Washington Wizards 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 46-36, No. 2 Southeast Division, No. 5 Eastern Conference
Roster Additions: Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre Jr. (rookie, No. 15)
Roster Subtractions: Paul Pierce, Rasual Butler, Kevin Seraphin
SBN Affiliate: Bullets Forever
After a 2014-15 season that saw them make the playoffs for the second straight season and win their most games since the 1978-79 season, the Washington Wizards are hoping a focus on small-ball will help the team become a serious contender in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
The Wizards had an interesting year last season. With John Wall, a speedy, top 5-7 point guard (depending on how you ask) running the offense, it would be reasonable to expect Washington to push the pace. Having high-upside shooting guard Bradley Beal as Wall's backcourt partner doesn't hurt matters either.
The Wizards instead finished No. 18 in pace of play, according to basketball-reference.com, averaging 93.7 possessions per game. Despite this, the Wizards charged out of the gate, opening the season 31-15. Wall and starting center Marcin Gortat developed nice pick-and-roll chemistry, and Beal continued to improve his 3-point stroke, shooting nearly 41 percent from distance on the season.
However, the team began to falter as its schedule became more difficult, and the Wizards limped into the playoffs with a 15-21 finish, good for the No. 5 seed in the east.
Matched up against the Toronto Raptors, Wittman moved Paul Pierce to the stretch four for long stretches in place of incumbent Nene Hilario, and once again the Wizards' offense clicked. Washington absolutely dominated the favored Raptors on the way to a 4-0 series sweep, outscoring the team by an average of 14 points in the series.
In the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the Wizards found themselves matched up against an Atlanta Hawks team that won 60 games during the regular season. This time, the competition was too much to handle, as Atlanta disposed of Washington in six games.
Over the offseason, Washington acquired the rights to No. 15 overall pick Kelly Oubre from Atlanta, in exchange for the No. 19 pick and two future second round picks. Oubre, out of Kansas, had a solid freshman season playing small forward for the Jayhawks, where he showed promising defensive skills, a solid jump shot, and spectacular athleticism.
Picking up Oubre makes sense for the Wizards as, with Paul Pierce gone to play for Doc Rivers and the Clippers, the team will be likely be counting on unproven small forward Otto Porter in the starting lineup. Porter has hardly produced in his first two seasons in the league, though it is up for debate how much of that is a lack of defense, versus a lack of opportunity (but mostly, it's the defense).
Wittman has never coached a small-ball team before, and Porter certainly, along with Wall and Beal, has the ability to get out and run in an up-tempo offense. In order to make this experiment work, Washington will be counting on new acquisition Jared Dudley to play the stretch four. Dudley has the capability to hit the deep ball, as well as make reads on the floor, either as a trailer or from the corner. There is always the chance that Wittman will try to give Khris Humphries some run, but, although he has a decent jumper, Humphries is much more comfortable battling for rebounds down low. Look for Nene to move to a bench role, playing the power forward/center spots.
As long as Wall and Beal are on their games, the team can be patient while trying to find their way through the new system. Wall is too good to let the Wizards stagnate on offense for too long, and Beal is emerging as one of the top sharpshooters in the NBA, though he tends to struggle with a mid-range jumper that he settles for too often. Center Marcin Gortat is a solid enough offensive center to provide the team with all of the post presence that the team needs.
Is Otto Porter a legit NBA player? A defensive liability, Porter is a relatively athletic wing who, while always expected to take time to develop, has disappointed thus far in his career. Despite his athleticism, Porter nearly exclusively scored on spot up jumpers last season, which accounted for 70 percent of his points, according to NBA.com. Unfortunately for the Wizards, basketball-reference.com has 45 percent of his jump shots coming from 10 feet out but within the 3-point line last year.
If Porter is able to more effectively spot up from the 3-point line, he could be due for a massive upgrade in his productivity. He didn't play a huge amount of minutes with Wall and Beal, and merely being the court with the talented back court duo should draw some defenders a half-step in their direction.
The good news for the Wizards is that the Eastern Conference is not significantly stronger than it was a year ago. As long as they fully commit to playing a fast-paced system that takes advantage of their athleticism, there is no reason to expect them to finish lower than No. 5 in the playoff seeding again this year.
The pressure will be higher this year, as Kevin Durant's pending free agency looms over the team. Should they take the next step and emerge as an exciting young team with a player-friendly offense, Washington feels that it has a legitimate chance to land Durant. If they sputter, or if Wittman falls back on the plodding offense that he is traditionally known for, the #KD2DC dream dies.
Bradley Beal is going to have a monster season. Always a threat from distance, Beal tends to take a few too many inefficient 2-point field goal attempts. With coach Wittman's commitment to a more modern style of play, a more modern view on effective shots will follow. Look for Beal to increase his looks from behind the arc and develop his dribble-drive game.
Though he has had some injury concerns each of his three seasons in the league thus far, if Beal can keep himself healthy and play more efficiently, the sky is the limit for the young shooting guard.
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