Optimism abounds in the preseason. When the losses start piling up…well, not so much. We may only be hours away from that harsh reality.
So while things are still in the predictive phase, lets take this opportunity to list some predictions for the 2011-2012 Wizards squad. They will be more exciting, to be sure, if only for their talent and athleticism. But what else will they be? In this writer’s humble opinion, they will at least be a marginally improved team with goals just enough out of reach that they are almost reachable.
While this may only suffice to create a paper trail long enough to hang myself with, it can hopefully provide some context at the end of the season for what we thought we might–nay, thought we could–achieve.
Without further ado, a dozen predictions, Twelve Days of Christmas-style, for our hometown team.
- They will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. I know, it’s never fun being on the outside looking in and I just waxed nostalgic about this being the season of optimism. But frankly it’s far-fetched to think the team will make their mark in an improved Eastern Conference. The Knicks added Tyson Chandler, the Pacers stole David West, the 76ers are increasingly confident (and beat the Wiz twice in the preseason), and the Bucks won’t take a similar step back in 2011-12. Unfortunately it’s just not feasible to expect the team to be playing in May, but with a top-10 pick in a loaded draft that may be a good thing.
- The team will have a better winning percentage than last season. When you only won 28% of your games last season that may not necessarily sound like such an impressive thing. But given the team’s youth, something closer to 40% would be a nice jump that portends long-term improvement. Expect them to win at least a third of their games, hopefully with some of them coming on the road—another sign of bourgeoning maturity.
- The Wizards won’t have any All-Stars. Rashard Lewis has fallen to replacement level at the forward position, and he’s the team’s only former conference honoree. Wall, Blatche and McGee will need breakout campaigns to merit consideration in an improved Eastern Conference. Wall will be the fourth PG in consideration—with Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo taking honors—and nobody else will be closer.
- The team will be active at the trade deadline. Expect them to gauge interest in every starter outside Wall in February. Lewis will be valuable for his 2012 buyout ($10 million), Young for his cap-friendly salary, and Andray and JaVale for their playing well enough to convince someone they’ll breakout under just the right circumstances.
- The ‘Zards will creep up to fourth place in the Southeast Division. More because the Charlotte Bobcats have taken a step back than any vast improvement in the Wizards talent, but the team should end the season outside the cellar. Improvements, even symbolic ones, will help this team’s confidence.
- You’ll see a whole lot of uneven performances. Despite winning only 23 games last year the team seemed to have the Boston Celtics number, winning two of their last three against the reigning NBA Finals reps from the East. I would expect more of the same, with some dramatic wins against the Hawks, Magic and Celtics (won’t go as far as including the Bulls/Heat at this point), and some demoralizing losses at the hands of the Raptors and Cavaliers.
- Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee will each average career highs in rebounds. The pair accounted for about 16 per game last season, and I would expect that total to jump to 18 due to increased minutes and defensive focus. Unfortunately, the team doesn’t have much depth behind their big guys, so when the rookie tweeners (Vesely and Singleton) get minutes at the PF slot it will be a considerable downgrade sweeping the boards.
- Nick Young will flirt with 20 points per game. Call it a hunch, but I think Young will pour it in this season. Jordan Crawford was impressive in extended minutes when Young bowed out with an injury last season, but he’s only three years younger and not the efficient scorer that NY has proven to be. Young has obviously taken it personally that nobody tendered him an offer in free agency, so he will be motivated—and in all likelihood, gunning. He may not be on the team the whole year, but he’ll get his while he is.
- Shelvin Mack will be the back-up point guard by the end of the season. There are a number of people who think Crawford will automatically be the first guard off the bench—as well he should be given his strong finish last season. Unfortunately he’s not a great fit for primary facilitator when Wall over-exerts himself or gets in foul trouble. Given his success in college and “big game” experience at that level, I expect the defensive minded and even keeled Mack to be relied on increasingly by Flip Saunders as he looks for dependable production from the second string.
- Trevor Booker will have as many memorable dunks as Jan Vesely. While I’m excited for the Czech Blake Griffin to run transition with John Wall, Booker will frequently be needed in the front-court for his toughness and blocking ability. Since his number will be called often when McGee/Blatche get in foul trouble (he’s the only one with a semblance of success at the NBA level outside Rashard Lewis). Before his season-ending injury he was creating himself quite a highlight reel—even just on tip-backs.
- The Wizards most improved player will be…Andray Blatche. Didn’t expect that one did you? I’m sort of surprised myself, but this really is the last straw for Seven-Day-Dre (or as my associates and I have started calling him, Page-A-Day-Dre). John Wall has borne the responsibility of being the locker-room hard ass, willing to jump on his teammates when effort or decision-making is lacking. But Blatche is the elder statesman in the Wizards organization, and I think he will do all he can to crash around in the paint on defense and when shots go up. Almost as much as Wall, the Wizards are Blatche’s team—and if he doesn’t lead them in scoring, he will make it exceedingly close.
- The Wizards will be within 2% of 100 points per game—on offense and defense. That would mean a sub-4ppg scoring differential, a huge improvement over their 7.4ppg disparity last season. The majority of this will come on the defensive end, where I expect Saunders to continue stressing the fundamentals, and from improved defensive talent from Kevin Seraphin and newcomer Singleton. They gave up the sixth most points per game last season, but expect them to be closer to the middle of the pack when all is said and done in 2012. And while they won’t be necessarily “efficient” on offense, they will play at a fast pace and hit the century mark in at least half of their games.
Think I’ve gone mad? Look forward to reading your comments below–both before and after the season premier.