For the first time in about half a decade, the Washington Wizards have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs next season. Teams that were stuck in purgatory, with no sense of direction for the franchise, have opted to rebuild, creating a wide open field in the Eastern Conference. While some teams are hoping to add talent through next years stacked NBA Draft, the Wizards have added Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. to their already young nucleus, creating a frenzy of optimism around Washington’s fanbase.
The Wizards had hoped John Wall would lead the them into the post-season last year, but the lack of depth and unfortunate injuries in the nation’s capital would result into another dismal season in Washington. Luckily, Wall managed to bounce back from the stress injury which sidelined him for nearly half the season, averaging career highs in virtually every major statistical category. Averaging nearly 19 points and 8 assists per game last season, Wall broke out in a heap of games amongst some of the league’s best point guards. As luck would have it, Washington was fortunate enough to add Bradley Beal with the third overall pick in last years draft, pairing him up with one of NBA’s best young point guards. Needless to say, the Wizards had the best young backcourt in the league fall right into their lap.
Fast-forward a few months from the conclusion of last season, and the Wizards appear to be playoff bound.
As I took a look at the Eastern Conference standings, it’s pretty evident which teams will have a smooth sailing to the post-season next year. The reigning NBA Champions, Miami Heat, are more than a lock to make the playoffs. The Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and new look Brooklyn Nets are essentially the only other teams in the conference that have somewhat of a chance to compete with LeBron James and the repeating championship team.
After that list of 5 teams, there honestly aren’t any significant teams destined for the post-season.
The Boston Celtics have decide to part ways with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Doc Rivers who were the face of the franchise for a number of years prior to their decision to rebuild the team. Besides Rajon Rondo, who is likely the next candidate to abandon Bean Town, the Celtics are left with rubble and hopes of being atop the lottery boards next June. The Philadelphia 76ers, which once looked promising with budding young talent in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, have also decided to shuffle the deck for next season. Holiday, who represented the City of Brotherly Love in last years NBA All-Star game, has landed in New Orleans with the Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel, who was projected to get selected first overall in this years draft. Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are the focal point of Philadelphia’s rebuild at this point, and I think it’s safe to say they’ll have a tough time competing for quite some time.
Besides the Sixers and Celtics, there are also a number of teams which the jury is still out on.
If Josh Smith leaves Atlanta, could the acquisition of Paul Millsap along side Al Horford be enough to remain competitive in a somewhat rejuvenated Eastern Conference? Is Jeff Teague still in the team’s future plans?
What direction will Milwaukee take their team? Both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are free-agents this offseason, and with the acquisition of O.J Mayo, can the Bucks restore their dynamic backcourt?
That leaves me with the Wizards, who have finally found some stability in Washington. As I mentioned in the past, we aren’t necessarily used to the Wizards bringing back the same cast of characters every season, but it looks like they’ll start the season with virtually the same players which finished off the season one game below .500 with John Wall in the lineup.
Martell Webster and Garrett Temple decided to come back to Washington, establishing continuity which the team has been missing for quite some time. John Wall and Bradley Beal will continue to develop together, hopefully achieving the All-Star status we all know the potential they have to achieve.
Nene and Emeka Okafor are still a solid frontcourt, and with Dwight Howard landing in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets, Washington won’t have to worry seeing strong opposition in that position.
It might be a bit premature to call the Wizards a lock for the playoffs, but they have all the tools in the shed to make it happen. The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers are both probably in the latter stages of their rebuild, and will certainly give Washington some competition in the East. Detroit still has a very strong frontcourt in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and with Mo Cheeks leading the way, the Pistons have a chance to make a splash. Cleveland is loaded with young talent and the selection of Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in this years draft could certainly help them win some games next season. The Toronto Raptors have also built a solid roster, but Masai Ujiri might be looking to take the team in a different direction.
The 6-8 spots in the playoffs are without projections. If the Wizards remain healthy with John Wall leading the team, I’m certain they’ll have a chance to surprise some teams in the conference. Washington will undoubtedly continue building on their great defense from last season, which will put them in an even greater position to succeed.
Washington has the chance to take advantage of some newly rebuilding teams in the beginning stages of their foundation, solidifying a spot in the post-season next year.