By Cardell Dudley
During last years training camp, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team. Scott Brooks was in his first season with the team, John Wall returned to the court for the first time since the end of the 15-16 season due to offseason knee surgery on BOTH knees. Whispers regarding if Brad Beal was worth the big contract he received due to numerous injuries in previous years. Otto Porter was written off as a potential bust and there were doubts concerning Kelly Oubre. Of course, let’s not forget the “supposed” drama between Wall and Beal. The season could’ve been over before the Wizards played a game, however, they rose above the noise for arguably the franchise best season since the championship contending years in the late 70’s. This training camp, things are completely different. The vibe is all business. Guys are healthy, motivated and much improved. You can see the game seven loss to Boston stings, and the team is quietly on a mission to redeem themselves. With that being said, we got an early look at the Wizards in action during their annual open practice and here are some things to pay close attention to moving forward.
Walls attention to detail defensively
Every one saw the challenge issued to Wall by the mamba, Kobe Bryant during the off season, and it was simple, earn All NBA Defensive FIRST Team honors. What a lot of folks don’t know is that behind the scenes, that’s the challenge head coach Scott Brooks has given Wall since the end of last season. Let me say this, if training camp is a preview, not only is the All NBA Defensive First Team within reach, so is defensive player of the year. Wall is in tip top shape after agrueling off-season regimen that has him at his usual 210 pounds instead of his self admitted 230 pounds last season, the result of off season knee surgery that took away his entire 2016 summer. Being at peak physical conditioning will allow Wall to sustain consistent defense throughout the game, add in him staying fundamentally sound instead of gambling and he should be a terror for the opposition this season. If Wall brings it together on both ends, he will be in the MVP conversation.
John Wall and Brad Beal went at it on both ends during the open scrimmage
Beal’s growth as a leader
After Beal signed his extension last summer, a lot of questions remained regarding if he was worthy of that extension. Beal responded to the critics with his best season to date. Beal played 77 games and averaged a career high 23.1 points, 3.5 assist and 3.1 rebounds a game on an also career high 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three point territory. In the playoffs he improved his scoring average to 24.8 a game, solidifying Beal as one of the best shooting guards in the league. With Beal’s standout season, he also evolved into another leader for the Wizards. Instead of Wall voice, you now will see that there are two voices that commands excellence every time the team steps on the court which is right on time if Washington has any aspirations of coming out of the east, the back court will be leading the charge. An all star nod should be in the cards for Beal this season as well as another deep run for the Wizards.
Oubre improvement into a playmaker
Last season, Oubre showed flashes of his immense potential, emerging as the teams best defender and a dangerous slasher. That was last season, what Oubre displayed during camp was a complete game that will give Washington another play-maker. Oubre improved his ball handling and knocked down three pointers with regularity. Oubre also put on 15-20 pounds in the off-season, which will aid him when he guards bigger forwards around the league like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few. Only question for Oubre is can he be consistent with his improved game all season, if he is, the Wizards will be a hell to deal with.
Athleticism and depth up front
Washington was exposed a lot last season in the pick an roll, and it was extremely clear during the seven game series loss to the Celtics. Boston took advantage of the limited athleticism up front and the Celtics bigs, particularly Horford and Olynyk made the Wizards pay with jumpers from all over the floor. That won’t be an issue this season. The additions of veteran forward Mike Scott and an improved Chris McCullough Scott an underrated addition, is a versatile power forward who can stretch the floor and defend all positions on the floor well. Washington fans should recall the great series he had against the Wizards during the 2015 playoffs. He will have an impact immediately, especially, with Morris being out during preseason. McCullough is an long, athletic forward who can guard the one to the four, as well as knock down the mid range jumper. A 2017 NBA G League All Star after averaging 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for the Long Island Nets, McCullough has the talent to help improve Washington’s bench.
Sheldon Mac and Satoransky as x-factors
It’s no secret that the Achilles heel for the Wizards was inconsistent play from the bench. If the starters didn’t play well, it meant a loss for the Wizards. More experienced and confident Sheldon Mac and Tomas Satoransky should help make the bench more reliable. Mac is a talented offensive weapon who spent the off-season training with John Wall to improve his game and ultimately help make an impact for Washington. His regimen with Wall showed all training camp with his range extending well beyond the three point line, his explosion off the bounce and on defense, as well as his strength finishing inside. Never one lacking confidence, once the experience catches up, Mac will prove to be a vital piece as the season progresses if Washington is to make a run. Another young guard to keep an eye on is Tomas Satoransky. Satoransky spent the summer playing for the Czech Republic in Euro Basket 2017 where he averaged 12.2 points, 6.6 assist and 5.6 rebounds while opening eyes with his aggressive style. The thing that jumped out with Satoransky during training camp was comfort. A year experience being with the Wizards organization and in America for that matter has him looking more sure of himself when he’s on the floor. A versatile guard that can literally play point, shooting guard and small forward at 6’7, a consistent impact is expected this season as Scott Brooks made a point of saying ” there are minutes for Tomas.” Look for Mac and Sato as the the team calls him, to be x-factors for Washington.
Porters impact all around
Mr Otto Porter Jr emerged as one of the leagues best three point shooters with career highs in points (13.4), field goal percentage (.516), three point percentage (.434), rebounds (6.4) and steals (1.5). With his career year followed a nice contract extension to keep the Wizards core intact. Now more is expected of Otto, specifically defensively. While he proved to be solid against wings his size or smaller, bigger forwards often took him to the post and went to work. Porter Jr said he focused on ” getting his core stronger and becoming more agile,” to be able to defend strong and shifty forwards. If Porter Jr can bring it all together, he could emerge as one of the top two way forwards in league, certainly the east.
Different spotlight this season as Washington is expected to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They were one game from the east finals last season, with a limited bench. If the bench is able to provide some depth for the Wizards, things could very interesting at the top of the east. We shall see in due time how things will unfold, however, if training camp is a preview of whats to come, Washington will be eyeing a more than a Eastern Conference finals series. take a look at the open scrimmage below.