What a horrible week for the Utah Jazz. They lost their first three road games by a total of five points before throwing in the towel last night and the Lakers have caught them for the final playoff spot.
(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.
This was definitely not the start to the season the Washington Wizards were looking for.
The Wizards were counting on growth and maturation from John Wall, their blindingly quick point guard whom they believe is destined for NBA stardom. But the team announced Friday that Wall has a stress injury in his left knee and will be out eight weeks.
Wall felt pain in the knee and had an MRI on Thursday in New York that revealed the early stages of a non-traumatic stress injury. He does not need surgery and will begin rehabilitation immediately, the team said.
“We’re all disappointed for John after how hard he worked this summer and how excited he was to begin training camp, but we feel fortunate that we caught the injury early and that he will be able to return with the vast majority of the season still in front of us,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. ”In the meantime, we’re confident that the versatility and depth of our team will help us move forward and continue the positive momentum that we’ve seen over the past several months.”
At last season’s trading deadline, the Wizards acquired Nene from Denver and went 7-4 with him in the lineup. They traded the cumbersome contract of Rashard Lewis to New Orleans for veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and drafted shooting guard Bradley Beal from Florida.
The Wizards are counting on Wall – a tremendous talent who often plays out of control – to direct what should be an improved offense. The top overall pick in the 2010 draft has averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 assists in his first two seasons. But he also has committed 516 turnovers, a total surpassed only by Russell Westbrook.
“My teammates and I are all excited to build on the improvement we made at the end of last season, and I know they will continue to make great progress while I get through this setback,” Wall said in a statement. “I will work extremely hard to make sure I get back as soon as possible so I can rejoin them and help our team continue to improve.”
Training camp starts Tuesday for the Wizards, who open the regular season Oct. 30 at Cleveland. Under the timetable given by the team, Wall should return by late November, missing about a month of the season.
With Wall sidelined, point guard moves from an exclamation point to a question mark for the Wizards. The other point guards on the roster are career backup A.J. Price, who played behind George Hill and Darren Collison in Indiana last season, and Shelvin Mack, who showed very little as a rookie last season.
It’s Labor Day weekend, and that means that NBA training camps are just a few short weeks away. While you wait for them to kick off, we’ve still got you covered with all the latest news from the basketball world. Check out Sunday’s Tweet of the Day from Mike Fratello, which deals with actual basketball being played in remote outposts, and definitely give a look to A.J. Mitnick’s extensive update on the qualifying for Eurobasket ’13.
If you haven’t already, you should also check out Chris Bernucca’s previews of the playoff pictures in the Western and Eastern Conferences, and Moke Hamilton’s column on which NBA teams still have exception money to work with.
Here’s the latest news from the NBA:
- Dwight Howard may be gone from Orlando, but contrary to what you might have thought from his months-long trade demands, he still loves the city –or so he says. Howard took out a full-page ad in today’s Sentinel to profess his love for Orlando. The text of the ad is as follows (click through above to see it as it appeared in the newspaper): “To play the game of basketball in the NBA is a blessing and to have had the opportunity to play before the Orlando fans for eight years was truly a privilege and an honor. Words cannot express the love that I have for Orlando. With your support we have done great things in this city from hanging banners to impacting our youth. Although my career with the Magic has come to a close, my love for the city and the people that make it beautiful will never end.”
- Included at the bottom of this Gary Washburn piece for the Boston Globe is a note on Mickael Pietrus: “Among the free agents remaining on the market is former Celtic Mickael Pietrus, who does not want to play for the league minimum. The Bucks had expressed interest in Pietrus but he remains without a team. The Celtics still have their $1.95 million biannual exception remaining but are expected to wait until close to the regular season to use that, perhaps on a player waived by another team.”
- One of the players who turned a lot of heads at the Olympics was Russia’s Alexey Shved, who is also set to make the jump to the NBA with the Timberwolves. RIA Novosti talked to his former coach with CSKA Moscow, who gave some insight into what American fans can expect from Shved this year and in the future: “New Minnesota Timberwolves signing Alexey Shved has the skills to succeed as an NBA guard but needs to bulk up to cope with the league’s physical demands, his former CSKA Moscow coach Ettore Messina has told R-Sport in an interview. Messina, who spent last season on Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown’s staff, coached Shved when he first broke into the CSKA team, and has now returned to the 19-time Russian champion team. ‘Alexey has for sure the talent to play there. He’s probably at a good age to go there,” Messina said. ‘I think they will ask him to use his creativity on the floor. At the same time, I think they will ask him to become stronger physically because contact is a very big factor in the NBA. If he manages to, let’s say, play through the high level of contact that there is in the NBA, for sure he has the talent to be a very, very interesting player at that level.’ ”
- IAmAGM.com reports that there is a rap album in the works that will feature several well-known rappers collaborating with NBA players: “The rap album is titled, “Full Court Press Vol. 1.” NBA players that will be featured include Juwan Howard, Baron Davis, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Carlos Boozer, Glen Davis, Shawn Marion, Josh Smith and others. Rappers expected to be on tracks include Rick Ross, Trina, Snoop Dogg, Birdman, The Game, T-Pain, Bun B, Twista and Soulja Boy.”
- On a similar topic, rapper Lil B released a music video for his song “Warm Ups” off his new mixtape, Based Jam. At the end of the video, Lil B calls out Kevin Durant, saying he’s “ready for their game”. Durant responded by saying Lil B would have to come to Oklahoma City to play against him, and, hilariously, Lil B appears to be taking him up on the offer:
Pierce Watson of VladTVhas an excellent recap of this bizarre situation: “Lil B has been trying to play Kevin Durant one-on-one ever since Durant called him a wack rapper on Twitter back in May. Following the release of Lil B’s “Warm Ups” video, which calls out Durant, the Thunder star decided to respond. Durant got on Twitter and basically asked Lil B to leave him alone. One tweet simply read, “@LILBTHEBASEDGOD Yo shut up”. His next tweet read, “Yo leave me alone lol, if you wanna play me you gotta come to OKC I’m not coming to Oakland.” Hilariously, Lil B tweeted back at Durant about 20 minutes later and had no intentions of backing down saying, “So book a ticket to OKC for this Monday? @KDTrey5 I WILL BE THERE FLIGHT IN THE MORNING, AND PREP.” If this one-on-one game actually happens, it will certainly be David vs. Goliath. Kevin Durant is 6′ 9”. Lil B is 5′ 6”.”