There are two ways you could view the season for the Washington Wizards. On one hand, Washington finished the regular season with 49 wins, most since the 1978-70 season. After struggling in the beginning of the season, they were able to turn it around and climb to fourth place in the conference. John Wall and Bradley Beal both had career years and Washington made it all they way to the second round of the playoffs.
Washington had one of the top five starting units in the NBA. Behind their dynamic back court, Washington had the third ranked scoring starting unit, behind Golden State and Cleveland. The team finished in the top ten in both Defensive and Offensive Efficiency and Wall was in the MVP discussion for the majority of the year behind his All-Star level play.
After Beal was given “max dollars” in the offseason, many wondered if he not only deserved the money, but also if he could stay healthy long enough to make a huge impact for the Wizards. Beal finished the season averaging 24.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a game. Along with his much needed offense, Beal was a force on the defensive side of the ball. With his long frame and sweet shot, he propelled himself into the top five conversation at his position group. While Beal did not have the strongest playoffs, he came up big in moments where Washington needed him the most, tying a franchise record 39 points in a playoff game. When he is healthy, Beal is a top tier guard in the NBA and a major positive for the franchise moving forward.
Markieff Morris emerged as a key piece moving forward for Washington. Morris is the poster child for “quiet toughness” in the way he carries himself. He backs down from no one and comes up big when his number is called. Morris takes a lot of pressure off of Washington’s backcourt with his ability to hit the outside shot along with use his craftiness in the paint. With players like Paul Millsap and Draymond Green changing the way we look at “bigmen” in the league, Morris is just the man Washington needs to combat other teams smaller line ups.
Quick quiz, who finished the season with the fourth highest three point percentage in the league. Stephen Curry? No. Klay Thompson? No. Kevin Durant, JJ Redick, or CJ McCollum? No, No, and NO! So who was it you ask? Washington’s Otto Porter Jr.
While it was clear that Washington expected Porter to improve from last season, but nobody saw the leap he made. Porter went from one of the worst three point shooters in all of basketball to one of the deadliest. Along with his shooting prowess, Porter improved his defense to “top 10” levels. Porter turned himself into a solid two-way player and with his free agency coming up this offseason, Washington will need to make a decision if they want (or need) to play him the money he will command in the market.
Like it was stated before, there are two ways this season could be viewed. While Washington had the third ranked starting five in the NBA, their bench was second to last in both scoring and 23 in Net rating. Whenever a starter would go to the bench, the teams production plummeted. Yes, adding players like Bojan Bogdanovic helped a little with bench scoring (key word being “a little), but it wasn’t nearly enough to increase faith in going to the bench when the starters needed a rest.
Brandon Jennings inconsistency was clear since day one in in a Wizards uniform. One game he will be great, maintaining a lead and finding open teammates with flashy passes. He could go off for 10 to 12 points in a five minute span and carry the second unit. Then he could have games were he looked awful. Missing wide open shots (or not even looking to shoot) and turning the ball over at a high rate (a stat that Washington’s bench ranks in the top five.) Washington will need to figure out if Jennings can be a solid enough piece moving forward to carry the bench, seeing his name will be another hitting the free agency market.
Lets talk about Washington’s center position. Marcin Gortat has been a great player for the Wizards. His ability to set solid screens to free the guards or his mobility to roll to the rim for a nice finish has been a staple for the team since he arrived in Washington. All this changed this season however, especially in the playoffs. Poor defensive rotations, lack of a jumper, and his high turnover rate did not bold well for the Wizards. And behind him, Ian Mahimi was not much better. Mahimi struggled with staying on the floor all season due to injuries, missing nearly the entire season and the first round of the playoffs . He was seen as Washington’s “big catch” in the offseason and has not lived up to the title just yet. Gortat has already stated he is ” not sure if he will be returning to the team next year,” and that means Washington will need to do everything it their power to get Mahimi back to the level he was when playing for Indiana.
And lastly, remember this:
Washington is in desperate need of a scoring veteran that can take the load off of Wall and Beal. It was clear in the playoffs that outside off the two guards, Washington had no other constant they could turn too. Porter struggled with his shot and Morris was on and off the entire playoffs. If Washington could land a solid vet in the free agent market, that might be that “one piece” Washington needs to get over the hump.
After losing to Boston in the second round of the playoffs (a team that they could and should have beaten) in seven games, Wall has come out in saying he “does not look at this season as a success.” Going into the playoffs, Washington was seeing as one of the only teams that could really test Cleveland in the conference finals. Not only that, Washington as a franchise has not made it to the conference finals in 38 seasons (second longest drought in NBA history.) With players hitting free agency and a long offseason to improve, Washington has a bright future moving forward behind Wall and Beal. And if they add and retain key players, do not be surprised if that conference finals drought ends sooner than later.