The Washington Wizards coaching staff and players boasted about how much better the team would be this season because of how much deeper they became in free agency.
They were right to do so. The additions of two big men in Kris Humphries and Dejaun Blair strengthened the backcourt. Both are upgrades from Kevin Seraphin, who played big minutes early last season as the team’s third big. Trevor Booker caught on to the team’s rotation late in the season and, soon after, Randy Wittman buried Seraphin in his dog house.
Only time will tell whether Paul Pierce is an upgrade from Trevor Ariza. Ariza is one of the better defenders in the league and one of the best at denying players of the ball. . Pierce brings more of a scoring touch to the team than Ariza did and could still prove to be an upgrade with just a tiny bit of effort on the defensive end. Pierce has been a willing defender in the past, but at 37 years old the effort could take a hit.
Pierce’s addition looks especially good now with Bradley Beal out for six to eight weeks with a fracture in his wrist. The Wizards will need shooting and scoring from the wing to start the season.
Beal’s injury could prove to be problematic, still. The Wizards lose a secondary ball handler in Beal and a player who can double his role on the ball and play off of the ball using screens and coming off of curls.
The Wizards will be losing a player who shot 40% from deep last year, 38% from the corner three spot and 41% from above the break. Beal brought spacing and slashing to the floor–a rare combination found in very few players at his position.
Martell Webster is still out with an injured back. Injuries of that nature are very hard to gauge. There is really no telling when Webster will be able to return to the floor and even when he does, he’ll have to get back into game shape and get up to speed with his new teammates. Though he has been a mainstay on the roster over the last two seasons, he’ll have to get used to playing with a guy like Pierce and get used to the spots Blair and Humphries–when he returns from injury–prefer to be in.
Make no mistake–the Wizards will miss his presence. The team won’t be able to fill the hole Beal’s absence will leave, but they do have players who they can plug into it and provide a stop gap.
The first option to look to is already in the starting lineup. Paul Pierce will have to bite off a bit more than he actually bargained for in free agency. Pierce is in Washington to play a role and be a culture changing tough guy. The Wizards are not asking him to be the All-World player like his previous years in Boston, but with Beal out he may have to increase his scoring load a bit more than previously anticipated.
Pierce is a capable ball handler who traditionally works very well from the elbows, eye and mid-block with a short floor to work with. Pierce shot well from these areas last season.
But Pierce did this in a different role than he ever played in Boston. Firstly, Pierce’s usage took a huge hit and he finished last season with a mark of 22.4%. That’s 5.1% down from Pierce’s career mark of 27.5%.
He produced well in a smaller role, but he also played a majority of his minutes at power forward on an unorthodox Brooklyn Nets team. With the Wizards, Pierce will likely see a majority of his time at the small forward position where he had a PER of 14.4 according to 82games.com’s stats tool.
With that being said, Pierce played on a team lacking depth and scoring in the front court once Brook Lopez went down because of injury. Pierce will be playing with two big men in Nene and Marcin Gortat who will be able to free him up offensively on the wing as he slashes and cuts through the lane. They are both huge upgrades for Pierce as far as screening goes, and that can take him a long way when it comes to his offensive production.
Pierce may not be able to produce in the same exact way Beal produces early on, but he’ll find his own niche on the team and try to fill the hole the best way he can.
The Wizards also have two wing players who looked great in the Summer League in Otto Porter and, most notably, Glen Rice, Jr. Rice earned himself the Summer League MVP award and proved to be capable of getting to the rim at will against lesser competition. He won’t be able to do the same things against NBA competition, but his craftiness will come in handy for the Wizards as they try to replace Beal’s production.
Rice is nowhere near as good of a shooter as Beal is. He shot 36% from three in the summer and did not have much luck in spotty minutes during the regular season last year. Beal is an elite shooter, so it should not be expected for anyone to come in and fill the role as well as he does. Has Rice improved his stroke? If Vegas can serve as any indication, it would be yes. But we should probably count on him more as a slasher rather than a shooter.
Porter’s stroke is improved, but there is still a lot left to be desired. He still serves best as a slasher and a dribble hand-off guy rather than anything else. His work will probably come more from the defensive end as an effort guy and a guy who will take specific assignments. Porter shot well from deep in the summer league, but he’ll have to prove he can do it against NBA competition just like Rice will.
This also means the Wizards will undoubtedly keep their sights on Ray Allen and strengthen their pursuit of his services. Having Allen on the team would bring an elite shooting presence to replace Beal’s production from the outside with for the time being. But reports still tie Allen with the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. It doesn’t appear Allen would be willing to take a chance by signing with the Wizards at this point.
It doesn’t look like Allen will be making a decision anytime soon, but only time will tell. The Wizards would be irresponsible to stop testing the waters on a shooter such as Allen at this point–at least until the beginning of the season.
The Wizards have a lot of work to do to replace Beal’s production until he can get back and catch up to speed, but there are ways to do it. The roster’s depth will be tested early, but all indications from the Wizards’ camp say they’ll be fine. We will see how ready this team is for the spotlight soon enough.