Opening Statements: Wizards at Sixers, Preseason Game 4 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Sixers, Preseason Game 4

Updated: October 16, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers

A new stretch-4 option is back up from being down; another is still down, never got up. Here come the Wizards.

“Forward to begin rehab immediately,” read the sub-headline of out-of-the blue but not unexpected Wizards press release on Tuesday. The main headline relayed that Alan Anderson had undergone an ankle “procedure,” this time to remove a “small bony fragment” in his left ankle. This surgery was handled by Dr. David Porter in Indianapolis.

Anderson, who turns 33 years old on this very October 16th day, had surgery on that same left ankle just after his season ended back in May by Dr. Martin O’Malley in Manhattan. The Wizards inked Anderson away from Brooklyn in mid-July, using $4 million of their Mid-Level Exception committed for a single season. A smart, cap-conscious deal; unfortunately the Wizards are now coping with goods still damaged five months after surgery and three months after bringing Anderson aboard.

These things happen in sports, and good thing it’s preseason, even if the Washington Post is reporting that Anderson could be out for two months. Since he hasn’t done anything yet, Anderson’s exact role with the Wizards remains unclear to the public—who he would play with, how many offensive cuts and looks would he see versus spot-ups, which position he would guard, and how many times he would guard up a size in “Four Box Wittman,” floor-spacing lineups?

What is clear is that Anderson is/was a key part of those lineups, and not having the veteran to help navigate a new-ish system (we played it last year!, insisted Wittman on Monday) likely sets back some of the learnin’.

And, as past narratives have told us, getting hampered before the season can be like leaving an open bag of lettuce in the refrigerator while you’re going out of town for a couple weeks. Hamstring issues in his first summer league—of all things—and a strained hip flexor just before training camp busted Otto Porter’s rookie season, they said. Surgery to repair a herniated disk at the end of June 2014 put Martell Webster in a dark place all last season, they said—and of course he’s now dealing with an arthritic hip and still hasn’t seen light in the preseason. A late-season groin pull kept Kris Humphries shelved during last year’s playoffs, even though he returned for the last two weeks of the regular season. And now he’s firing more 3-pointers than outfits he probably has for his little dog.

Speaking of herniated disks, Jared Dudley is nearly back. He had surgery to repair his on July 21. Those things aren’t easy to come back from, but Dudley went through his first full contact practice on Wednesday and expects to get in a preseason game or two (there are four left) in what he’s treating as an accelerated training camp. People call him 30 years old but Dudley just turned 30 at the end of July. I get it. Also, Martell Webster had his first microdisectomy surgery to repair a herniated disk when he was 24, second when he was 25, third at 27 last year, and he’s now 28 years old.

But the Wizards are deep, they planned for this, they know their history. Garrett Temple is dealing with precious hamstring issues, too, you say? In this new dawn of position-less basketball, if Randy Wittman suddenly switches from paint-by-numbers to finger painting, he has the freedom to get as creative as he can imagine, especially early in the season. Nagging and insistent injuries to several players means the coach can further vary his five-man units even more, perhaps flashing back to more traditional combinations, and dole out even more minutes to whomever is earning them.

It also means that there’s more pressure, and opportunity, for Wittman to buck the national perception that he has less-than-worthy coaching chops.

“With Randy Wittman still at the helm—and no overhaul in sight—the onus this season will fall on 22-year-old Otto Porter Jr. and 19-year-old rookie Kelly Oubre Jr. to breathe new life into this team,” writes National Media Guy, one of two on a six-member Sports Illustrated panel who picked the Wizards to be the NBA’s flop team this season. Guy must have overlooked an offensive overhaul in the present and several contracts potentially coming to a close in about nine months—which almost never fails to incentivize top gear play. This prediction came after the same writer tagged Andre Miller as a “lost relic”, as if he left in summer free agency instead of being sent away at last season’s trade deadline for Ramon Sessions. The same Ramon Sessions that proved to be a clear cut upgrade over the accomplished, but increasingly aged, Miller.

