Four Reasons To Be Excited About The Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Four Reasons To Be Excited About The Wizards

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Updated: September 13, 2018

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It’s mid-September, which means we are nearing the point when all four major sports are in play. The NFL has already given us one week of excitement, the MLB is knee-deep in pennant races, and both the NHL and the NBA are on the verge of opening training camps and eventually exhibition seasons.

On a local level, the Washington Mystics tried valiantly but were swept 3-0 by the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals. The Washington Nationals are all but eliminated from playoff contention, the Washington Football team is 1-0 after one week (curb your enthusiasm Washington fans), and the Capitals will begin their title defense shortly.

As a result, it is never too early to gin up the excitement for the Washington Wizards’ 2018-19 season.

The NBA had a sizable presence in the lives of NBA fans, from September of last year to this past July, from the highly entertaining season to the flurry of free agents signed and traded. But in August–save for Instagram posts and inflated Twitter beefs–the NBA went dormant but that is starting to change.

Dwight Howard and his trainer kicked off the chatter (or maybe it was an uproar) last month when Candace Buckner of The Washington Post reported that Howard, “wants to evolve into Anthony Davis, into Kevin Durant … but his own version of that.”

Lofty goals? Yes. Doable? Probably not. Having said that, there are four genuine reasons to be excited about this upcoming Wizards season. Let’s delve.

1) John Wall is motivated

Wall has documented his summer of intense workouts in entitled, “Summer of Separation,” and on more than one occasion, he explains his desire to push his body, get better, and to consistently play at an All-Star level. He also spoke with Michael Lee of The Vertical earlier this summer, where he once again spoke of the importance of preparing for this season given the changes in personnel (the additions of Howard, Jeff Green and Austin Rivers):

“People are saying it’s not going to work. I’m cool with taking on those burdens and understanding what it takes. That’s my job as a leader of the team, to get everybody to be on one page,” said Wall, who averaged 26 points and 11.5 assists in the playoffs despite returning to play just three of the final five regular-season games. “That was great, but we didn’t win. Now it’s what will John Wall do next? My job is to try to stay healthy. I can’t control that. I do all the stuff I’m supposed to do to. Everybody understands when I’m healthy what I’m really, really capable of doing, and when I’m not, I’m still a hell of a player in this league, but not the player I want to be. And I just want to be in the best shape possible.”

As TAI contributor Adam Rubin recently wrote, there is still an outside chance of meltdown between Wall and Howard (who Wall openly lobbied to come to D.C.), and of course, the Wall/Beal “beef” could always flare up again during the season, especially if the Wizards start slowly.  But for now, let’s focus on the good vibes.

Speaking of Beal…

2) Beal will be Beal again

Beal had career-highs in assists, rebounds, free-throw attempts, field-goal attempts, and games played. He led the team during Wall’s 41-game absence. In addition to the stats that can be tracked, Beal’s also showed more of a willingness to handle the ball, and find his way into the paint to score or distribute the ball. This Oladipo-like jump he took during his sixth season propelled him to the All-Star game, his first, and on paper that should have translated into success during the playoffs when Wall returned.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Beal appeared to fade towards the end of the season, and although he still averaged 23 points in the playoffs, he and Wall (who averagd 26 points and 11.5 assists) never seemed to hit their collective strides–as evidenced by the Wizards’ series loss to the Toronto Raptors in six games.

Washington’s All-Star backcourt will start the season healthy, hungry, and another year older–and hopefully wiser. Presumably, both players realize that success is not possible unless they are on the same page. And since Wall implied in that aforementioned interview with The Vertical that team played like joyless, disgruntled individuals, the assumption is that he will make sure to get Beal the ball in his sweet spots.

If Beal can successfully play off Wall (and the rest of the Wizards starters, of course), he will have more open shots and less attention when he drives the lane. That, along with strengthening of the bench (mainly guard Austin Rivers), will allow Beal to conserve energy and be closer to full strength when the 2019 playoff run commences. A freer, more energized Beal, when paired with a healthy, energized Wall, would truly ensure that everybody eats.

