Last year and this offseason the Wizards became the butt of many jokes and poor opinions, and to be fair, they brought a lot of it on themselves. From their totally shameless and failed attempt to sign Kevin Durant, to signing Bradley Beal, a man who may actually be made of styrofoam, the stories of various players hating each other, firing Randy Wittman to hire Scott Brooks.
All of this combined with the fact that they had a down year last year and have been historically a poor team so people already have plenty of jokes ready (as a Detroit Lions fan, I feel this pain) it was a bad storm for the Wizards. But while the world laughs, the Wizards are ready to come storming back this year.
But the Wizards suck
No, they don't. The way some people have dismissed them shows how short a memory people can have when it comes to sports. Remember that the Wizards won 44 and 46 games the previous two years and won playoff series both years being led by a very young John Wall. And even last year, in a much improved Eastern Conference, an injury-riddled Wizards team still won 41 games, a number that, most years, would still result in a playoff spot. Obviously going .500 or better 3 years in the weaker conference is not a huge accomplishment, but the Wizards are not a trash team.
John Wall is alright I guess
John Wall is not just “alright” or even “really good”. John Wall is awesome if the top tier of point guards in the NBA are Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook. John Wall is at the top of the 2nd tier. Last year he put up 19.9 points per game (he cruelly still has not averaged 20 per game in his career lol), 10.2 assists (his 2nd straight year averaging 10), 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and .8 blocks per game. That is absurd, there is no other way to put it.
His turnovers are a bit high at 4.1 per game but that is still 2.5 assists per turnover, which is a fine ratio. His efficiency overall should see a tick up this year given that he will not have to carry quite as heavy a load on offense. Also seeing a tick upwards would be his defense, which although it went down a bit last year to go along with his absurd offensive burden, he is one of the very best in the business with his combination of length, athleticism, strength, and anticipation. He also gets a lot of awesome chase down blocks which is always super fun.
To put it quite simply, John Wall is an incredible player, and there is a good chance that he overtakes Paul George as the consensus 2nd best player in the East, and he probably deserves it too.
Ok, so John Wall is really good. They don't have much else, though.
Bradley Beal is on the team, and he is probably the main question mark as to whether or not the Wizards can return to some playoff success this year. If he is hurt most of the year again, they will be in trouble. Beal is an excellent player, though, even if perhaps not quite worth a max contract. But he forms a deadly pairing with Wall in the backcourt, Beal provides spacing and if teams help off of him he is a killer from deep and he is good enough with the ball in his hands that he can attack the hoop whether off of action created by someone else or by him running the offense to give Wall a breather. They also have a really nice yin and yang aspect to their games.
Wall is the raw power and energy who hunts passes to the corners for shooters, while Beal has a silky smooth game centered around a deadly jump shot. Beal also give the Wizards a really reliable end of shot clock/game scorer, which is the one real area that Wall can struggle with due to his inconsistent jumper.
Beyond those two, the Wizards actually have some amount of depth and other solid players. In the starting lineup Otto Porter mostly solidified himself as a solid 3 and D wing, even if he may not have made the improvements a lot of Wizards fans were hoping for, 36% from 3 and generally reliable defense is a nice role player, plus he is still 23 so he could still add some to his game.
Markieff Morris is also going to have the whole season with the Wizards this year, which should be a pretty major upgrade for them. His reputation of (somewhat deservedly) sullied by a bad end to his time in Pheonix, but remember that barely a year ago he was seen as an important part of the Sun's core. He can score in isolation and is a matchup problem who is too big for most wings and too quick/skilled for most bigs, he (and his brother Marcus) is a better passer than he gets credit for, and is a hard-nosed defensive player on the other end.
The big question with Morris is whether or not he can hit enough 3s to space the floor much given that he is a career 32% 3 point shooter. It would be foolish to expect him to become a really good shooter, but if someone is going to improve their 3 point percentage, playing alongside John Wall is a good way to do it. His two-way play will help the Wizards when he shares the floor with their star backcourt, and his shot creation will be very helpful when one or both of the starting backcourt is on the bench. Hopefully, Brooks has the smarts to split up their minutes a bit so they can have enough creation.
At center, the Polish hammer may be turning 33 this year, but he is still a stupendous 2 way center with some real skills. He is a smart and tough defensive player who is in constant communication with his teammates. He is big and strong enough to handle any opposing big in the post and has enough mobility to at least corral most ball handlers in the pick and roll, even if he isn't exactly going to lock them down. On offense, he is a skilled roll man in the pick and roll with great hands to catch and finish in traffic, and he has paired with Wall as one of the better combinations in the NBA. And while not exactly a shooter, he has enough touch that he can catch the ball away from the hoop and hit shorter jump shots if left open.
Together, a starting lineup of Wall/Beal/Porter/Morris/Gortat has a great mixture of defense, shooting, and shot creation and other than Morris they all have fairly extensive playing time together as well. As long as Brooks doesn't bog them down too much with a crappy offensive scheme, this should be one of the better and more polished starting 5s in the Eastern Conference.
The Bench though
Yeah about that, there are some questions on the bench, but there is a good chance that the Wizards bench will be solid as well. Trey Burke is getting a fresh start after being in a poor situation for him in Utah, and before his role was totally yanked from him he was putting up pretty decent numbers, and you don't have to squint too hard to see a solid scoring point guard there (we won't talk about his defense though) Kelly Oubre is young and didn't do a ton in his rookie year, but he is long and athletic with some skills. Most Wizards people seem to be pretty high on him and his potential with good reason.
Ian Mahinmi became a rock solid two-way center last year in Indiana (although he will miss the first month or so of the season) and Jason Smith will just continue to knock down mid-range jump shots. Andrew Nicholson can get tunnel vision, but he can score the ball pretty well for a guy of his size. Quite possibly most importantly, however, is the signing of our lord and savior Johnny O'Bryant (shouts to Bucks fans).
There are some questions, they will need at least one of Burke or Oubre to make improvements, but when you consider that (hopefully) one or two of Wall/Beal/Morris will be on the floor with the bench mob more often than not, there is some potential for their bench mob to be fine.
So how good will they actually be?
The Wizards could well be the 3rd best team in the Eastern Conference if some things work out their way. They have a top level player in John Wall, another excellent young player in Beal, and several other rock solid guys around them. They were supposed to make this step last year but injuries held them back. If they can avoid the injury bug getting them too badly, I have every reason to expect the Wizards to burst back onto the scene at the top end of the Eastern Conference.
That said, the East figures to be pretty close fought in the mid-rung (off the top of my head, the Celtics, Pistons, Hawks, Pacers, and Hornets all figure to be in the same range as the Wizards. I put the Raptors a rung above them by the way) so the could end up a lower seed, but they should absolutely be right in the mix with everyone else.