Wizards Are Improved, But Playoffs?


 

Gone are the unfledged natures of Nick Young, JaVale McGee, and Andray Blatche, who were never destined to succeed under the circumstances in Washington. In comes the “veteran presence” of Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza which GM Ernie Grunfeld loves to harp on. Randy Wittman, for all his shortcomings as a head coach, has one thing going for him – he has the full, undivided attention of everyone in that locker room. Jettisoning the youthfulness that has been associated with this franchise for years has allowed this team, in just the last month and a half of the 2011-2012 season to discover a new identity. They will get out and run, play tough defense, and play through their big men. This roster, as constructed, fits this style of play to a tee, but there happens to be two giant shadows casted over all this optimism – the injuries to their two stars, John Wall and Nene.

I’ve never been a fan of injuries that simply require rest, because more often than not, your entire season revolves around the distinct possibility of you exacerbating it. These two are irreplaceable on this roster. Nene’s skill-set around the basket and in the high post is unmatched, and no one comes close to Wall’s playmaking on this squad. Not only does Wall’s absence effect the production coming out of the point guard position, it affects the production of Vesely and Booker who benefit from getting out in the open court, as well as Seraphin who benefits from Wall’s entry passes and decision making. This offense is going to struggle to find high percentage shots.

The Eastern Conference has long been known as top heavy, with the bottom playoff seeds being wide open. As it stands now, I’d venture to say five teams are an unequivocal lock to make the playoffs – Miami, Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn, and New York. Teams such as Philadelphia and Atlanta, who lost significant pieces this off-season  still added enough (one could argue they got better) to make things interesting.

That leaves that 8 seed up for grabs between Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Washington. Derrick Rose won’t play until after the All Star Break, and even that remains to be seen, however, it’s hard to overlook a Tom Thibodeau-led team. They lost a lot of their bench this off-season in an effort to save money, so that could haunt them as well. Milwaukee has some interesting pieces, Brandon Jennings is eligible for an extension this season and Monta Ellis is in a contract year, but they also bolstered their frontcourt with the additions of John Henson and Samuel Dalembert. Toronto, who I speculate as the favorite to grab the 8 seed had a nice off-season of their own. Kyle Lowry is an all-star caliber player, and if the preseason is any indication of what’s to come, they got a real defensive anchor down low in Jonas Valanciunas.

A lot would have to go right in order for the Wizards to make the playoffs, outside shooting has to remain consistent, and their key players have to remain injury free. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see those two happening this year.

Regular season record: 33-49