last month. "That's the main thing you do to keep that core strong, because we kind of figured out what we need to do to play together. We got great camaraderie and we know what it takes. The main thing for us is to just stay healthy and get off to a fast start."
Health is a big topic for Wall, who wants to "get a full 82-game season under my belt." But that's a secondary objective to qualifying for the postseason. Wall is the first No. 1 pick to not make the playoffs in his first three seasons since Kwame Brown (also drafted by the Wizards). And he's desperate to get there in 2014.
"That's my only goal," he said. "I have nothing else."
The Wizards haven't sniffed the playoffs for the last five seasons, compiling the worst record in the Eastern Conference (117-277) over that time. Playing without Wall, they got off to a brutal 4-28 start last season.
But things turned around once Wall was healthy. The Wizards went 25-19 over a three-month stretch before losing their final six games of the season. They finished with the worst offense in the league, but a top-10 defense, thanks in part to the additions of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
When healthy, their starting lineup of Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Okafor was excellent, outscoring its opponents by 24.0 points per 100 possessions in 142 minutes together. Only one lineup in the league that played as many minutes was better.
It's fair to say that they would have been a playoff team if Wall was healthy from the start of the season. They had the East's fifth best point differential (+1.4 points per 100 possessions) from the time their point guard returned to action.
|Wizards In 2012-13|
The Wizards basically added a couple of back-ups: veteran point guard Eric Maynor and No. 3 pick Otto Porter. Maynor should make those Wall-less minutes (or games) a little less painful, while Porter will be thrown into the small forward mix with Webster and Ariza.
More important than the additions is the development of Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards' backcourt of the present and future. Wall is looking to expand his offensive game -- he says he's working on his jumper and floaters -- but Beal's summer work has been hampered by a right fibula injury.
Even after Wall returned from injury, the Wizards were a bottom-10 offensive team, scoring just 101.1 points per 100 possessions. They shot threes well, but didn't shoot them enough. Nor did they get to the basket enough. They were a mid-range shooting team, though they didn't have anybody that shot mid-range shots particularly well.
In addition to taking better shots, they need to take better care of the ball. Maynor should be an overall upgrade over A.J. Price, but he's had a higher turnover rate over the course of his career. The hope is that a second year with Wall and Beal together will generate better chemistry and efficiency.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld doesn't necessarily need to stand pat through the season. He has the expiring contracts of Ariza ($7.7 million) and Okafor ($14.5 million) to shop for upgrades to the roster. And if he doesn't find any takers, he'll have some cap space to play with next summer.
Either way, the Wizards' chances at making the playoffs will depend largely on Wall's health and development. If he can add a more reliable jump shot (that extends beyond the 3-point line) to his ridiculous speed, Washington can dream of being a league-average offensive team. Combine that with the defense they played last season, and they'll certainly contend for a playoff spot.
There should be at least two of those open for Eastern Conference team that stayed home last season. The Cavs and Pistons should also be in that conversation, but the Wizards have the advantage of continuity.
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