Oh well. At least the Wizards aren’t an oil barrel shooting flames inside of a dumpster fire with a couple diamonds at the bottom at the corner of Cheesesteak Alley and Philly Sports Fan Lane. Oh, hi Sixers. (The diamonds being Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.)

Stopping by to make some statements before Washington’s fourth preseason game, second against the 76ers, is Drew Stone (@madeagoestodrew) from Hoop76, a blog. Let’s see what he has to say.

Teams: Wizards at Sixers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: NOT the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Television: CSN
Radio: I guess.
Spread: Like butter on a roll.

#1) Who on the Sixers could be considered to be a sleeper to make an impact on the team this season?

@madeagoestodrew: Robert Covington isn’t exactly an unknown name; he was almost universally-acknowledged as the Sixers’ second-best player last year, after Nerlens Noel. But with the Sixers stacking both the perimeter (Isaiah Canaan, Nik Stauskas) and the low block (Jahlil Okafor), the sharp-shooting Covington should have more open looks from long range than he’s ever had in his two-year career. He’s the Philly player most likely to make “the leap” this season, and whether the Sixers finish outside the bottom-three could well hinge on his progress.

#2) ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight site claims that the “Most Comparable Players” to Nerlens Noel are 1) Nene, 2) Stromile Swift, 3) Lonnie Shelton, 4) Darius Miles, and 5) Lorenzen Wright.

To me, this sounds terrible (even though Nene is quite solid, at least young Nene was) — but what say you?

@madeagoestodrew: Just going by the eye test alone, the comparisons seem a bit harsh—or at the very least, three of the five do. (You know which three.) Noel had a historic defensive season for a rookie last year, finishing in the top ten in the league in both blocks and steals. A few minor injuries and a slight decline late in the season slowed his attempt at becoming the first player ever to average two assists and two blocks in his rookie year. Actually, only three players in NBA history have ever done that in a single season: Hakeem Olajuwon (five times), David Robinson, and former Sixer Gerald Wallace. Slightly better company than Stromile Swift.

But as FiveThirtyEight notes, the question surrounding him is, and probably will be for the foreseeable future, what his offensive ceiling looks like. He made strides to improve his offensive game in the second half last year, improving from 8.2 points per game to 13.1 after the All-Star break. (The impact Jahlil Okafor will have on those numbers this year is anyone’s guess.) But even if Nerlens’ scoring numbers are never impressive enough to propel him to All-Star status, he’s already shown the athleticism and defensive instincts necessary to make an NBA All-Defensive Team at some point in his career—something that only one of the aforementioned comparisons (Shelton in ’82, All-Defensive Second Team) accomplished.

#3) Brett Brown has an understandable 127 losses in his two seasons at the helm, and there’s no reason to think that number won’t reach 180, at least, at the end of this season.

By all accounts, he’s done a great job with the hand he’s been dealt, but at what point is he held more accountable and do you foresee him still being the coach in 2019?

@madeagoestodrew: That’s the great mystery in Philly at the moment. Brett is beloved in Philly by the fans and players alike, both for his patience and impressive job he’s done (albeit via a small sample size) developing his young talent. To answer the first question: It would be borderline impossible to hold Brown accountable for the team’s losing for at least the next season or two. Assuming veteran Carl Landry (acquired as part of the Stauskas trade) doesn’t make the 15-man roster, the oldest Sixer will be Robert Covington. Robert Covington is 24 years old. You can put Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, or anyone else behind the bench and they won’t compete for a playoff spot with a roster of 22-, 23-, and 24-year-olds. It’s simply unprecedented in the NBA.

That raises the fear that Brown could bolt. Will he be the head coach in 2019? One would hope so, but you would also have to concede that unless the team makes notable strides in the next couple seasons, he has few reasons to devote any more of his life to a plan with an unknowable future. The scarier question: if this young nucleus starts gelling together and a sexier coaching option becomes available, does the Sixers’ front office thank Brown for getting them this far and jettison him for, say, a John Calipari? Even for the 76ers, that would be cold-blooded.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.