Training Camp wrapped up over the weekend for the Washington Wizards, preseason starts today and the curtains go up on the regular season on October 18th. The 2017-2018 Wizards don’t appear to have made any big changes to their roster, but they are definitely different from the group that fell to Boston in the postseason last year. Let’s take a look at the upcoming season and how Washington may be better equipped to build upon last season’s result.
The month of October presents Washington with a chance to start the season off strong, of their six games, only one is against a team that won 55 plus games. In that six game span, they’ll play the teams with the first and second overall selections in this year’s NBA Draft. November presents more of a challenge with two back-to-backs and 16 total games in the month. Of those 16, nine of those are against Eastern Conference teams and eight of the games are at home. They’ll play Miami and Toronto twice in that span and face Cleveland for the first time in the regular season. December brings three back-to-backs and a matchup of backcourts as they host Houston on the 29th. Washington also hosts Cleveland for the second time on the year as well. January kicks off with the new look Knicks coming to town and ends with the reigning MVP making his rounds to D.C. February and March could be months Washington creates or secures playoff seeding with 20 of the 26 games being against Eastern Conference foes. April has the team spending four of their six games on the road, including their final game against the Cavaliers.
The schedule ties right into the next point in this preview, depth. Health is key for every team in the league, fans here in Washington know better than anyone how a key injury can derail a season. This year they’ll be starting the season without Markieff Morris, but they should have the pieces in place to get things done in his absence. Health aside, the Wizards depth will dictate just how far this team goes this season. If they are solid, it makes Washington a significantly better team as it allows their starters to get adequate rest. The Wizards had one of the better starting units in the association last year. This year’s second unit may have the ability to be a weapon. The best teams in this league get consistent contributions from their bench, there is little to no drop off of the level of play when they enter the game. Those teams are afforded the luxury of having their second units come into games and sometimes turn it into their favor, Washington has the pieces to have one of those types of units. It’s all about going out and making that be the case.
The Wizards have added athletic players to their front court, Mike Scott and Chris McCullough give Washington different type bodies that can run the floor and help space it. Their athleticism will help shore up some of the defensive issues the second unit had last season as well. Jason Smith is another player that can be used in that way as well. Another factor for that second group will simply be the luxury of having Ian Mahinmi healthy and available. He’s put in the work physically this offseason and looks much lighter and seems to have gotten some explosion back. Jodie Meeks is someone teams can’t leave because of his shooting prowess, Kelly Oubre is continuing to develop offensively and he could possibly make bigger contributions this season. Tomas Satoransky is coming off a good camp and good summer, his versatility gives Washington an additional playmaker that doesn’t have to play point guard. Sheldon Mac is another player that has the ability to contribute off the bench as well. They key to all of this will be Tim Frazier, that backup point guard spot has been shaky for the past couple of seasons here in D.C. Washington doesn’t need him to score 13 a game, but they need him to captain that second unit and have them be aggressors. His mentality is infectious and it’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes for that second unit to become a key part of Washington’s success.
Lastly, Washington’s success will have a lot to do with the continued growth of their core pieces. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter have to take the next step. They still have room to grow individually in respect to their games and collectively. That being said, in the small sample size we got to see in Training Camp, they’ve added some things to their games. Obviously we’ll see how it plays out over the course of the season, but Beal should be able to do more as a primary ball handler which should only open things up for Wall and others. John’s ability to knock down the long ball can really put stress on a defense, an assertive Porter with the ability to beat defenders off the dribble could be a game changer for the star studded backcourt. Porter did well last season knocking down corner triples and moving without the ball, but he already seems more confident in hunting for his shot. An aggressive Otto may have made a big difference in the Boston series last year, but it’s about this season for him and the team. The three also have to improve defensively if they want to reach their team goals this season, Wall’s capable of being one of the best defensive guards in the league. It’s about accepting the challenge night after night, Porter has the tools to be a game wrecker defensively as well. Brad is quick enough and built well enough to defend both wing spots, if the trio can match what they do offensively on the defensive end, Washington can definitely have a say in how the Eastern Conference is won.
The time for talking and speculating is nearly over, the season starts in 16 days.