I’m So Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared: Wizards Season Preview and Predictions | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

I’m So Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared: Wizards Season Preview and Predictions

By
Updated: October 12, 2017

The 2017-18 season is a Judgment Day of sorts for the Washington Wizards. After 35 years in NBA purgatory, they have finally reached the Pearly Gates of NBA relevance.

The league office validated Washington’s arrival on the main stage with 18 nationally televised games – representing a whopping 22 percent of the Wizards entire schedule – including prime-time placement on the league’s premiere Christmas day slate.

For the first time since the late 1970’s, Washington begins the season with expectations of a Top-3 conference finish. If you are under 40 years old, you’ve never experienced this before.

The closest we’ve come is the Gilbert Arenas era when the team made four straight playoff appearances, but even that stretch does not compare. In 2006-07 when Washington raced to a 27-17 start (earning Eddie Jordan an All-Star coaching nod), it was a pleasant surprise – not an expectation.

There was palpable buzz in the summer of 2009 when Flip Saunders arrived and Ernie Grunfeld went “all in” with the Mike Miller-Randy Foye trade, but the Wizards were coming off a disastrous 19-win season and even the most optimistic fans did not have 50-win aspirations.

This season is different.

Anything less than an Eastern Conference Finals trip will be a disappointment. Some, including The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, believe the Wizards might even be on the verge of jumping up a few spots in the D.C. fan hierarchy. If season ticket sales are any indication, Steinberg may be right (Ted Leonsis announced a 95 percent renewal rate and 2,000 new season tickets).

However, given the franchise’s track record with heightened expectations, long-time fans can be excused for taking a cautious wait-and-see approach. To paraphrase Bayside’s Jesse Spano: We are so excited, yet so, so scared.

With the season only days away, the TAI crew offers predictions, hopes, fears, and other thoughts on the 2017-18 Washington Wizards.

How many games will the Wizards win?

Last season Washington won 49 games for the first time since 1979. In August, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook set the over-under win total for Washington’s 2017-18 season at 47.5. The current line at various other locations is slightly higher at 48 or 48.5. In short, Vegas is not expecting the Wizards to hit the mythical (at least in D.C.) 50-win plateau this season. So, where is the TAI crew putting its money?

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) – 51

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) – 52

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) – 51

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202) – 48

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur) – 53

How far will Washington go in the playoffs?

@LedellsPlace – Gun to my head, Washington (#3 seed) loses to Cleveland (#2 seed) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Now, if you’ll put the gun down and ask again: Washington (#3 seed) beats Boston (#2 seed) in Eastern Conference Semifinals and loses to Cleveland in ECF.

@rashad20 – They will lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to Boston again.

@ConorDDirks – Eastern Conference Finals.

@BFrantz202 – Lose in the EC Semifinals (again). I think they beat the Bucks in the first round, then lose to the Cavs in 6.

@TroyHalibur – Eastern Conference Finals.

Who will be the biggest X-factor for the Wizards?

@LedellsPlace – Jodie Meeks. Meeks is the only reliable three-point shooter on the Wizards’ entire bench. That is a remarkable stat for a team built around the best player in the NBA at creating open three-point shots (John Wall). Meeks will be asked to carry a heavy scoring burden with the 2nd unit, but his greatest value could be as a lethal running mate alongside John Wall in a quick-hitting small ball unit.

@rashad20 – The biggest X-factor is whoever Coach Brooks chooses to be Markieff Morris’s replacement at the 4. If it is Jason Smith, who doesn’t seem to play well with Marcin Gortat, the Wizards’ chemistry could be at stake. If it is Kelly Oubre, and the improvements he made over the summer pay off, that could give him confidence when he inevitably goes back to the bench. And if someone like Mike Scott emerges and turns out to be a bigger steal than any of us could have imagined, then he also becomes a bench asset. But it is important to find someone in the 4 spot who gels with the other starters the way Morris did so seamlessly last season.

@ConorDDirks – Kelly Oubre. And this prediction is meant to represent both diagonal strokes of the “X.” I’m not convinced that Oubre will take the next step. For posterity, the next step is to stop fouling, tunnel-visioning on drives to the basket, and missing fame-maker dunks. If he clears that hurdle, he’ll slot in perfectly in a variety of Wall-led lineups, and could add some waviness to a still unconvincing second unit.

@BFrantz202 – This is the most boring take, but Otto Porter is the biggest X-factor, with Kelly Oubre a distant second. We know what John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, and others are. If Porter takes a leap, Washington has a shot at the ECF or even the Finals. If he doesn’t, they’ll remain the No. 3 or 4 team in the conference.

@TroyHalibur – Kelly Oubre is the most unique player on the roster because of his defensive versatility, shooting, and improved play-making skills.

