Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 29-53, No. 3 in Southeast Division, No. 12 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Al Harrington, Eric Maynor, Otto Porter Jr. (Rookie, No. 3 overall), Glen Rice Jr. (Rookie, No. 35 overall)
Roster subtractions: Earl Barron, Jason Collins, Jordan Crawford, Shaun Livingston, Shelvin Mack, Cartier Martin, Jannero Pargo, A.J. Price
For a team that started last season 5-28, the Washington Wizards players are pretty optimistic about making a run to the postseason in 2014.
The key to the Wizards' improvement and potential success is pretty clear: Fourth-year point guard John Wall, who earned a maximum contract extension this summer worth $80 million.
Wall missed the first half of last season with a knee injury, leading to the Wizards' poor start. After returning, though, he had his team playing .500 basketball. In the Eastern Conference, a team can sneak into the playoffs by winning fewer than half its games, as Milwaukee did last season, earning the eighth seed with a 38-44 record.
While the Wizards would probably prefer not to be first-round cannon fodder for one of the East's elite teams, they would like to establish a winning culture around the young core of Wall, guard Bradley Beal and rookie forward Otto Porter Jr. Earning a berth in the playoffs is seen as the next step for a young team that played well together after Wall came back from injury.
Beal will again be afforded plenty of minutes following a rookie season in which he averaged almost 14 points a game, shooting 38.6 percent from outside. When Wall is on the court, teams have to focus on him, which really opens things up for guys who can hit the three-ball. Beal will be a huge beneficiary of the attention Wall gets paid by defenses, and so will the Wizards' trio of small forwards Martell Webster, Porter Jr. and Trevor Ariza. Webster had a career-year shooting 42.2 percent on threes in 2012, Ariza connected on 36.4 percent and Porter Jr. shot over 42 percent from downtown his sophomore season at Georgetown. Expect the Wizards perimeter players to see an increase in outside shooting opportunities as opposing defenses collapse on Wall, freeing up space around the three-point line.
Unfortunately for Washington, their starting center Emeka Okafor was sidelined indefinitely last week with an injury to his neck. 11-year vet Nene will start in Okafor's absence, but he's had a pretty spotty injury history. Easing the load on Nene will be Kevin Seraphin, who saw 21.8 minutes per game last year and skipped an opportunity to play for the French national team this summer in favor of sticking around Washington and working on his game. The Wizards hope to see Seraphin's improvement because their remaining stable of post players includes the inconsistent Jan Vesely, 15-year vet Al Harrington and power forward Trevor Booker, who is coming off a down-year.
Eric Maynor signed with the Wizards to bolster their backcourt and spell Wall when necessary. Portland fans will recall his 27-game resurgence last year with the Blazers following a disappointing start to the season in Oklahoma City. If Maynor plays as well as he did in Portland, he might be the first guard off the bench. Shooting guard Glen Rice Jr. was taken by Washington early in the second round after he tore up the D-League last year, proving he's capable of hitting the three-pointer from NBA range. Rice Jr. will likely start the year buried on the depth chart, but if injuries arise, he should be able to contribute with his shooting ability.
The Wizards were a decent defensive team last season, not allowing very many fast break opportunities or points in the paint. They also defended most shots pretty well and didn't allow a ton of scoring. Washington's main problem was an inability to put enough points on the board, ending at No. 28 in the league in scoring and No. 29 at scoring in the paint. With Wall back, both those numbers will see a huge increase. If the Wizards can maintain or improve their defensive presence, expect them to win at least a few more games this year because they'll have a much-improved and efficient offense with their star point guard back.
Of course, most teams are optimistic this time of the year and no one really wants to lose. The Wizards and their fan base, however, have real reason for excitement. Washington improved across the board last year once Wall returned from injury, and he'll have a full offseason and training camp to integrate into a lineup that has the potential to really play off his strengths as one of the league's most athletic point guards.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter