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2011-12 Washington Wizards Preview

The Washington Wizards are still in the early stages of Stars, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.

The centerpiece of that rebuilding process remains last season's No. 1 overall pick, the dynamic John Wall.

Wall's introduction the NBA last season was bumpy as expected with the Wizards finishing a dismal 23-59 as he battled with nagging knee and foot injuries. Through it all, however, you could see the promise in the Memphis product, who averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists 4.6 rebounds last season, finishing second to Blake Griffin in the Rookie of the Year voting.

No matter how well Wall projects, however, he'll need some help and that's where the team's other building blocks like big men Jan Vesely, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee as well as scoring guard Jordan Crawford come in.

The Southeast Division figures to have three projected playoff teams (Miami, Atlanta and Orlando if the Magic are able to keep Dwight Howard), leaving Wall and the Wizards with a more modest goal -- improvement.

2010-11 Results: 23-59, fifth in Southeast; Missed playoffs.

KEY ADDITIONS: F Jan Vesely, F Chris Singleton, C Ronny Turiaf, G Shelvin Mack

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- John Wall SG- Jordan Crawford SF- Rashard Lewis PF- Andray Blatche C- Javale McGee

KEY RESERVES: F/C Jan Vesely, G Nick Young, F Trevor Booker, C/F Ronny Turiaf, G Roger Mason Jr.

FRONTCOURT: The Wizards showed their confidence in Blatche by signing him to a five-year, $35 million extension before last season and he rewarded the team by averaging a career-high 16.8 points and career-high and team-high 8.2 rebounds. The 6-foot-11 Blatche is extremely athletic with an amazing assortment of offensive moves for someone his size. Problem is Blatche is far too worried about his offense and doesn't give the effort Flip Saunders is looking for on the boards or at the defensive end. Whether Blatche's game can fit into a winning environment is still very much in doubt.

At center McGee may be raw but offensively he is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder that has the potential to grow defensively. The Wizards still feel that the big man is an ascending player

Rashard Lewis and his massive salary was a serious case for amnesty but the Wizards hung on to the veteran and expect his three-point prowess to spread the floor and help Wall penetrate in the half-court set.

BACKCOURT: Wall's combination of athleticism, instincts, vision and ball skills might be the best since LeBron James burst on the scene in 2003. He should develop into an All-Star at some point and remain the face of the Wizards franchise for the next decade or so. Right now he must concentrate on taking care of the ball and drastically cut down on the turnovers.

"He has such speed and quickness in the open court that you've got to get back and proverbially build a wall against Wall," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "He'd be the equivalent to a guy who sees cracks as a running back who's got great vision."

Crawford was more than a pleasant surprise after being picked up from Atlanta in the Kirk Hinrich trade, averaging 16.3 points, 3.9 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 26 games with Washington. Crawford scored 20-plus points 10 times, and was one of three rookies to record a triple-double last season with 21 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against Cleveland. The Xavier product has a swagger about him that you can't teach and expects to be successful in this league.

BENCH: The Wizards don't have a lot of proven commodities on the bench outside of Nick Young, who provides instant offense for Flip Saunders, and veteran swingman Maurice Evans, a solid two-way player that helps on the perimeter. That said, rookie Jan Vesely, the sixth overall pick in June's draft, has an enormous upside.

Vesely, who finished second in voting for the Euroleague's Rising Star trophy in 2009-10 and third in 2010-11. sports impressive length and an aggressive offensive game. He also likes to post-up more than the average big these days and has a big-time motor.

The big-bodied Trevor Booker started a few games as a rookie last season and proved to be a capable rebounder while Ronny Turiaf, who was acquired form New York is a dogged defender.

Speaking of defense, rookie forward Chris Singleton the most dominant college defender last year at Florida State.

"Right off the bat, it's just my defense right now," Singleton said when asked how he could help the Wizards. "I'm a developing offensive player. Everybody knows that. My shot is getting better and my ball handling is getting better. I feel like the team we have got, we are going to build that chemistry and just go over that hump."

COACHING: Saunders' reputation as a big-time coach has taken a bit of a hit in Washington and this will likely be his last chance to make an impression. Flip may not be Gregg Popovich but he's right there with the next level of mentors and this team should start to take off if they buy in to his system.

OUTLOOK: The Wizards are starting to put the pieces in place. Wall is faster with the ball than anyone since Allen Iverson and looks like a future superstar, Vesely has an awful lot of skill, Crawford plays with a confidence you can't teach and McGee and Blatche offer imposing length inside.

A return to the playoffs, however, is unlikely this season as this young team continues to struggle with decision making.