With the Washington Wizards’ season underway and in full swing after an opening night loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the District Sports Page breaks down what to expect for this year’s Wizards squad.
1. How much will John Wall’s loss hinder his development in his third season. Will it give him an opportunity to better study up and become a better player, or will it just limit his development as an on court superstar and leader?
Dave Nichols: I certainly think the Wizards would have prefered that Wall not come into this season injured. He’s quickly advancing to a point in his career where they need to know if he’s going to just be a fast, shoot-first point guard or if he’s going to be able to elevate his game to all-star level and team leader. They made several moves to be more competitive this season, but it all starts with Wall being on the court.
Andrew Tomlinson: To be quite honest, I have found Wall to be a bit of a disappointment so far in his tenure in Washington. He hasn’t been the dominant force many expected him to be when he was drafted by the Wizards and sitting out is going to make the disappointment grow. Basketball is a superstar driven sport and Wall has yet to be the superstar driving the Wizards down the path to a championship. As it stands right now, if he wants to get them on that path, he has to be on the court.
Alyssa Wolice: Given all of the changes the playoff-starved Wizards have made this year, it’s more important than ever that John Wall makes his presence known on the court – and in the locker room. As he enters his third NBA season, Wall will need to deliver if he wants to prove himself worthy of being picked No. 1 overall in 2010. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a better time for him to do so in Washington than this year, now that he stands as the face of a truly transformed franchise. He’s backed by a team of newcomers that are worth leading, but, he’ll need to return to the floor before he can make an impact or quiet any naysayers.
2. How big an impact can Bradley Beal make from the shooting guard position as a rookie this season?
Dave: Beal looks like a keeper at the two. Despite being a rookie, the Wizards are going to have to look to him to score right away to help take the pressure off A.J. Price, who starts for Wall at PG for a month while Wall recevers from his knee injury.
Andrew: Beal looks like he has the ability to be the Russell Westbrook to Wall’s Keven Durant and certainly played well during his NCAA tenure, yet he did not show his game breaking ability in the first game of the season. He is still a raw rookie and will take some grooming this season to make him the force he will hopefully be down the line.
Alyssa: The Wizards without a doubt are going to bank on Beal to produce while Wall is sidelined. He was the third-leading scorer for Washington in the preseason, but he looked shaky in the Wizards’ season debut against the Cavs, racking up just eight points against a squad that many expect to finish at or below 30 wins this year. He’s going to have to show consistency in the regular season to give the Wizards a much-needed boost until Wall returns.
3. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza were shipped to Washington by the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Rashard Lewis. At the end of the season, who will benefit from the trade more.
Dave: The Wizards win that deal hands down. Neither player is an all-star, but Okafor and Ariza create quality depth up front for the Wizards. With Nene’sinjury history, Okafor will see plenty of playing time.
Andrew: At some point each NBA team reaches a point where they need to surround their top player with top role players. The Wizards have reached that point and need to find their Rich Harden and Mike Miller to compliment Wall and Beal, as of right now Ariza and Okafor look as if they could be those guys.
Alyssa: Washington got the better end of the deal, but not by very much. Okafor and Ariza will provide some gains – particularly on defense – but the Wizards will have to fork over a hefty $43 million for the duo. Nevertheless, the deal is a step in the right direction for a squad that’s looking to boost team morale.
4. Where will the Wizard’s finish in the Eastern Conference and will they challenge for a playoff spot?
Dave: The Wizards hope that by moving the knuckleheads of the past few seasons (JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young) off the roster and stocking up on quality veterans willing to play defense and do what coach Randy Wittman tells them to, they’ll see the playoffs for the first time in a long time this season.
It all depends on how fast Wall gets back into the lineup and how he plays with Beal once he gets there. They will have trouble scoring all season, so if they make the playoffs it’ll be on the strength of their defense. I still think they miss out on qualifying though. There’s just not enough talent on the roster yet to really compete in the Eastern Conference.
Andrew: Washington has been deprived of top-flight NBA basketball and unfortunately for fans, will continue to be so this year. Sure, the organization started to trim the dead-weight in the offseason, but still just do no have the core of players cemented in place yet to be a top Eastern Conference team.
Sure, the squad may be more fun to watch and may be more competitive this year, but do not look for them to win a lot of games or even improve on their record from last year much, especially if Wall struggles to return from the injury.
Alyssa: The Wizards are certainly a changed team – and it will pay off in the long run. However, without Wall, it’s unlikely they’ll hit the ground running at the start of this season. They’ll need players like A.J. Price and Bradley Beal to make the most of their time in the spotlight in order to start the season off right.
The team is young – and impressionable – and it’s up to Wittman to make gutsy management calls, particularly as he looks to sub in for his star players. Regardless, it’s going to take some time for the team to gel and, unfortunately, it won’t happen in time for Washington to make a run for the playoffs. The Wizards will likely tally 30 wins or so, but they’ll fall short of being a real contender in the East.