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Monday, November 24, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 13. Washington Wizards

Overall Win/Loss Record:  44-38,  second place Southeast Division

2014/2015 Projection: 45-37, second place  Southeast Division, fifth place Eastern Conference

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 100.7 (16th)
  • Points Allowed: 99.4 (9th)
  • Team FG%: .459 (10th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .458 (18th)
  • Team FT%: .731 (25th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .380 (5th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.2 (20th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.2 (11th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.1 (16th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.4 (4th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): John Wall (19.3)
  • Rebounds per game:  Marcin Gortat (9.5)
  • Minutes per game: John Wall (36.3)
  • Assists per game:  John Wall (8.8)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Marcin Gortat (.542)
  • Free Throw Percentage:   Drew Gooden (.890)
  • Three Point FG Percentage:  Andre Miller (.667)
  • Steals per game: John Wall (1.8)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Marcin Gortat (1.5)
Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Martell Webster (G/F)
  2. Kris Humphries (F/C)
  3. DeJaun Blair (F/C)
  4. Andre Miller (G)
  5. Otto Porter Jr. (F)

Basketball and the Nation's Capital are often associated with such words as "frustration," "despair,"  or just sheer "apathy;" however, that has all changed as for the first time in what can be considered an eternity, basketball fans residing the the DC Metropolitan Area, finally have something to be excited for.  After an amazing 44 win season that saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Wizards also shocked not only the NBA and their fans, but also themselves when they managed to handily defeated a more experienced +Chicago Bulls team in the first round, but also took the +Indiana Pacers to six games before getting eliminated in the second.  Once the off season had arrived the Wizards continued to cast their spell in the Summer League with a rather impressive finish along with the emergence of little used rooks Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr while at the same time two of the team's stars showcased their talents on the world stage.  Unfortunately, both John Wall and his back court sidekick, +Bradley Beal, did not make the cut on the USA Men's Basketball Team that won the +2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup this past summer; however, it made many not only those around the league, but the entire basketball world that the Washington Wizards are a team to be taken notice of. What was once a team that had often been treated as either an after thought or just completely ignored whatsoever has become one the league's premier teams and that is quite an impressive rise considering that the Wizards had won just 29 games the season prior; nonetheless, with the rash of off season moves coupled along with the summer showcases, last season's playoff appearance looks to be the first of many for this young and hungry squad.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the tide has finally turned for this once down and out team that consistent found itself among the league's cellar dwellers, there are still those that remian greatly skeptical and they have every right to do so.  After all, the Wizards had experienced a similar type of renaissance about nine years ago when the team led by a young up and coming star named +Gilbert Arenas shocked the world ironically beating the Bulls in the first round only to be beaten by a +Miami HEAT team that would later win the NBA title.  This team also looked as if it was heading on up an upward swing, but then severely fell short of expectations spending the next four years floundering in mediocrity before it subsequently crashed and burned leading to another messy rebuild situation.  The player Wizards fans had so much faith in hope became an absolute embarrassment when Gilbert Arenas signed what seemed to be a well deserved six year 120$ million extension only to spend that time often injured and scrutinized for his poor off the court choices.  Now Arenas stands as possibly the biggest black eye of an organization that had suffered so much humiliation and ridicule which has led many to remain cautiously optimistic or even completely pessimistic of the Washington Wizards having any chance of being more than a mediocre team which will fall sooner of later: however, there are signs that this current incarnation of the Wizards will not fall in the same traps as its dubious predecessor.

For starters, unlike the previous incarnation, this Washington Wizards team does not have a group of self entitled Pre-Madonnas who were never held accountable by their coach or had any real sense of discipline or purpose.  This current Washington team, however, can be seen as the complete opposite as much of the players on its roster had been cast aside by their previous teams and thus had huge chips on their shoulders to prove those who had doubted them wrong.  That was certainly the case for big men Marcin Gortat and Nene who even the most loyal Wizards fan would have considered as castaways as both were written off as not only over paid and over rated, but past their primes.  Yet these two rejects managed to become on of the league's best starting front court tandems with Gortat bouncing back from a rather lackluster performance with the +Phoenix Suns where missed 21 games to playing 81 games in Washington and posted his second best season in his career.  At the same time, Nene was all but considered a washout when he had been shipped out of Denver as the Nuggets favored a younger and supposedly more talented player with far more upside in +Javale McGee; however that gamble would blow up in Denver'd face as McGee would fall severely short of their expectation while the older, wiser and more experienced Nene would resurrect his once flailing career as he helped lead the Wizards to the post season.

Both Gortat and Nene reflect the overall attitude of the Wizards teams as a group of overlooked and underestimated players who have felt slighted for much of their tenures in the league and are now not only looking for redemption, but even more so, revenge.  In fact, browse through the entire entire Wizards roster and you will find that each player has been either slighted, betrayed, ridiculed, disgraced or humiliated over the course of their careers.  At one time, newcomer Kris Humphries was on the verge of being an up and coming young player after posting two consecutive career seasons, earning a fat two year 24$ million extension, an was on the verge of marrying one of the most beautiful and sought after women in her time; however, within a year all that came crashing down around him.  His marriage proved to be nothing but a sham as it dissolved almost right after the lavish ceremony that had taken place prior and he followed his career best season of 13.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game with a career worst the following year leading him to be carted away to the lowly +Boston Celtics as a salary dump. Although he did bounce back somewhat well in Boston posing as a rather strong reserve role averaging a rather impressive 8.4 points and five boards in just under twenty minutes per game, those past scars have yet to heal as he sees his onetime love remarried with a new family and a supposed happy fairy tale life while both his professional and personal lives remain in ruins.    

