During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we will take a look at the Washington Wizards.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Washington Wizards Season
Following a season in which the Wizards badly under-performed relative to expectations, the front office decided to “run it back” – for the most part. In come Ian Mahinmi, Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, and head coach Scott Brooks. Out go Jared Dudley, Nene Hilario, Ramon Sessions, and now-former head coach Randy Wittman. After the disappointing season for Washington, we will see if the Wizards are able to rebound from that disappointment and jump back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
First Key: Bradley Beal Must Make the “Leap”
Player A: 79 games played, 18.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 44.4 FG%, 39.6 3FG%, 16.8 PER
Player B: 55 GP, 17.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 44.9 FG%, 38.7 3FG%, 15.5PER
If you had to guess, who would you think is the player who got a five-year, $172 million max extension this off-season, and who is the player who is slated to make $15 million this year? Player A is the perpetually-undervalued Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton and Player B is Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal.
Although those numbers don’t tell the whole story, if you asked the casual basketball fan who he thought was a better player, 70 to 80 percent of people would say Beal. That is because Beal’s upside has been talked about constantly since he entered the league in 2012. But Beal is now headed into his fifth season in the NBA, and it is put-up or shut-up time for the former Florida Gators star.
The first step in the process will be staying on the court. Beal has been hampered with lingering injuries that have forced him to miss 46 games over the last two seasons. It hasn’t just been one injury either, as the Washington Post cites: “[A stress injury to his right fibula] has limited Beal in each of his four seasons, as have other maladies such as a concussion, broken nose, and sprained right ankle.”
If Beal can stay off the injury report, the next step will be developing his game further. We all know how great of an outside shooter he is (hovering around 40 percent from deep in each of his four seasons), but now is the time to build off of that. His play-making ability needs to take the next step. Beal’s usage rate was 25 percent last season, even with a ball dominant guard in John Wall next to him, yet his assist rate was just 15 percent. If that number took a five percent leap, that could open things up for Washington’s offense even more.
The other improvement that needs to be made is on the defensive end of the floor. Having a guard like Wall next to him prevents plenty of mistakes, but if Beal could become an above average defender, that would help the whole Wizards system.
Second Key: Role Players Must Step Up
Outside of Wall and Marcin Gortat, this Wizards team doesn’t have too many reliable options. Beal is solid, but as mentioned before, he needs to be more than that. Other than those three, there is room for improvement across the roster.
Otto Porter’s Development
Coming into last season, Otto Porter had some big shoes to fill after a memorable Paul Pierce playoff run. Porter performed decently in every aspect of the game. But if the “Almost Bullets” want to renew their playoff hopes, Porter needs to be more productive. He scored 12 points per game; he needs to improve that to at least 15. Porter taking that next step defensively would also give Brooks more options as the new Wizards coach. Porter shot the three at 36.9 percent last season. If he adds another percentage point or two, it’d open up more lanes for Wall to slice his way inside. Porter was one of the more productive players on the team at +2.7 in terms of plus-minus per 100 possessions, so the team does benefit from his play, but they still need more from him.
The Addition of Mahinmi
After signing a four-year, $64 million deal this off-season, Ian Mahinmi enters the fold. He’s looking to follow up on his best NBA season, in which he was a member of the Indiana Pacers. In Indiana, he anchored the defense and ranked as the 14th most productive “roll man” per 100 possessions. He will bring that presence to the second unit, which needs a solid big man. However, the key for Mahinmi will be the ability to stay on the floor through foul trouble, as well as not getting intentionally fouled due to his free throw struggles.
Other potential difference makers include Andrew Nicholson, Trey Burke, and Tomas Satoransky. Nicholson, formerly a member of the Orlando Magic, is a long stretch four who will fit nicely next to Mahinmi. However, he needs to improve his decision-making on the offensive end. Burke, acquired in a trade this off-season, comes in as an experienced backup point guard. Unfortunately, he has struggled with his long-range jumper and must improve. Finally, Satoransky, a 2012 second-round pick, comes over from Spain and should excite Wizards fans. He is a 6’5″ point guard with a good three-point shot (he shot 39 percent one season ago). He’s also a solid play-maker (top ten in assists on six occasions overseas). Not to mention, he did this:
This is a team that could easily be contending for a top four seed in the East or battling for lottery position come March and April. It just comes down Beal, the other X-Factor players, and what Brooks is able to get out of his guys. At the very least, John Wall is back in our lives now that the 2016-17 season is here.