October 14, 2008
As the NBA preseason marches on, Ball Don't Lie looks at all 30 teams, outlining off-season transactions, projecting win totals, spinning tracks, and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Today, the Washington Wizards.
Last Season: 43-39; lost in first round of playoffs to LeBron
Key Players Lost: Roger Mason Jr. (signed with Spurs, became regular BDL reader)
Kelly Dwyer's Endless Grey Ribbon: There are so many ways to, as the kids say, not feel the Washington Wizards.
And that's a shame, because more than just about any other NBA team, there are so many ways to appreciate this team and there are just as many reasons to want it to succeed. But at some point, things are going to catch up to the Wizards, and I have a feeling that this is the year of le comeuppance.
First, a pair of reasons to dig:
1. These guys never pack it in.
Sorry to sound like a gym coach, but this crew doesn't give up on much. Injuries should have destroyed this team last year, but they responded by slowing the pace, working everything (EVERYTHING) through Caron Butler when he was healthy, and improving their defense up to the ranks of "pretty crappy" from the levels of "nearly league-worst horrid" that things worked at in 2006-07.
That last part was not a backhanded compliment. That's what won them games. You don't have to be world-beaters to be making strides.
2. They’re silly, and don’t mind being silly on the record.
As Steinz done found out, this team truly is unlike any other NBA outfit when it comes to, well, their outfits, and a goofball mentality that thus far hasn’t been a hindrance to the team’s work ethic and drive. And by writing “thus far,” I’m not trying to hint that this candid approach will be a mitigating factor at some point. It won’t.
There are others, but you likely want to know about the 34 wins, first.
The Wizards are thin, thinner than they were last year, and getting older in all the wrong places. In an improved Eastern Conference, that will be enough to drag things down.
This was a sub-.500 team last year in terms of Pyth that got lucky in a few close games and finished with 43 wins. It also took in one last gasp of a season from Antonio Daniels, it got over 70 games from eight of its rotation players, and a career year from Brendan Haywood that (if NBA history is any indication, and it almost always is) he was not likely to duplicate even before the wrist injury that could put him on the shelf until March.
So when you counter Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler missed 93 games last year, and that things should be different this year … yeah, that doesn’t quite cut it. For one, Arenas is going to miss about 30 games at the bare minimum this season, and expecting him to roll out of rehab dropping 20 a night on that willowy knee seems a bit much.
Secondly, there’s nothing in Butler’s past that tells us he’ll be around for the whole season, as he’s missed an average of 12 games per year over his career. And that doesn’t count his wasted second season, when he limped around for 68 games, had no lift, shot 38 percent, and scored 6.2 fewer points per game than he did in his rookie campaign.
Then you have to look at the depth behind these guys. Daniels could never shoot, he’s always had to rely on athleticism, and I’m not seeing much of that from AD anymore. Nick Young is only 23 and will get better, but not enough to make up for Daniels’ dropoff, or the absence of Roger Mason Jr.’s long range touch and ability to sop up minutes (think of a workhorse middle reliever on a team that has a staff that can barely make it through four innings, and then take the reliever away).
DeShawn Stevenson can only do so much. DeShawn doesn’t create shots, he’s a poor rebounder, and though he can handle the ball in a pinch, the Wizards will be pinched more than Stevenson will like. He should maintain or even slightly improve upon his 2007-08 turn, but again, that’s not enough to counter what was essentially a Roger Mason Jr.-for-Juan Dixon swap, and Daniels’ drop off.
So, the team will have to rely on Antawn Jamison more, righto? Yes, but this probably isn’t the best thing. Jamison had a great season last year, but 32-year olds tend to drop off at some point. If Jamison nearly approximates what he put together in 2007-08 during this season, Wizards fans should be giddy. I’m not convinced they’re going to get to that point.
And what of the team’s batch of lithe, young forwards who like to shoot and score and score and shoot and remind anyone who is listening that "I’m only 22" or 23 or 20? They’re fun to watch, and they will help, but will their presence be enough to make up for all these holes? Can they run the point? Can they ably spell for Jamison if he picks up two quick ones and has to sit until late in the second quarter? Can they hold their own in the paint playing along a way-undersized center in Etan Thomas?
Andray Blatche will be great, and I’d be tempted to play him more minutes than Thomas if his rate of fouls wasn’t so incredibly high, but JaVale McGee needs a while, Dominic McGuire is about a hundred times worse than people think, and Oleksiy Pecherov is going to Stanislav Medvedenko his way right out of the league if he doesn’t chill from the top of the key.
What we have is a tough team with some nice parts that just can’t be counted on to have every single thing go right … again.
Wiz fans might not like me saying something like that, but nearly every single thing went right for the Wizards last year in the wake of Gilbert’s injury, and that’s a context the followers are going to have to accept now. Gilbert’s injury woes have long ceased to be a bit of bad luck, rather, they need to be the accepted reality. And in the wake of his knee issues last year, everything fell into place.
I just don’t see Washington catching lightning in a bottle again. Not with that roster. Not in this Conference.
Expected record: 34-48
Oleksiy Pecherov's Homemade Screen Saver:
Real Talk, Blog Talk (aka excerpts from other blogger team previews):
The Recliner GM: "Same team, same results right? Well, kind of. The Wiz will be as good as they were last season which will be good enough to get into the playoffs again. On the other hand the Eastern Conference is much better, and their lack of improvement pushes them down the rankings in my book. Washington has the “big three” most people seem to think is necessary to win a championship in the NBA. Ultimately I don’t think they have the right, or good enough, role players to get to the next level. Which is out of the first round and into real conference title contention."
Mike Moreau, HOOPSWORLD: "The Coach's Take: Please, no more blogs, rappers and silly hand gestures. It's time for us to grow up and get serious about being a contender. We can beat anybody on any given night, but Caron, Gilbert and Antawn must carry us with consistency. The supporting cast must help us get it done on the defensive end. There is a toughness we must develop over the course of the regular season, and that development and better defense is the only way we will get out of the first round of the playoffs. The return of Etan Thomas will help in both areas."
Dime: "Let’s assume everyone is healthy and ready to go come playoff time. Even then, if you put the Wizards up against the top four teams in the East — Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando — would they prevail in a seven-game series where they don’t have home court advantage? Arenas, Butler and Jamison are good for 60 points a night between them, and defensively the Wizards are better than they get credit for (middle-of-the-pack compared to the rest of the NBA), but after the Big Three, this squad isn’t very deep. Even with the additions of McGee and Thomas, their center situation is one of the worst in the East considering Brendan Haywood is the headliner. A lot depends on the continued development of youngsters Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherov and McGee, and they’re just not ready yet (or mature enough) to be the kind of supporting cast you need for a contending team."
Associated Wax: Jackson Browne, Running On Empty
Michael Bay's Twitter Season Projection: