August 7, 2020

How are the Wizards progressing? Revisiting our preseason projections

Before the holidays I committed to writing a preview of the Wizards 2011-12 season. I called it “a paper-trail long enough to hang myself with” at seasons end, and it’s time to see how that process has progressed.

Here’s a Bullet-by-Bullet look at my predictions, along with a bit of “Perception vs. Reality” based on some, you know, actual empirical evidence:

  1. Perception: They will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Reality: that was a gimmie. The Wizards were the NBA’s last winless team, so dreams of a playoff birth were scuttled early. Unless the Wizards second half can match Miami and OKC’s first, the team will again be lottery bound—which isn’t such a bad thing for this team. And while this doesn’t seem like going out on much of a limb now, there were definite whispers in the off-season that the team culture might just have changed enough to sneak into the playoffs. It certainly won’t be this year, and the level of difficulty so far this season portends that it might not be next year either.
  2. Perception: The team will have a better winning percentage than last season. Reality: Not so fast. Right now the Wizards are winning only 21% of their games, compared to 28% last season. The team came on down the stretch last year, and if they can slightly improve on their pace post-Saunders (5-14 thus far) they may be capable of making it. Winning a third of their contests appears overly optimistic, as the Wiz would have to go 15-18 down the stretch to prove me right–or at least 12-21 to prove me technically-not-totally wrong.
  3. Perception: The Wizards won’t have any All-Stars. Reality: Spot on. Some fans had high hopes for John Wall this season, but as I mentioned in the preview he has some tough competition in the East. Rajon Rondo replaced Joe Johnson in the mid-season contest, so in a roundabout way that prediction was spot on. More generally, the lack of a truly breakout campaign from any of the Wizards youth meant a lack of invites—except, of course, for Wall and the Skills Challenge <sigh>.
  4. Perception: The team will be active at the trade deadline. Reality: TBD. This is the one that matters most to the Wizards now, but is also the only one we cannot yet evaluate. Given their poor start, I imagine this will be as important as ever.
  5. Perception: The ‘Zards will creep up to fourth place in the Southeast Division. Reality: So far so bad? Charlotte’s abysmal season has begun to overshadow the Wizards peerlessly pathetic start, so this prediction appears on track. The Bobcats, however, have suffered injuries to some of their…how should I say…better players, and still have plenty of time to leapfrog the Wiz in the standings. Neither team has much to brag about at this juncture.
  6. Perception: You’ll see a whole lot of uneven performances. Reality: Unfortunate reality. While the Wizards have not beaten the Hawks, Magic or Celtics and have beaten the Raptors twice already this season, the prediction was valid. They’ve lost to the Raptors, Nets and Kings while also beating the Thunder and Trailblazers. While five of their seven wins came against teams with the five worst records in the NBA, the Wizards have certainly been a game-by-game, and even quarter by quarter, proposition.
  7. Perception: Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee will each average career highs in rebounds. Reality: Too much to ask from both front court mates. Blatche is averaging only 7.1 boards a game, down from last year’s career high of 8.3. McGee is up to 8.8 from last year’s high of 8.0, and has shown marginal improvement in his positioning. Both players have actually increased their rebound rate—the number they collect per minute—but sadly that does not excuse from likely failure in two of the three measures of this prediction (season total, per game, per minute). Blatche has missed half the team’s games, and while McGee held up his end of the bargain it will take a herculean effort from a healthy ‘Dray down the stretch to correct his per game average.
  8. Perception: Nick Young will flirt with 20 points per game. Reality: flirtatious advances rebuffed so far. Young’s actually down a tick from last season’s career high, averaging “only” 17.2 a contest. He’s upped that to 18.4 in February, but his true shooting percentage is at a career low 51% (he shot 54% last season). Otherwise, his statistics are startlingly similar to his ones from the previous season, something the Wiz didn’t want to see from a guy finally getting his “chance” as a starter. The abbreviated preseason and Young’s corresponding contract issues have contributed, but the fact remains Young has been more productive on a per minute basis coming off the bench these past two seasons—albeit this year in a limited sample size. What affect that has on contract negotiations this summer is yet to be seen.
  9. Perception: Shelvin Mack will be the back-up point guard by the end of the season. Reality: Didn’t even take that long. Mack has already become the regular first-in for Wall, though Jordan Crawford still gets more minutes playing as a combo guard over the course of the game. That was to be expected, I think, but Mack’s ability to run an NBA offense has been a pleasant surprise. At times he’s seemed better prepared running sets than Wall, and he’s not nearly as turnover prone as his speedy counterpart (2.4 per 48 minutes to Wall’s 5.4). He’s also slowly improving his shooting percentage month over month, so while he doesn’t have the tantalizing upside, he’s proving himself capable as a NBA backup.
  10. Perception: Trevor Booker will have as many memorable dunks as Jan Vesely. Reality: Win by default. The thing is…there just haven’t been many memorable Vesely throw downs this season. He has showcased his motor, size and leaping ability numerous times this year on the defensive end—those are all real. But Vesely is making a pretty dramatic transition to NBA ball, and while he was billed as one of the draft’s more “NBA ready” prospects he’s also getting sporadic minutes in a crowded forward rotation. Trevor Booker, on the other hand, has continued to impress after some quality appearances last season. He’s got some of the most electric dunks and blocks in the game, is an above average rebounder for his size, and is tenacious on the defensive end. He sports the 3rd best PER on the team, and is posting 10 points (55% FG), seven boards, a block and a steal a game in February.
  11. Perception: The Wizards most improved player will be…Andray Blatche. Reality: Not in this world, apparently. This one was doomed by the first post-game press conference. After blowing a big lead against the Nets, ‘Dray decried the lack of touches in the post…and then went to Twitter to “clarify” his comments—which, of course, always ends well. The ensuing media frenzy turned a demoralizing loss into an even more distracting situation, and Blatche has never been viewed the same by Wiz fans. 90% would probably trade him for a can of Campbell’s soup right now. The frequent booing he hears in the Verizon Center can’t make palatable motivation for the six year veteran—that is, when he’s actually on the court. While AB has been nicked up all season and missed half of the team’s games, his biggest problem has been his shooting efficiency, which dropped to 42% from 50% last season. His rebound rate is actually up, and his turnover and usage rates are down, so not all news is bad news. Who knows how long he’ll be around, but he certainly “need it n the post ” for some high percentage shots if he’s ever going to become a salvageable asset again.
  12. Prediction: The Wizards will be within 2% of 100 points per game—on offense and defense. Reality: Juuuust a bit outside. Defensively the Wiz kids have shown improvement, down from allowing 104.7 points per game last season to a merely conference worst 100.8 this year. As you might have guessed scoring is down league-wide, so Washington is still the third most porous defense in the Association after the first half—actually worse than last season’s sixth-to-last finish. Offensively the Wizards are scoring just under 92 points a contest, though that number jumps to over 97 in February after averaging 83 in three December contests and just under 90 in January. So while the Wizards offense is improving, they’ll be hard pressed to average the 104 points a game it will take to prove me in any way right about this one. That being said, the improvement since Flip Saunder’s departure is welcome.

So there you have it Ladies and Gentlemen: five predictions unlikely, one TBD and six on track. It’s been a whirlwind first half of the season, and hopefully we can look forward to the Wizards putting it all together down the stretch—or at least showing signs of continued development after a disappointing start.

Later this week: How to fix what ails the Wizards…

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