Projected starters: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene Hilario, Marcin Gortat
Last summer the Wizards looked to make a bold move in attempt to surround their former top pick John Wall with the talent he needed to take their team to the playoffs. They said adios to knuckleheads JaVale McGee and Nick Young. They added serious money to their payroll, first bringing on $50 million in Nene, then moving Rashard Lewis and his huge expiring contract for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor.
On paper, they looked great. On the court, they were the same old Wizards.
Injuries were a major contributor to the disappointment, and they haven't let up. They lost Okafor for an extended amount of time which forced a trade. Otto Porter suffered an injured hip that cost him all of the preseason, and apparently Randy Whittman doesn't even know when to expect him to return.
The team cut ties with its 2011 draft class after the preseason by declining options on their two first round picks, Jan Vesley and Chris Singleton. Imagine if they had made the right choices with each of those -- Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried -- although whoever is in charge of the plumbing at the Verizon Center certainly dodged a bullet. There's still plenty of talent on the Wizards' roster and the expectations for the team this year is clear. As Bullets Forever puts it in their season preview:
"Most importantly: playoffs. Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs. Playoffs or bust this season. This team played .500 ball in the last 50 games of the season, Can that translate into a postseason appearance? They're not even talking about trying to win a playoff series. Just be in the playoffs. The players want it and think they can do it. The management wants it and thinks they've put a roster together that can do it. Other teams in the league think they're capable. The fanbase is salivating waiting for it.
Rising: Bradley Beal looked overrated to Pistons fans last season, as he ended the year on first team All-Rookie and twice earned Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors. Meanwhile, Andre Drummond "earned" second team All-Rookie and wasn't once recognized as Rookie of the Month despite a rookie year that was clearly superior. Drummond seemed penalized for missing games due to injury, but Beal missed even more. In one of those months Beal was Rookie of the Month, he put up 13 points per game on 37-percent shooting. Impressive.
Sour grapes aside, Beal should be your sophomore crush. He finished second in the league in scoring for the preseason at 20.7 points per game with an impressive shooting line of 52/47/80. By my calculations, his is a true shooting percentage of 62 percent compared to last year's pedestrian 51 percent. He showed the ability to shoot the ball last year, and is most dangerous spotting up, off screens and in transition. Also a solid defender, he'll shape up to be the ideal backcourt partner with Wall.
Not so much: Sure it's just preseason. But John Wall stunk. 11 points, 6 assists, 3 turnovers. Not what you want to pay $80 million for.
What you might not know: Despite shipping off McGee, the Wizards were a darn good defensive team last year. Like, a top 5 defensive team. They used their athletic wings to play tight perimeter defense, attempting to force mid-range jumpers. Okafor's loss to injury was bound to hurt badly, which the Gortat move attempted to remedy. If Washington makes the playoffs this year, defense will still need to be the strength of their team. Bullets Forever offers a nifty film study on the team's defense and how Gortat fits in.
Don't let him beat you: Kevin Seraphin. After a promising second year, Seraphin struggled mightily last year. His scoring efficiency fell off and he somehow lost his rebounding and shot-blocking ability -- strange for a player with his size and athleticism. His preseason was very much a mixed bag. Seraphin is entering a contract year and Washington could really use his help solidifying their front-court rotation. A strong start would do much for their playoff hopes -- and on the flip side, a disappearing act will leave the second unit thoroughly overmatched against Detroit.
About that trade: Immediately after the preseason, Washington traded injured Okafor and a protected first round pick in next year's draft for Gortat and filler. It's going to go down as one of the worst decisions in recent memory. But for now, it accomplishes the goal of filling a critical hole in attempt to make the playoffs. They gave up way too much to fill that hole, but that's Future Ernie Grunfield's problem. Bullets Forever's roundtable does a nice job covering the full gambit of viewpoints on the trade if you'd like to read more about it.
The immediate result for how it affects Wednesday night's game will be that the Wizards will be a better team than they otherwise would have been.