Complete the sentence:

(i) I am optimistic about the Wizards because…

@LedellsPlace – …John Wall is an absolute monster. He led the league in steals and was second in assists last season — and that was after spending the entire summer rehabbing two knee surgeries. With a healthy off-season and (slightly) better talent around him this year, the ceiling is the roof for Wall in 2017-18.

@rashad20 – …John Wall looks hungry, the core of last year’s team is back, and the East is demonstrably weaker than it was last year.

@ConorDDirks – …Wall has a tendency to improve with every passing off-season, and he may have exhausted the in-grade step increases within the “mere mortal All-Star” category. His next step is transcendence. Beal took his first major step last season, and he’s expected to be an All-Star this year. If the Wizards merely pick up where they left off, they’re one of the best three teams in the East. If they get better, they’re leapfrogging either Boston or Cleveland.

@TroyHalibur – …the East is a dumpster fire.

(ii) I am pessimistic about the Wizards because…

@LedellsPlace – …while the East, as a whole, is weaker this season, the Wizards path to the Eastern Conference Finals got harder this summeer. If the regular season proceeds as predicted, Washington will have to beat either Cleveland or Boston to advance past the second round in the playoffs. At this point, beating either opponent would be considered a pretty major upset.

@rashad20 – …the likelihood of them having another injury-free season out of Wall and Beal is low, and if one of them goes down and misses significant time, this team could struggle.

@ConorDDirks – …the Ian Mahinmi contract that was supposed to fortify Washington’s bench instead fortified against fortifying Washington’s bench, if that makes sense. For the second consecutive summer, the Wizards haven’t been able to spend much outside of Mahinmi on one of the NBA’s least dependable bench units. There’s reason to think the bench has improved, but Grunfeld’s newest theory remains untested.

@BFrantz202 – …they need a leap from Otto Porter and a second consecutive season of near-perfect health from John Wall and Bradley Beal in order to tangibly improve. Perhaps Beal’s injury problems are behind him, or perhaps they took the year off last year.

(iii) I am most looking forward to…

@LedellsPlace – …finally getting off to a fast start. I don’t know if it will happen, but even with Markieff’s injury, the Wizards are primed to start the season with a winning record for the first time in a long time. No more fighting to get to .500 in December…hopefully.

@rashad20 – …watching Jodie Meeks. If he gets hot on any given night, Coach Brooks will have to make some interesting lineup decisions–something he talked about after the game against Cleveland. He has the ability to score points in bunches, and he also allows the Wizards to spread the floor even more. Of course this is all contingent upon him finally staying healthy, but in the small sample size that is the preseason, he looks like he’s going to make an impact.

@ConorDDirks – …watching Wizards basketball again. Last season’s playoff run, for the first time, left me feeling like there actually was more in the tank. If it weren’t for Kelly Olynyk siphoning that gas and then spitting it on the pavement in front of Washington’s bigs, we might have seen the Wizards face off and eventually lose to the East’s best team.

@BFrantz202 – …the people giving Ernie Grunfeld way too much credit when the bench puts together its token good stretch midway through the season and the Wizards slightly overachieve for two weeks.

@TroyHalibur – …Bradley Beal proving his All-Star status to the rest of the league.

Who will be the most surprising team in the East?

@LedellsPlace – Miami was 30-11 the second half of the season. That’s a pretty big sample size. The Wizards certainly have hung their off-season optimism hat on much smaller samples. Plus, Dion Waiters missed 20 games during the Heat’s disastrous 11-30 start. Normally, that wouldn’t mean much, but Waiters somehow morphed into an important piece for Miami last year. The Heat, like the Spurs, always seem to defy doomsday expectations, and with a depressed East landscape, the Heat might emerge as a team no one wants to see in April.

@rashad20 – I think the Indiana Pacers will be the most surprising team in the East. Paul George was obviously the star of that team last year, but their cupboard is far from bare. Myles Turner will be the go-to player, but Victor Oladipo and Lance Stephenson — yes, Lance Stephenson — are versatile complementary players. I expect them to be the 4/5 seed in the playoffs, and they will be a tough out.

@ConorDDirks – I think it’s probably going to be Miami. Many expect the Bucks to improve, and I think they will. But Milwaukee has one of the best young players in the league (Giannis Antetokounmpo). Miami, on the other hand, has a bunch of role players and former first-round flops and late bloomers. That group went 30-11 to close out the season. No major additions, but the crew responsible for that record is largely intact, and they’ll benefit from Erik Spoelstra’s excellent coaching.

@BFrantz202 – I don’t think Brooklyn will be as bad as most people think, but I think the bigger surprise will be the Sixers making the playoffs, possibly as a top-6 seed. It all comes down to health for them, and most of the team is unproven, but the JJ Redick and Amir Johnson additions could be huge.

@TroyHalibur – The most surprising team will be the Atlanta Hawks who many are predicting to be one of the worst in the league. Both the talent and the coaching are better than you think.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.