2018-19 Preview: Washington Wizards

Even with five-time All-Star point guard John Wall missing half the 2017-18 season, the Wizards still won 43 games, which in itself lets us know this team has 50-win potential in 2018-19. Along with first-time All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal, the duo is back to stake best-East-backcourt claim.

All-Star-caliber wing Otto Porter is back to add to his take as the best player yet to play in an All-Star Game. And then there is eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard making his Wizards debut, hoping to find his fallen star that has been missing since 2014.

Does this Wizards squad have NBA Finals potential? The stars say so, but whether they ever can reach the East Finals is another story.

 2018-19 Wizards  Ballhandlers  Wings  Bigs
 Returners  John Wall, Jodie Meeks  Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky  Markieff Morris, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith
 Newcomers  Austin Rivers  Jeff Green, Troy Brown  Dwight Howard, Thomas Bryant
 Gone  Ty Lawson, Tim Frazier  Devin Robinson  Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott, Chris McCullough
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Offense: Both Wall and Beal like the ball in their hands, but no more than the average alpha. If head coach Scott Brooks could fall in love with staggering their minutes and their usage, surely their cohesion in end-of-game situations would grow stronger. As they used to say, whoever gets the outlet is the point guard for that play.

Porter has always been a great off-the-ball contributor and his three-point shooting has been nothing short of elite. The addition of Austin Rivers gives Brooks more flexibility in the backcourt as he can spell the point and operate off the ball.

Howard has been forced to learn his strengths and weaknesses in his non-star turn in Charlotte, Atlanta and Houston the past four seasons. If he can continue his transition into a supporting player, he’ll be a vast improvement over the outgoing Marcin Gortat.

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Plug in gritty Markieff Morris in the mix and Washington has a five-man unit that could actually threaten the East powers if they could ever get on the same page. The spacing is ideal with Beal, Porter and Morris giving space to the Wall/Howard pick-and-roll game. Wall is an elite playmaker, Beal is an elite shooter and Howard can be an elite defender/rebounder. But when Wall starts thinking he is the elite shooter, or Beal thinks he needs to run point all the time or Howard needs to get his touches, well, that’s when the Wizards have no chance at beating Boston, Philly or Toronto.

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Defense: Howard no longer quarterbacks the top NBA defenses and Washington has been mediocre at best the past few seasons with Gortat in the middle. Still, the Wizards have the makeup—like on offense—to be a top 10 D with long-limbed athletes flooding both the first- and second-string units. It’s just that they have not been playing with the same aggressiveness of previous seasons, and that has mostly showed up statistically in the number of fourth-quarter leads they gave away in 2017-18 (the Wizards outscored their opponents in the first through third quarters by 114 and were outscored in the fourth, -63). It also shows in top thief Wall’s decline in steals. After leading the League in 2016-17 (156 steals), Wall dropped to 1.4 steals per game in 2017-18. Perhaps he will return to the Wall of old, knowing that shotblocker Howard has his back.

The defensive cornerstones for the Wizards is Porter and Morris. The former might not be an elite one-on-one defender, but Porter is great at being the glue to the defense, switching off and helping to shore up any holes and penetration; the latter is the guy that is tasked with bodying up a LeBron with his sturdier build and demeanor. Kelly Oubre Jr. is the defensive presence on the second unit who finds himself closing out games.

The Wizards defensive shortcoming is a penchant for fouling a lot last season. Again, Brooks is hoping Howard’s presence—along with veteran Ian Mahinmi off the bench—will contribute to an improvement in that department as well. Mixing in newcomer Austin Rivers to the second unit should also help bolster the defensive efforts of the reserves, not to mention spell Wall and Beal for additional minutes on the first units when necessary.

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Upside: In 19-year-old wing Troy Brown and 21-year-old Thomas Bryant, the Wizards added a couple prospects to the third-string unit to develop for the years to come. Rookie Brown, the 15th pick in the first round of the draft, is a versatile do-it-all wing who has a strong work ethic and has good leaders to follow in Porter and Beal. Bryant, who played his rookie season in the G League and with the Lakers last season, is a talented big man who just lost out to the numbers game in Los Angeles. He shows signs of being a good NBA center.

Durability: When Wall, Beal and Porter were healthy in 2016-17, the Wizards won 49 games and reached the second round of the playoffs. And they did this despite their youth, with both Porter and Beal being 23 years old and Wall being 26. Two years later, all three are entering their prime seasons and are poised for a breakout year if they can all stay healthy. Wall, who missed 41 games  in 2017-18, is reportedly in tip-top shape once again. Howard has been held out during the preseason due to a—true story—buttocks injury. Hopefully it’s unrelated to the back woes that have plagued him the last few years.

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Synergy: Long-timers Wall, Beal, Porter and Morris give this organization some stability, but Wizards fans are also growing accustomed to the development of second-string Wizards like guard Jodie Meeks, wings Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky and center Ian Mahinmi. The chemistry should be noticeably improved this season, especially since only two newcomers—Rivers and Jeff Green—are expected to crack Brooks’ reserve playing rotations. Though they are not accustomed to playing with the Wizards here, they have plenty of experience in adapting to new backgrounds from past experience. Both should be up-and-running from Game 1 on.

Experience: The Wizards fantastic four unit—Wall, Beal, Porter and Morris—have plenty of experience of making the first two rounds of the playoffs, but they lack the depth of knowledge that other title-contending teams have from going far in the playoffs. But they are still young, so no need to knock them as a group. However, time ticking and if Wizards management does not start seeing results soon—and an improvement in chemistry—then do no be surprised if they make a deal this offseason to reshuffle the deck.

Win Frame: 42-46 wins