Along with Humphries, let us not forget poor Drew Gooden who at one time had the label of future franchise player after being drafted fourth overall in the 2002 NBA Draft; however, after twelve long years of suffering one indignity after another and bouncing around nine teams, his name has been associated with such titles as "draft day bust," and "waste of potential."  Last season, Gooden was a key piece in Washington's playoff run as he came off the bench to contribute eight points per game while shooting a career high .531 from the field and .412 from beyond the arc and he will certainly look to continue his role as a solid veteran presence in the second unit this season.  Last season, Paul Pierce was brought in by the +Brooklyn Nets to be a part of their super team who planned to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference crown; however, that did not come to pass as Brooklyn would come out of the gates sluggish and Pierce look as if it looked as if it were his time to finally retire. Now Pierce will have his chance to prove that he still has plenty of basketball left in his advanced age as he looks to show the world that his breakdown last season was more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come.  Along with Pierce, Humphries and Gooden, the Wizards have last season's third overall pick in the NBA Draft who had an injury plagued rookie season and will be considered along with his fellow rookies as one of the worst draft classes  in NBA History in Otto Porter Jr as well as of host of other malcontents that have very huge chips weighing on their soldiers.

Two players who also reflects the team sentiments of being completely disregarded are John Wall and Bradley Beal, who had been cut from Team USA's FIBA World Cup roster in favor of a gimpy +Derrick Rose who did not end up playing that well during the tournament and +Kyle Korver, which can be considered the biggest insult of them all.  The selection of Rose was no doubt a political move as he was certainly a higher profile player than either Wall or Beal and his presence would have brought with it an increase of Team USA merchandise; however, to be left of the roster for a 33 year old one trick pony who shoots threes and nothing else must be considered an even greater insult for such talent and athletic players such as Beal and Wall.  For his part, Wall is still trying to cleanse himself of the stigma of playing alongside and being associated with that Arenas led team that had brought so much shame on the franchise and despite his best efforts, has yet to show that he deserves the same recognition and acclaim as Rose, +Chris Paul, +Russell Westbrook+Rajon Rondo and the rest of the NBA's point guard elite.  Unfortunately one member of that Washington team will not be joining them as +Trevor Ariza, who also silenced his doubters with a breakout season after struggling the last three seasons, decided not to march alongside the his teammates instead choosing to sign with the +Houston Rockets.  Ariza will certainly be looking for vengeance as well, but this time against his former team as his demands for a lucrative extension were snubbed by the front office as they were probably concerned that Ariza's big season was just a one time thing considering he was entering a contract year.

Nonetheless, the Wizards will return with even more drive and hungrier than last season as they will not be coming in  their usual underdog status, but with high expectations and a huge bull's eye on their backs.  They will be entering a much wide open Eastern Conference than previous years where anyone, even themselves, have  the chance and opportunity to take the crown as five of the East's top teams are essentially at par with one another.  Everyone has essentially given the Eastern Conference crown to the +Cleveland Cavaliers due to the return of the city's prodigal son +LeBron James as well the off season trade acquisition of one of the league's top big men in +Kevin Love; however, even with its iron clad lineup of James, Love and +Kyrie Irving, the Cavs still seem somewhat vulnerable due to their rather old second unit and lack of size in the paint.  Unlike Cleveland, the +Chicago Bulls, as well the other top tier teams in the East, Washington has the wealth of size, talent  and depth in the front court that most NBA teams crave mixed together with one of the league's best back court duo in Wall and Beal along with some the best three point shooters in the NBA.  Although they are currently expected to finish around fourth or fifth in the conference, it will not be surprising to see the Wizards possibly finish in the top three as they certainly have the tools to not take on anyone in the league, but also go very far as well come the post season.

There is only one thing that Washington Wizards coach, Randy Wittman--who himself has his own demons to exorcise after his less than stellar coaching debut with the +Minnesota Timberwolves --has to watch out for and that is to ensure that the collective anger and lust for vengeance remains focused on their foes and does not spill out into the roster.  Washington has a bevy of talented and experienced players looking to distribute long awaited retribution to those who had slighted them in the past, but there are only so many minutes to go around.  As long as Wittman keeps his hungry squad focused on the task at hand while maintaining the team's new found devotion to to play hard on the defensive end, then Washington will certainly pick up where they left off and possibly become an unlikely champion contender down the road.  A couple of years from now, +Kevin Durant,who is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, will be expired thus making him an unrestricted free agent and if the Wizards continues on its upward swing, he too might just consider making another "homecoming" similar to what his nemesis, Lebron, had done; however, that is just whimsical speculation at this moment.  What is important is the here and now, and right now the present as well as the future look very bright for not only the Wizards, but professional basketball in the National's Capital whose fans will finally have the chance to be optimistic and hopeful for a change.