By SEAN KINSLOW
The Washington Wizards have high hopes this year heading into the basketball season, and D.C. fans will be excited to watch one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference compete once again. The Wizards had a breakout year last season, posting a 44-38 record and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, the team’s best performance since the 2004-2005 season.
The young and talented backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradly Beal were very impressive last season, with the potential to be even better for the Wizards this year. Wall has developed into one of the best point guards in the game, and Beal had a breakout season, proving he is seen as one of the best shooting guards in the league.
The front-court will also return two veteran starters from last year, two old-school big men in Marcin Gortat and Nenê. Gortat is quick for a big-man and is excellent offensively around the rim. This will be his second season with the Wizards and a full year under this system will benefit him and his teammates tremendously. Nenê is one of the strongest players in the NBA and is a solid power forward who passes, plays sound defense and has a high basketball IQ. However, he is injury prone and has not played an injury-free season since the 2010-2011 season.
The Wizards will return four out of the teams five starters from last year. The one exception will come at the small forward position. Trevor Ariza, the team’s best defender and three-point shooter from last year, left in free agency to go the Houston Rockets. To replace Ariza, the Wizards signed 37-year-old and future hall of famer Paul Pierce. Pierce can still create his own shot and play well defensively despite his age. Most importantly, he will bring championship experience to the team. Pierce is the only member of the Wizards to win an NBA championship, and that experience will prove to be crucial in the playoffs.
The Wizards bench will include Otto Porter Jr., a second-year small forward out of Georgetown University, and Glen Rice Jr., a second year guard out of Georgia Tech, both of which had strong summer league seasons. The Wizards also signed back up big men DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries and Rasual Butler in hopes to build some depth. Back-up guard Martell Webster is also returning to the team this year but will be sidelined until December while recovering from back surgery in June.
If Wall and Beal can continue to develop into an elite back-court and the front-court duo of Gortat and Nenê can stay healthy and productive, the Wizards will certainly be one of the most exciting teams in the NBA this season. Other keys to the Wizards’ success will be the growth of Porter and Rice into productive players off the bench and if age has caught up to veterans Nenê, Pierce and Miller. Will the high expectations for this Wizards team be too much to handle? Only time will tell.
The Wizards have a realistic shot at finishing the season as the third or fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls will likely finish ahead of the Wizards. The main competition for the third seed will come from the Toronto Raptors.
University of Mary Washington sophomore English major Will Atkinson commented on the Wizards’ upcoming season.
“It will be interesting to watch Wall and Beal continue to develop this year, and I think the addition of Paul Pierce will make for an exciting season,” Atkinson said.
The Wizards will be a fun team to watch this year. Comcast Sportsnet-Washington will carry all the action this season. Tune in on UMW Channel 59.
Sean’s Prediction: 48-34, 4th in the Eastern Conference