The Eastern Conference hasn’t exactly been the most glamorous conference in the league, but who would have thought the Washington Wizards would be among the top teams in the East for consecutive seasons? John Wall has become the legitimate franchise player for the organization and certainly made his presence felt during the 2013-2014 NBA playoffs series versus the Chicago Bulls — a team they eliminated in the first round in convincing fashion. The Wizards have made a few personnel changes but the core group of players remain solid while the back-court of Bradley Beal and John Wall could be ranked among the most formidable duo in the East. Are the Wizards primed for another second round playoffs appearance or will their success improve, in return, translate to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance? Lets take a look at how the Wizards should stack up against the the rest of the league with their 2014-15 team preview.
MY STARTING FIVE
John Wall’s max deal will keep him in a Wizards uniform through the 2018-19 season, the organization exercised fourth-year option on Bradley Beal, and resigned Gortat to a five-year contract, so the Wizards look to be a solid team at least for the next few seasons barring players remain healthy of course. The team also added veteran leadership with the acquisition of Paul Pierce — a player with extensive playoffs experience which includes an NBA title and multiple finals appearances. Pierce should help subsidize the offense and spread the floor as he is a career .370 shooter from the arc.
Another significant addition for the Wizards is the pick-up of PF/C DeJuan Blair, who could find himself playing backup minutes behind Nene. Blair is definitely a “glue guy” who will perform all the dirty work down-low in the post area, yet he still has the ability to score double digit points if needed. He’s tough as a box of nails, plays with a lot of passion, and should improve the Wizards bench drastically. The Wizards should receive plenty of energy off the bench from Blair and Drew Gooden —a player the organization brought in temporarily but now has a permanent spot on the roster. .
Bradley Beal could find himself sidelined for an extended period of time due to injury, but I expect Martel Webster to pick up some of the slack offensively. Websters shooting stroke isn’t as pure as Beal’s, but he is a career .396 three-point shooter who can erupt offensively on any given night.
Wall, Gortat, and Nene remain the most important players on the roster. As a coach, you could arguably surround them with any group of solid players and still make the playoffs in the East.
Offensively and defensively the Wizards were ranked in the middle of the pack during the 2013-14 NBA season, and with the loss of Trevor Ariza (trade) and Bradley Beal (injury), this team could find themselves ranking even lower in both categories. Ariza ranked 12th in the league in steals in 2013-14, he also averaged more than 14 points and six rebounds per game, making him a difficult player to replace because of his skill-set. I actually think Ariza was a huge factor in protecting this team from a further decline in the defensive category. Again, Pierce is a great piece to the puzzle, but he isn’t known for his defense, and with the current starting line-up, the Wizards could find themselves getting off to a slow start, even against some of the worst teams in the league.
Are the Wizards Eastern Conference Finals Bound?
Out of their first 10 regular season games, only three are against predicted .500 or better teams, meaning the Wizards could find themselves with a record of 7-3 or better. The season looks bright for this up and coming squad, hopefully Beal can make a speedy recovery. If the roster is at full strength, the Wizards could find themselves in a great position to reach the second round of the NBA playoffs or beyond, but it all rests on regular season success. If the playoffs started today, the only teams that would pose any threat to the Wizards are the Raptors, Bulls, Cavaliers, and maybe the Miami Heat. Overall, I like their chances against any team in the East this season as they have to potential to pickup where the Indiana Pacers left off.