On the eve of NBA Draft night, the Washington Wizards sit in a position where they can add another young piece to their rebuild. It’s a process that started in February of 2010 when the Wizards shipped out all-stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison while Gilbert Arenas sat at home serving his season long suspension. Then John Wall, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker came to the Wizards by way of the 2010 draft. Shortly thereafter, Arenas was moved to Orlando early in the 2010-2011 season for some guy pretending to be Rashard Lewis and the Wizards acquired Jordan Crawford from the Hawks for Kirk Hinrich. The Wizards also seemed to be the winners of last year’s draft where they added “The Dunking Ninja” Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack.
The pieces were all in place this past season, but the Wizards failed to live up to our moderate expectations. Sitting at the 10-32 mark on March 15, Ernie Grunfeld decided it was time to ship off notorious knuckleheads JaVale McGee and Nick Young for proven big man Nene. The Wizards were forced to let go of two young athletes with lots of potential to add some stability and experience.
We were treated to some impressive efforts from Kevin Seraphin and James Singleton, but left disappointed by another Trevor Booker injury and too many Brian Cook three-pointers. Such are the ups and downs of being a Wizards fan. The season ended on a six game winning streak leaving the Wizards a mere 26 games behind the first place Heat. I’m not sure what was reasonable to expect from a young team coming into a lockout-shortened season without the benefit of a normal off-season or pre-season. I’d say 20 wins sounds about right.
The Wizards managed to snag a little bit of press in the post-season when Grunfeld orchestrated a deal with the New Orleans Hornets, proud owners of the number one pick in tomorrow’s draft, that sent the grossly overpaid Rashard Lewis and a second round pick (one of two the Wizards had in the second round) for the moderately overpaid Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. All that brings us to where we are now, June 27, the night before the NBA Draft.
The Wizards added the front-court depth they needed with Nene and Okafor. They are looking at a starting line-up right now of Nene and Okafor in the paint, John Wall and Jordan Crawford at the guard spots and Ariza holding down the wing. Depending on the way tomorrow night goes, Crawford could be out of a starting job at the beginning of next year. Shelvin Mack will be backing up Wall again. Trevor Booker and Seraphin will be the front-court back-ups and Chris Singleton will be the back-up small forward.
The Wizards haven’t made the sexy move that the casual fan is looking for, but they’ve added some quality players to their draft picks and have gotten rid of any semblance of the Gilbert Arenas “big three” era, with one big exception. That elephant standing in the room is indeed number seven for your Washington Wizards, ANDRAY BLATCHE!! After signing an extension in 2010, Blatche turned in a decent 2010-2011 campaign. He then showed up for the 2011-2012 season in terrible shape and played in just 26 games before being shut-down for conditioning issues in March. Surprisingly, the Wizards were unable to find anyone interested in trading for Blatche. He will likely be the Wizards’ first victim of the new NBA amnesty clause. No matter how they do it, the Wizards need to get rid of Blatche.
John Wall didn’t make the progress fans expected in his second year, but he showed us more of that incredible speed and athleticism we’ve come to love while reminding us that he has a bit of work to do before he is a legitimate perimeter threat. He should be the only untouchable player on this roster.
Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin made the greatest strides this year. They both showed fans that they could score in a variety of ways and that they belong in the rotation. Jan Vesely will have to steal some minutes from Booker and could be an important player if Booker gets bit by the injury bug again. Vesely did a lot of the little things this year and, as cliche as it sounds, those things didn’t show up in the stat sheet. Okafor and Nene should be solid as starters and they eliminate the need to add more big men to the roster. Chris Singleton was slightly disappointing in his rookie season. He wasn’t able to score and often looked lost on defense which was supposed to be his specialty. The arrival of Ariza clears up the confusion about who is going to start on the wing next season. Singleton is cut from the mold of Trevor Ariza, primarily a defensive player with some ability to slash to the basket and finish at the rim. Ariza is most well known for making some big steals for the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Wizards fans will hope for meaningful moments like that from Ariza this year as they look to make a push to get back in the post-season.
The big question for the Wizards is “Who will do the scoring next year?” Nene has the ability to score in the paint, but the Wizards need a legitimate perimeter threat. Jordan Crawford showed flashes of being that guy last season. He also put together a historically bad stat line. A lot of the pressure was on Crawford to take shots while he was on the floor because guys like Wall, Singleton, Vesely and Mack were passing on open looks. Ariza and Singleton aren’t reliable shooters and whether or not D-league call-up Cartier Martin will return to the team is unclear.
The answer for the Wizards could be found with the number three pick in the draft tomorrow night. Shooting guard Bradley Beal seems to be the most viable solution to the Wizards’ shooting woes. While comparisons to Ray Allen may be a bit premature, Beal has solid mechanics and would certainly benefit from work-outs with NBA trainers. Beal would fit in great with the young athletic players in D.C. and could replace Jordan Crawford as the starting shooting guard.
It’s been a long, painful process, but the Wizards are finally back in a position where they can contend for the 6-8 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the benefit of a full off-season, expect great improvements from Shelvin Mack, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, as well as a better relationship between John Wall and his running mates. When Wizards fans tune into the draft tomorrow night, they will hopefully be watching the team make a lottery pick for the last time before the rebuilding process inevitably begins again eight years from now. With the addition of any of the prospects in this year’s class, the Wizards will be getting another high character player with great work ethic to add to the quality players and quality people they already have.
While last year’s results looked a lot like the results from the past few losing seasons, any one who watched the games can tell you that effort was not the issue last year, as it has been in the past. New coach Randy Wittman had everyone working harder and playing to the last minute of every game. With the right pick in tomorrow’s draft, and a lot of hard work and practice, the 2012-2013 Washington Wizards may look a lot different than the product we’ve seen the last few years. Ted Leonsis and his team may finally be able to start some “New Traditions” in the District after all.