October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Washington Wizards
2011-12 Record: 20-46
A knee injury has grounded point guard John Wall for the start of the season. (Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

I don't think I've ever seen a more dysfunctional group of players than the Wizards last season. It's as if the Wizards were trying to put together the dysfunction knuckleheads. With draft picks like Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, they had to deal with issues of maturity, playing the game the right way and playing hard. But you have to give them credit for finally owning up to their mistakes. It bodes well that they basically cleaned house -- even if they still have an uphill climb with the current roster.

John Wall is such a key part of the their future that I think it would be a mistake to rush him back from his knee injury. Where that organization is, risking long-term injury to the face of the franchise would set it back a decade.

The expectations are high with Wall. He's a willing passer. He'll make mistakes sometimes, like penetrate and not get the ball to the right place at the right time, but he has a pretty good knack at finding guys. He also has the ability to break down a defense and get into the teeth of it. Wall can really put pressure on you in transition. He's always pushing the ball back at you; he loves to play up and down. But to become the player they'd like him to be, he has to get better with the jump shot. Otherwise, teams are going to sit back in the lane and dare him to shoot. He's so incredibly quick and athletic that he's hard to keep out of the paint off the dribble, but he's such a reluctant shooter and that has to change for him to reach his potential.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Wizards this season]

You have to give the Wizards credit for taking on Nene's big contract [which will pay the 30-year-old center $52 million over the next four years]. That deal was one of those that as soon as the ink was dry, you're kind of second-guessing it. Taking on that commitment was basically saying, We weren't going to give it to McGee [who was traded for Nene in March, a few months before becoming a restricted free agent] and we might as well get something in return.

Nene is still a good player. He is a huge body, but he moves well, he's nimble and he has great feet. He can step out and shoot from 17 feet, and at the same time, he's also a guy who can go down in the post and score with either hand. His versatility makes him a tough guard.

That they already had Nene made it very curious to trade for Emeka Okafor in the offseason. Okafor and Nene don't complement each other as well as they alternate with each other. Okafor gives you a physical presence on the defensive end, a guy who can rebound, block a shot, defend his position in the low post and most likely prevent a situation where you have to double-team the opposing team's bigs. Although he is not a big scorer, he can maneuver around the basket and score enough to keep the defense honest. If you do a poor job establishing position, or he catches you deep in the paint, he can get 15-20 points on a given night. Ultimately, the question comes down to health. If he can play 80 games, he'll give you solid, workmanlike play at center and take what could be a problem spot and turn it into a strength.

[Paul Forrester: Southeast Division preview]

Good low-post scorers are rare. That's what makes a guy like Kevin Seraphin valuable. He was out of shape and not ready to play in the NBA in his first season two years ago. But last year, being in shape and getting the opportunity after McGee was traded, he showed why he was a first-round pick. He has a nice touch on his shot and good footwork in the paint and showed he could score in the low post.

Trevor Ariza was a nice pickup in the Okafor trade with New Orleans -- other than his salary [$7.3 million this season]. Ariza is a capable defender on the wing, a player who can make three-pointers at around a league-average rate and score a little bit. He's a starting-caliber wing player, and that fact alone will help them because anything is better than when you have to start Jan Vesely as a rookie or Chris Singleton as a rookie [as the Wizards did at times last season]. Those guys may be better than Ariza someday, but not at this stage of their careers. He'll give them a veteran component on the wing, much like Okafor will in the paint, that will improve the quality of the team.

Bradley Beal was the best shooting guard in the draft. But with only one year of college and the fact that he had some inconsistency with his shot, this will be a developmental year for him. No one should be surprised if he's not ready to light the world on fire; Wall's being out only exacerbates that.

[Ben Golliver: Handicapping the Rookie of the Year race]

With Wall out, that leaves the ball in A.J. Price's hands for now. If Price has to start for a month, you're going to feel it. He's a solid NBA backup, but that's where it stops. The defense won't get sucked in as much with Price as it would with Wall, and teammates are going to find Price does not get them open shots like Wall does.

Jordan Crawford gets into that knucklehead factor this team used to have a little bit. His decision-making leaves a lot to be desired -- the shot selection, the defensive lapses. Crawford has a great knack for scoring, though. With Wall out, he will be a guy who can create shots for himself and for others.

Not long after Randy Wittman took over last year he had them playing like a college team. They were defending, getting up and denying passing lanes. The fact that they had young players allowed him to say, "OK, no one is going to be able to pull us out of this other than ourselves. We may not win every night, but we're not going to lose because of anything we didn't do." And the guys bought in. Late in the year this was a team that was fighting for one another and believed in what the coach was doing.


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