Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Wizards
2012-13 Record: 29-53
Notable Losses: G A.J. Price
Coach: Randy Wittman (third season with Wizards)
They didn't make many changes after bouncing back [with a 25-25 finish] following a terrible [4-28] start last season. They're hoping that a full season from John Wall, who led their turnaround after returning from a knee injury in January, and another step forward from second-year guard Bradley Beal will lift them into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. But the frontcourt is a concern as the Wizards deal with the absence of Emeka Okafor [who is out indefinitely with a neck injury] and try to find a fit at the 4.
Wall got a big five-year contract extension during the summer, but he still has a lot to prove. His shooting is always going to be an issue -- people are going to continue to load up the paint against him and challenge him to beat them from the outside. Defensively, he gets steals but takes a lot of chances on the ball that his teammates have to clean up. He can affect the game defensively with his size and quickness, but he can also be attacked.
Wall is a beast pushing the ball, though. What makes him transcendent is his speed. It puts so much pressure on you. He can push it after a make or miss and get the ball up the floor before defenders have their heads turned.
Beal is well suited to play in a fast-paced style with Wall. Everyone said what a great shooter Beal was coming out of Florida, and he started to show signs in the NBA as a rookie last season. He started to attack the basket, too. He could be like Rip Hamilton, someone who is exceptional coming off screens.
The bigs they have don't fit their style on offense. Having a face-up 4 is better for them than having Nene and Okafor playing together. Okafor is a paint player. Nene is a paint player. Who can play with these fast guys? Do you play smaller with Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza as the forwards? Al Harrington might be the best fit. He can be a face-up 4. If he is healthy, that's a good spot.
As for their other 4 candidates, Trevor Booker is undersized. He can face up but can't stretch the floor. Jan Vesely looks good in layup lines. He catches your attention with a play here or there. His size and athleticism are intriguing, and the thought was that he could be good in the transition game. But he hasn't shown he can finish plays. He looks like he doesn't have a lot of confidence. There is not a lot there yet for a high draft pick [No. 6 in 2011].
Kevin Seraphin will get an opportunity to earn minutes at one of the big positions, too. He improved from his first season to his second season, but he didn't get much better last year. He is physical and can make jump hooks.
Okafor's injury is a setback because he's consistent. He's not a finisher, but he rebounds well, has a solid understanding of team defense and brings effort every night. He'd be appreciated more if he didn't have the big contract [$14.5 million this season] and wasn't drafted so high [No. 2 in 2004].
Without Okafor, it's even more important for Nene to stay healthy. That's been an issue. Nene had games where he looked like the old Nene last season, and games where he looked like a shell of Nene. At his best, he makes an impact at both ends of the floor with his mobility, strength, athleticism and finishing ability. He still has the same physical mentality, but the question is whether he can do it every night anymore. [UPDATE: The Wizards have traded Okafor to the Suns for center Marcin Gortat.]
They have options at the 3 with rookie Otto Porter, Webster and Ariza. Porter didn't have a great summer, and he didn't get a full preseason because of a hip injury. He's a long, skilled player. Porter doesn't need the ball, and he can do a lot of things. As long as he defends his position and knocks down open shots, he helps them.
Webster proved last year that he could be a consistent scorer. He's a good guy to have as an instant scorer off the bench. Ariza is a quality defender who can also run the floor and make some threes.
Chris Singleton can really defend as a backup forward. But he gets in trouble when he tries to prove that he's an offensive player. If he wants to stay in the league, he has to focus on affecting the game defensively.
Backup guard Eric Maynor mixes good games with bad games. When you pressure him or when he has pressure on him to produce against a good defense, I don't see it from him.
I thought coach Randy Wittman was going to get fired at Christmas, but his guys didn't quit on him. When everyone got healthy, they started to play well. No one would say Wittman is James Naismith, but he is underrated. His relationship with Wall is what will make or break him.