If the Washington Wizards prefer to lie amongst the weeds and surprise everyone, a panel of 53 ESPN experts is trying to make that happen (despite the Wizards being voted by the same ESPN panel to have the biggest turnaround this upcoming season).
Tied with both Philadelphia and Toronto to achieve 39 wins, and finish seventh through ninth in the East (the averages actually break out to PHI – 39.4, WAS – 39.1, TOR – 39.0), the ESPN panel believes that the Wizards will be fighting just to make the playoffs.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix and The Wages of Wins Journal both seem to think the Wiz will be significantly better than sub-40 wins, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. Maybe some of the ESPN experts think the Wizards’ defense won’t be up to par, or that their frontcourt is too thin and they desperately need an upgrade. Of course, when Mike Prada of Bullets Forever wrote the two previously linked pieces, he had improving the team to compete for a championship in mind, not so they can solidify a playoff position. Still, both defense and frontcourt are valid areas of concern.
No one will argue that the Wizards are definitively behind Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando when trying to predict the East. And with the improvements Atlanta has made this summer, it’s even hard to put the Wiz past the Hawks. But thinking that the Heat, Bulls, and 76ers will all be better than Washington is absolutely absurd. Let’s take a glance at what those team have done this summer:
They lost the only guy who’s a legitimate threat to score at any time (Ben Gordon), and replaced him with Jannero Pargo. Yea, riiiiight. Derrick Rose is awesome, but is he ready to be anything and everything for an above .500 team with a ‘Goof Troop’ of Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and Brad Miller holding down the frontcourt? Doubt it. Luol Deng could finally live up to expectations (just like Andray Blatche), but it’s asking a lot for him to knock the rust off and be a primary scoring option. John Salmons supplies a nice complimentary piece, but would likely be stuck behind seven or eight guys on the Wizards. Methinks the experts are getting a bit boosted off Chicago’s great playoff series against a Garnett-less Celtics.
The Wizards, on the other hand, have only lost Darius Songaila, Etan Thomas, and Oleksiy Pecherov and will enter training camp, assuming complete health, with one of their deepest teams in ages, if not one of the deepest in the NBA for the upcoming season.
So pick a Gilbert Arenas-led team to finish in the lower echelon of the East’s playoff contenders. It’s okay. Agent Zero, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Brendan Haywood won’t have a problem proving everyone wrong. Actually, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
ESPN Expert Panel Final Eastern Conference Tally (regular season wins):
- CLE – 61
- BOS – 57
- ORL – 56
- ATL – 45
- MIA – 44
- CHI – 43
- PHI – 39
- WAS – 39
- TOR – 39
- DET – 38
- CHA – 35
- IND – 33
- NY – 32
- MIL – 30
- NJ – 29
Breakdown of the three-way tie for 7th place, with Philly and Washington in and Toronto out:
WAS – 39.1
TOR – 39.0