By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
Posted Sep 18 2012 3:42PM - Updated Oct 16 2012 2:15PM
No John Wall for the first eight weeks, no problem for the resurgent Washington Wizards, right?
Well, not exactly.
No offense to Shelvin Mack, A.J. Price or Jannero Pargo, but they don't strike much fear into the opposing teams that will have to face the Wizards before Wall's return.
Wall's knee injury demonstrates one major truth about this Wizards team: With or, especially, without their playmaking point guard, the Wizards simply are not there yet.
Wall is probably the closest Washington has to a "face of the franchise" right now, but even he hasn't established himself as a sure-fire All-Star caliber talent. And without him, this team has absolutely no identity.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis basically admitted as much during training camp, when he refused to play the hype game with his own team and stuck to the facts in his assessment of where the Wizards are and where they might be headed.
He's not exactly aiming very high right now.
"We would all find it unacceptable if we finished with the second- or third-worst record in the NBA this year," Leonsis told the Washington Examiner. "That would be a failure, and the failure would start with me. I think we're much better positioned. I think we will get much better because our young players have now been seasoned."
The roster has been flipped completely since Leonsis took over the team in 2010. Wall, in just his third season, is the most seasoned among the group Wittman will lead into the 2012-13 season.
But in a wide-open Southeast Division where only the reigning champion Miami Heat came into training camp without major question marks about their roster, there was a huge opportunity for someone to move up in the pecking order.
"All the stars and the moon will have to align the right way, but I'm not shy about spending money and going and getting the right player," Leonsis said. "... This offseason wasn't that time. [Free agents] don't know our identity as a team yet."
With Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza joining Nene and rookie Bradley Beal, and later Wall, as the Wizards' likely starting five, and a bench crew led by Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford, Martell Webster and Chris Singleton, the Wizards would appear to possess the pieces to make a move up.
But if the owner isn't convinced that his team is ready to make that leap, it says something, especially in a league where owners often see good qualities in their teams that the rest of the world misses.
Even Wittman admitted that the roster looks "good on paper" before acknowledging that there is nothing to confirm that it will translate to the floor.
Wall's injury sapped some of the tepid excitement about this team and what it might be capable of this season. Yet Wittman doesn't seem to mind that either, what with the idea of the Wizards doing a shock-the-world routine just a pipe dream at this point.
"I don't want to surprise anybody. I just want us to believe in ourselves. That's what we have to do. We have to believe we can do this, that we can make that next step," he told the Washington Post. "But I'm not worried about surprising or sneaking up on anybody else. I think as the year went on last year, I think teams saw the change in us."
The question isn't whether other teams or anyone else sees it, but if the Wizards see and believe themselves.
1. Check back on the Wizards after the first eight weeks. Without Wall, this won't be the same team it could be -- whatever that ends up being. And Wall's absence will be felt much more than in pure basketball terms. So much has been invested in him as the leader of this team and the face of the franchise that to lose him for the first couple of months of the season ranks as a small catastrophe for the Wizards.
2. Vesely is a player poised for a breakout campaign if he continues to improve and grind the way he did late last season, through the offseason and into training camp. The best thing to happen to Vesely is the addition of Okafor and the emergence of Seraphin. Their presence will allow him to remain at his more natural power forward position and avoid logging minutes at center, where he wouldn't be nearly as effective.
3. Beal has his sights set on that starting shooting guard spot alongside Wall, but Crawford won't go away without a fight. Beal has to prove that he's capable of scoring and defending at the NBA level before Wittman turns the job over to the rookie. Neither one of them is an accomplished defender, opening the door for some scenarios that would require Wittman to use Ariza there.
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LAST YEAR: 20-46, 4th in Southeast
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
JOHN WALL, POINT GUARD
16.3 PPG | 4.5 RPG | 8.0 APG
A knee injury will slow him down early, but Wall finally has quality pieces around him. He has to assume a leadership role if he's going to live up to his hype.
BRADLEY BEAL, SHOOTING GUARD
14.8 PPG | 6.7 RPG | 2.2 APG
If Beal makes a solid NBA transition after one season at Florida, Wall might have his running mate of the future in this versatile scorer and underrated playmaker.
TREVOR ARIZA, SMALL FORWARD
10.8 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 3.3 APG
The ideal worker bee to help mold this young group, Ariza has to be the lockdown wing defender he was when he helped the Lakers win a title.
NENE , POWER FORWARD
13.6 PPG | 7.5 RPG | 2.1 APG
With Okafor watching his back, Nene will get the opportunity to become the low-post offensive force he never was in Denver. But he has to keep up the pace Wall sets.
EMEKA OKAFOR, CENTER
9.9 PPG | 7.9 RPG | 0.9 APG
Okafor does the job without flair, which serves him well. He's never evolved into a No. 1 scoring option but remains one of the league's most consistent defensive bigs.
|Jan Vesely||6-11||240||F||Still just a pup. The talent is undeniable.|
|Jordan Crawford||6-4||195||G||Building a reputation as the new Jamal Crawford.|
|Trevor Booker||6-8||240||F||Rugged, no-frills banger with a non-stop motor.|
ADDED: G Bradley Beal, G Tomas Satoransky, G A.J. Price, G/F Martell Webster, G Jannero Pargo, F Trevor Ariza, C Emeka Okafor
LOST: F Rashard Lewis, F Andray Blatche
JOHN WALL, POINT GUARD
Now entering his third year, Wall's stats from his second year practically mirror those from his rookie season. If the Wizards, who have put together a decent ensemble, want to take the next step, their star point guard will have to show that his game is progressing.
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