The Washington Wizards are rebuilding, or so we’ve been told for the last three years. Gone are the days of Gilbert calling his shots, Tough Juice finishing hard in the paint, and The Captain flipping shots under, around and over unsuspecting defenders. Gone are the calming yet sometimes consternating coaching styles of Eddie Jordan and Flip Saunders, and the franchise’s longtime beloved owner, Abe Polin. All that remains now is GM Ernie Grunfeld, the man tasked with not only moving the franchise passed guns in the locker room, but building a winner from the ground up.
The 2011-2012 season was one to forget. The Wiz finished the shortened season 20-46; good for draft lottery positioning, but bad for fan morale. They have what they think, or perhaps at this point what they hope is a star in John Wall. After Wall however the pieces the Wizards have assembled fail to shed light on what kind of team this will be in 2012-2013. More to the point: Where is this team going?
In the modern NBA there are two ways by which to build a competitive, contending roster. The first is the way the new CBA and most of the owners would prefer; build through the draft, collect assets and develop a contender in-house over the course of a few seasons (see: OKC Thunder). The second is what a few of the larger market teams have done recently: build a super team through free agency and aggressive trading (see: Miami Heat, and now the Brooklyn Nets). The Wizards have clearly decided to follow the first criteria, but it remains to be seen if this team is ready to compete.
With the third pick in this years NBA Draft the Wizards took Florida super-frosh guard Bradley Beal. Beal’s been compared to the likes of Ray Allen and Eric Gordon, but nothing is certain. A back court of Wall and Beal is compelling for sure, but with patience wearing thin in the Nations Capital how much time will Beal get to develop, how much time will they get to grow together?
John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Emeka Okafor: that should be the Wizards opening day starting five barring any unforeseen developments. John Wall and others around the Wizards locker room have gone on record saying this roster is built to make a run at the playoffs, how close are they to being right? After the starting five there are a handful of young players who have the ability to improve and help the team win, the question is who takes a step forward next year?
Wall needs to be the cog that makes the motor run, by now he must understand that. If he raises his game from his current 16 points and 8 assists a game to 20 ppg and 10 assists the team should fall in behind him. Beal is a question mark only because he’s an unproven rookie, but he should be the starting 2-guard in D.C. for years to come. Ariza and Okafor were acquired in a trade with NOLA last month, they’re both proven veterans but neither of them will WOW you. Still, they can both be calming forces on a team historically devoid of veteran leadership. Nene was acquired at last years trade deadline, the Wiz shipped out class-clown JaVale McGee (a promising young center with a hard head) and received Nene in return. Grunfeld opted for a proven, consistent commodity in Nene over the hard to predict, impossible to coach McGee.
For the first time in years the Wizards have a starting five that commands a certain amount of respect. They may not be All-NBA performers, but they’re players who know how to compete and win. It’s the bench players, the backups that are the real question marks going forward.
Currently Shelvin Mack, the second year player out of Butler, is the only other point guard on the roster. He played sparingly last season but if he is in fact the backup point this year, he’ll have to step up. Jordan Crawford started at shooting guard for much of last season, but with Beal in the fold he’ll have to go back to the bench where he’s better suited. Crawford has the ability to put the ball in the basket, but he does little-else. Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker are all hybrid forwards who can play either the 3 or the 4 spot. Vesely, the 6th overall pick in last years draft, is uber athletic but needs to round his game out to see the floor more. Singleton and Booker both need to find a niche, find something they can excel at and attack it; they’re both strong and have good bounce but that will only take them so far. The only other players currently on the roster are Andray Blatche, who the Wizards will either trade, amnesty, or pay to sit at home, and second round pick Tomas Satoransky who according to ESPN.com, doesn’t exist.
The Wizards need to give their fans a reason to believe, a reason to hope. They don’t have to shock the league but they do have to serve notice: we’re back. For a fleeting moment the Wizards franchise was relevant. Agent Zero and company made it so. It’s time for this new batch of young players to make their mark. This team should be much improved come this time next year, the question is: Can They Do It?
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.