Training camp is just around the corner. The summer is winding down, as those of us who are responsible for school drop-offs at 7:30 am painfully are aware of, and it’s time to forget about the Washington Wizards’ last playoff run and focus in on the task at hand. What task is that? Going to the NBA Finals – (Hey, John Wall said it, don’t shoot the messenger).
As crazy as it sounds, there’s no reason for the Washington Wizards, a franchise which was just hoping to make their first playoff appearance in five years at this time last year, to aim any lower this coming season. The Eastern Conference, on paper, seems to have improved from last season but is still wide open. While the Washington Wizards aren’t the favorites by any means, they are very much bracketed in that 2nd grouping of teams in the East.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are here and should be considered the favorite, but considering that outside of LeBron James there is little in terms of playoff experience on the roster, Cleveland is not a team to fear as teams feared the Big 3 in Miami. While Chris Bosh and Kevin Love have had eerily similar career paths, Chris Bosh is a far better defender than Kevin Love, and please don’t you dare even put Kyrie Irving in the same sentence as 2010 Dwyane Wade (or last year’s version when he did play for that matter).
The Chicago Bulls? Didn’t the Washington Wizards just pretty handily dismiss of them last year?
In all seriousness the Bulls are a legit contender as well as and the additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, and the return of Derrick Rose does put them right up there with Cleveland (although I do think they’ll miss D.J. Augustin more than people imagine). That being said, we have no idea if Rose can survive a full season and his up and down status with the FIBA World Cup team is further evidence of that. Then comes a grouping of teams that in my opinion includes the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and the new-look Miami Heat
So, what has to occur for the Washington Wizards to truly jump into that upper tier and make a push for The Finals (outside of waiting for 2016…)? That’s what I’ll be looking at leading into training camp and it starts with the coach.
Randy Wittman did an admirable job towards the end of last season and postseason to earn a contract extension with the Wizards, but where does he have to improve? That’s an easy one–offensively. The Washington Wizards were 16th in the NBA last season in points per game, ranked behind teams such as Atlanta, Detroit, and Denver (on the flip side this was a top 10-unit defensively, but behind a depleted Atlanta team, really?).
The lack of offense at times was crippling as the team was so jump shot dependent that they would go through droughts, ultimately letting teams stay in games that shouldn’t have been competitive. What can he do to improve this? On a micro-level there are different sets Wittman can run to improve offensive efficiency, but the problem is more macro in my opinion.
The current identity is to have John Wall run and set up shooters for corner 3’s, but what is the identity in the half court? Who is the ball going to go through? If John Wall and Bradley Beal shoot too much on a given night, is Nene going to gripe and then be force fed the ball again? Will Marcin Gortat’s role expand now that he’s under contract for five more seasons? What is the pecking order on offense? This is what Randy Wittman has to figure out and it should circle back to backcourt, starting with John Wall.
While the popular notion is that John Wall had his breakout season in 2013-2014, his best offensive season was actually the prior year. Over the last 26 games of the 2012-2013 season Wall averaged 22.7 points per game, 7.8 assists per game, and 4.8 rebounds per game, on 17.3 field goal attempts per game. A lot of those game came without Bradley Beal in the lineup, so that task for Randy Wittman is how does he get Wall to be that offensive player over 82 games playing alongside Bradley Beal, who is improving at creating offense in his own right.
Randy Wittman’s ability to maximize the potential of his backcourt on an individual as well as a collaborative basis is where the improvement on offense for the Wizards will start. Add to that an effective pick and roll center in Marcin Gortat and the addition of Paul Pierce, the Wizards will have an offensive identity that should result in improvement from 16th in the NBA.
Will Randy Wittman manage to improve the offense next season? That’s going to be a key factor for the Wizards to take it to the “next level.”
John Wall “the game manager” worked against the Chicago Bulls in Round 1 last year (more so due to Chicago’s lack of firepower on offense), but the pressure he can put on an opposing defense is this team’s biggest weapon. If Wittman can couple that with a budding potential All-Star in Beal, then he’s taken the first step towards The Finals.