Yesterday while I was in class I got a text message from my friend Corey Edwards that read “Playoff bound bro!!” with a picture of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Nene and Emeka Okafor standing together proudly. My first thought was “Nice picture, but is that five really good enough to get a team to the playoffs?” I was extremely skeptical. There are a lot of questions going into the season for the Washington Wizards, the biggest being whether or not they can make the leap back to playoffs.
For the last month I’ve had the Wizards hovering around that eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, an unenviable position that likely results in two morose home playoff games in the process of a 1st round sweep. But I’m sure Wizards fans wouldn’t complain about that. The Wizards haven’t been to the postseason since before Barack Obama called Washington D.C. home, and to be totally honest they haven’t come close. They’ve spent the last five years trying to distance themselves from Gilbert Arenas’ horrible contract and gun stash. The key to the car has been handed to John Wall and after a somewhat rocky start it looks like the GPS is working and the car is going in the right direction… well, kinda.
They started out the rebuild by nailing the Wall draft pick in 2010. Post All-Star break last season Wall looked exactly like the player everybody thought he would be after his season at Kentucky (20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 45% FG in the last 31 games of the season), and his play wasn’t singularly impactful. The Wizards were 4-28 to start the year and went .500 the rest of the way. Statistically Wall was just as good as Kyrie Irving the last couple months of the year and the Wizards were better. Plus, Wall’s insertion into the lineup drastically improved the production of Bradley Beal (15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 46% FG, 48% 3PT from January 1st on), who looked more like a bust for the first couple months of a season than a worthy #3 pick. If you are just going off of what the Wizards looked like they could be late last season then the outlook is promising.
Still, Washington’s weaknesses aren’t well kept secrets. If there were Las Vegas odds placed on who will be the biggest bust from the 2013 Draft class, #3 overall pick Otto Porter would be the overwhelming favorite. The Wizards depth at small forward behind Porter isn’t quite a murderer’s row either. Martell “Holy cow he got overpaid” Webster and Trevor “Hey, he got overpaid too” Ariza are waiting to snatch that spot away from Porter. Starting center Emeka Okafor is out for who knows how long with a herniated disk in his neck which means we’ll be seeing a lot of Nene, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin in the front court. Unfortunately for Wizards fans, that wasn’t a joke.
The one silver lining for Washington is that John Wall made a leap of sorts in the second half of last season and that makes the Wizards more exciting than any other team in the Southeast Division besides the defending champion Miami Heat. Whether they can contend for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference remains a mystery, along with if Bradley Beal is poised to make a 2nd year jump, if Nene can be anything more than an 11-6 guy, will Jan Vesely have a greater NBA moment than when he made out with his girlfriend the night he got drafted, and will Kevin Seraphin find Snakey?