(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
The Washington Wizards’ rebuild is now into year three as the plan remains to grow with a young roster. But the team sprinkled in veterans this summer, adding big man Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said he was tired of being a lottery team and now is the time to make a playoff push. With center Nene already in the fold as a trade-deadline addition last season, the rebuild has taken on a new look.
Here are some reasons to feel positive about the Wizards this season.
1. John Wall’s ceiling
The biggest question for the Wizards heading into the upcoming season clearly is whether John Wall can take that next step and become a star? The former top overall pick really doesn’t have a choice if the Wizards wants to turn around a squad that went 20-46 last season. Wall has to take his game and his team to another level this season, which will be hard to do while he is sidelined for the first month of the season with a sore knee.
Two years ago, Wall had a solid rookie season, averaging 16 points and eight assists. But he averaged nearly identical stats in his second season when many expected him to take a bigger leap. Wall shows flashes of
brilliance with his dazzling speed and high-level ability to finish around the rim but he has yet to find consistency in his jump shot, which has been his Achilles heel so far.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman has been with the team since it drafted Wall in 2010 – then as an assistant and now as head coach – and he knows this is a huge season for the point guard.
“This is a big year for him and it’s time to take the next step,” Wittman said. “It’s his third year and he knows the ins and outs of what to expect.”
In the offseason, Wall worked on his jump shot and built strength. But he also has to become the go-to player offensively and must be more of a vocal leader for this rebuilding team to become a factor in the Eastern Conference this season.
2. Nene’s impact on and off the court
Even though it was a small-sized sample, in the short time Nene was on the court for the Wizards last season, his impact was felt and certainly creates optimism.
When healthy, Nene provided a steady low-post presence, something the Wizards have lacked for years. Defenses had to focus on Nene, giving teammates like Wall less of an “I got to do it all on my own” mentality on offense.
Simply, Nene gave the Wizards a better chance to win when he was on the floor. When he played, he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds and Washington was 7-4. When he didn’t play due to plantar fasciaitis – which has him questionable for the start of this season – Washington was 4-7.
Nene and Wall had some nice flashes in the two-man game, and Wall credited the success of himself and the team to the arrival of Nene, pointing to his locker-room presence and leadership. If Nene can stay healthy – a big if – then the future is bright in the middle for the Wizards.