WASHINGTON, October 18, 2013 – It is October and with hockey and football in full swing, and the first round of baseball playoffs providing plenty of excitement, it is time for hardcore NBA fans to get excited as well because the basketball season kicks off in two weeks. Last year’s playoffs, which were capped off with an amazing seven game championship series between the Spurs and the Heat, provide a tough act to follow.
For Wizards fans, this is a make or break year with regards to the future of the franchise. If Washington can build on their promising finish to last year’s otherwise disappointing season (29-53), it could help revive a fan base which has seen its fair share of disappointment.
When talking about the Wizards, one must begin with John Wall. Wall has shown glimpses of brilliance in his first three years with Washington, averaging 16.9 points along with eight assists, but will now be under the pressure of living up to his new max contract of $80 million over five years. There are definitely areas in which Wall could and should improve, but his biggest obstacle will be to remain healthy for a full season, something he has yet to do in his first three years in the NBA having never played 70 games a season.
When Wall was actually playing last year the Wizards were a .500 ball club. Without him, they went 5-28. Washington’s point guard has shown that he can help the Wizards win. Now he needs to show them that he can play a full season.
Bradley Beal will be another essential factor in Washington’s success. Beal had a solid season last year, averaging almost 14 points and placing third in the Rookie of the Year vote. Like Wall, he will also be trying to stay healthy having only played 56 games last year before succumbing to a leg injury. The biggest area of Beal’s game that will need improvement is getting into the paint. Last year, Beal went 89-178 in the lane, good for 50%, but took almost three times as many outside shots in which he went 190-506 good for less than 38%.
These numbers will have to change if Beal wishes to improve upon his rookie season. It will also be interesting to see if Beal can evolve into a more multidimensional player by bringing up his rebound and assist numbers averaging 3.8 and 2.4 respectively.
Yet another player who will need to be more durable throughout the 82 game season is Nene. Injuries are nothing new to the 6‘11” center who has only played 70 or more games in a season four times in his 11-year career. The Wizards knew this when trading for Nene, but regardless, it would be nice for Washington to have a center who is actually healthy all season. While Nene may be on the wrong side of 30, he posted his best free throw percentage and best assist numbers last year in his first full year with the Wizards. This is all the more reason for Nene to stay healthy for it looks as though he may be developing skills which will make him a more rounded player for the second half of his career.
At small forward, there still seems to be a question of who will start. Trevor Ariza lost his starting position last year to Martell Webster and never got it back due to the strong play of Webster. Ariza, however, started in the preseason against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday which only leads to more speculation over the starting position. While Ariza is a better defender, Webster was a huge asset on the outside, shooting threes at a 43.4% clip.
Speaking of small forwards, Washington’s first round draft pick, Otto Porter Jr., might be one of the most fascinating stories for the Wizards this season. Hailing from Georgetown, the third overall pick had a tremendous sophomore season, averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, and being named Big East Player of the Year. Porter had a forgettable Summer League performance due to an injured hip flexor, and has yet to show the Wizards what they know he is capable of doing. Porter will most likely start the season coming off the bench, but figures to be the future starting small forward for the Wizards.
Due to the questionable durability still surrounding John Wall, one player to watch will be his newly acquired backup, Eric Maynor. In his first few years in the NBA, Maynor has had the unfortunate luck of backing up elite point guards such as Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook. He has yet to show what he can really do when playing some real minutes despite a wonderful college career in which he twice won CAA Player of the year while playing for Virginia Commonwealth University. If Wall still has trouble staying healthy, look for Maynor to show everyone why he was the first VCU player to be drafted in the first round.
In recent years, it has not been easy for D.C. fans to get excited about the return of basketball. Already the number four sport in Washington, behind football, baseball and hockey, D.C.’s basketball team has done itself no favors by becoming one of the worst teams in the NBA. This is a golden opportunity for the Wizards to gain relevancy. The Nationals just ended a disappointing season while the Redskins and Capitals have stumbled out of the gate. Washington fans are falling back to earth and remembering what it means to be a D.C. sports fan. If the Wizards can stay healthy and play up to their level of talent, they just might forget again. The Wizards have a chance to dig themselves out of the proverbial cellar and earn a winning season for the first time since 2007-08. That is something for fans to get excited about.
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