3) LeBron is out West

For the first time since 2003–just a few months before Michael Jordan abruptly left the then-Verizon Center after being fired by Abe Pollin–LeBron James is no longer a member of the Eastern Conference.

After 11 seasons, two titles with the Miami Heat and another with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James decided to take his seemingly limitless amount of energy and talent to the Western Conference as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

James and the Cavaliers terrorized the Eddie Jordan/Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards, sending them home in consecutive years (2006 and 2007). The John Wall/Bradley Beal-led Wizards had plenty of success against a LeBron-led team during the regular season–and one season, they actually accused the Cavaliers of ducking them in the first round.  But that version of the Wizards never had the opportunity to actually defeat big, bad LeBron, but they were in good company.

From 2010 until this past season, LeBron always represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. His departure doesn’t automatically vault the Wizards into the Eastern Conference Finals, but it certainly improves their chances given the competition.

Boston is talented and loaded at every position but with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning to their already youthful roster, there will surely be an adjustment period. The Philadelphia 76ers and their budding roster will be stronger and more mature than the year before, but they are still unproven. The Toronto Raptors have a more ideal mix of young and old players (including the addition of some guy named Kawhi Leonard), but they also have a new coach, a new philosophy, and an aging point guard in Kyle Lowry.

This isn’t to say that the Wizards are proven, or free of flaws flaws—just take a good look at last season’s team.  But the difference is that there isn’t a LeBron James in the conference who can skillfully and routinely exploit those deficiencies. Everyone is talented, everyone is vulnerable, and given that the Wizards will have the most experienced backcourt, they have more of a fighting chance than they’ve had since 2010.

4) The bench is strong(er)

Dwight Howard is the crown jewel of the Wizards’ offseason, and given what his ceiling could be, that is totally justifiable. But the Wizards also made some sneaky good moves to strengthen the versatility of their bench.

Last year’s bench averaged 35.6 points per game which was good for 16th in the NBA, but their plus/minus was minus-1.5 (22nd), and the played just 18.1 minutes per game (18th in the NBA).  Those numbers are a bit skewed because Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter were all injured or hobbled at some point during the season which forced Coach Brooks to eschew normal rotations in favor of finding lineups that worked. Tomas Satoransky, Mike Scott, Kelly Oubre, Tim Frazier, and even Jason Smith found themselves in starting positions at some point during the season, thus throwing off any potential bench continuity.

But the bottom line–one which has been in play for at least two seasons now–is that the bench can neither be trusted to hold or increase the lead, nor can they give the starters a sufficient amount of rest. Until now…

Austin Rivers, who the Wizards acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers for Marcin Gortat, can play either guard position, he can score and dish, and he’s a serviceable defender. He averaged career-highs in points (15.1) assists (4.0), rebounds (2.4) and steals (1.2) last season.

The Wiz also added Jeff Green. As mercurial as his game has been during his career, he can guard multiple frontcourt positions, and he averaged 10.4 points in just 23 minutes a game for the Cavaliers last year.

Rookie Troy Brown has yet to play an NBA minute and should not be counted on to provide any type of consistent production. But his strong summer league performance cannot be pooh-poohed. He averaged 18 points a game, and he ran the point, he played off the ball, and he showed a willingness to defend. Yes, his outside shooting left much to be desired (18%) but Kelly Oubre is a shining example of how a rookie can improve with just one season of NBA experience.

Those new additions combined with Tomas Satoransky, who did yeoman’s work as a starter last season, the much maligned Kelly Oubre, and maybe even Jodie Meeks (provided he’s drug and injury-free) give the Wizards the potential to put an entire, starter-free lineup on the court, who could possibly, just maybe, increase a lead. That hasn’t been a realistic possibility during Coach Brooks’ tenure.

Are you excited yet?

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.