Washington Wizards: Three Reasons They’ve Improved This Season


The Washington Wizards had a quiet offseason. Outside of creating a smidgen of buzz on draft night with their move up to the 15th overall selection to draft Kelly Oubre Jr, the offseason was relatively quiet.  That relative silence has the Wizards flying under the radar as we near the start of the NBA season.

Here’s how the Washington Wizards stacked up on the national scene entering the preseason:

ESPN – 15th ranked in the Power Rankings. Additionally ESPN commented that “Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, no free-agent exit over the summer spawned the sort of gloom Paul Pierce‘s decision to bolt for Clipperland did.”

CBS Sports has the Wizards ranked 6th among Eastern Conference teams in their power rankings, directly behind the Toronto Raptors; yes those same Toronto Raptors who the Wizards swept in the first round of last season’s playoffs.

In explaining their ranking, the absence of Pierce again was referenced again with Matt Moore commenting, “there are major question marks about how they’ll adjust to life without Pierce.”

With the departure of Pierce, the Washington Wizards have taken a step back in terms of national attention.

On the surface it’s easy to understand coming off the postseason and histrionics that Pierce brought to the table and loudly put on open display for the basketball world last April. The general opinion now seems to be that the Wizards will miss the production and leadership of the Truth, and that they did little to replace that this summer.  That’s where they might be wrong.

More from Wizards News

The Washington Wizards’ greatest chance at improving this offseason wasn’t going to come from keeping the same team intact.

Last year’s team peaked at the right time in the post-season but struggled mightily from the All-Star break on.

During the course of the season, their lack of shooting, athleticism, positional versatility and pace was evident.

Addressing these shortcomings didn’t require a name; it required a change in identity, growth from within, and tweaks to the roster.


This change in identity was on full display in the Wizards’ first pre-season game versus Philadelphia this week.

From the start of training camp, the mantra has been pace and spacing the floor. The hype began to become a reality versus the 76ers when the Washington Wizards scored 129 points on 15-26 shooting from the 3-point line. That’s nearly ten more three point shots attempted than their average for the 2014-2015 regular season (16.8).

When Kris Humphries goes 2-4 from deep in the first pre-season game, you know change is on the horizon.

Before you dismiss this effort because the opponent was the 76ers, it’s important to understand that Philadelphia was tied for 12th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, largely due to the presence of Nerlens Noel.

Growth From Within

Lost in losing Pierce was Otto Porter, the 3rd overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft who sat patiently for the larger part of two seasons before finally showing glimpses of his potential in the 2015 NBA playoffs.

The media spoke of the lack of replacing Pierce as if it has to come from outside (or next summer…ehemm), but the reality is that his replacement may have already been in the building, waiting for an opportunity.

The very early returns show that Porter is taking advantage of that opportunity, being referred to as the most consistent performer in training camp, and following that up with a 22 point preseason debut as the starting small forward.

That leads us to Bradley Beal, a proven player in this league but a player who still has struggled with consistency and injuries.

Regular season Bradley Beal was an inconsistent player but “Playoff Beal” was a different entity.

Regular Season                 15.3ppg; 3.1apg; 3.8rpg

Post Season                       23.4ppg; 4.6apg; 5.5rpg

A lot of Beal’s issues with consistency started with shot selection.

Per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, “[o]f Beal’s 851 field-goal attempts last regular season, 27.9 percent were from 16 to 24 feet though he made just 33.2 percent of them, the second-worst mark among players with at least 200 shots from that range.”

To be frank, Bradley Beal is too good of a shooter to be taking that many inefficient shots and shooting them at that clip. Beal has emphasized cutting down the long twos in his offseason preparation as well as creating for his teammates and himself as he mentioned in an interview with wizofawes.com this summer.

If the commitment to pace, shooting, and spacing lasts, the work Beal has put in could lead to a leap to all-star status for the other half of the House of Guards.

You also can’t mention growth and leave out Randy Wittman.

Wittman’s 80’s/90’s brand of mid-range, big man oriented basketball has drawn the ire of many. Wittman has one of the fastest point guards in the game; a proven distributor and bottled him up in a half-court oriented offense.

There was no excuse for the Washington Wizards to be 16th in the NBA in pace with the athleticism and skill they have in their backcourt. Then Playoff Randy showed up and things began to change.

Pierce moved out the the stretch four role and the Wizards went on to sweep the Toronto Raptors, a team who had their number the prior two seasons. It seems that Wittman got a taste of blood, and he wants more.

Randy Wittman has been a coach for nearly 25 years now, and for a coach with that much tenure, coming off two relatively successful seasons to make such a drastic change in approach is commendable.

Roster Tweaks

The Washington Wizards rolled out their new offense without the services of Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, and the aforementioned Kelly Oubre Jr.

Of the three, Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson look to have an immediate impact with Dudley manning the stretch-4 position and Anderson splitting wing duties with Otto Porter. Kelly Oubre Jr., while the least likely to contribute provides the most upside.

What do all three bring to the table?  Position versatility, shooting, and athleticism. This roster is better constructed to handle the rigors of an 82 game regular season. A short term injury to a starter won’t derail the roster or change their style of play; this team is equipped to embrace this new identity with interchangeable players.

Add it all together and these variables still aren’t likely to get much notice on the national stage, but the Washington Wizards seem to be betting that although not attention grabbing, these adjustments will have an attention grabbing impact in the win column when it’s all said and done.

Next: Wizards' New Offense Sparks Optimism In Fans

More from Wiz of Awes