Published October 24, 2012
| Sports Network
The Washington Wizards didn't really need much bad news to start this NBA campaign.
Sadly, they got it.
John Wall, the cornerstone of the organization, will be sidelined for eight weeks with knee injury, thus depriving Wizards fans of seeing one of the brightest young point guards in the league.
Bradley Beal, selected No. 3 in June's draft out of Florida, and Wall were supposed to hit the ground running this season. Wall's setback is a setback for the entire organization.
"My teammates and I are all excited to build on the improvement we made at the end of last season, and I know they will continue to make great progress while I get through this setback," said Wall. "I will work extremely hard to make sure I get back as soon as possible so I can re-join them and help our team continue to improve."
It hurts like heartbreak to lose someone as valuable as Wall, but it's worse when you consider what a strong summer the Wizards enjoyed.
In the last calendar year, they dispatched headache wild-cards like Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Rashard Lewis and JaVale McGee. Taking their place in the last few months are high-quality guys like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
The new starting frontcourt represent a massive upgrade in defense, intensity and professionalism.
"I like our mixture of players with this team," said head coach Randy Wittman. "I think we have some good blue-collar guys that aren't going to turn away when things get tough."
This change in culture couldn't come at a better time for the Wizards organization. This is Wall's third NBA season and it's time for the point guard and leader to make a move into another echelon.
By doing that, he can take the Wizards to possibly their first playoff appearances since the 2007-08 season. That would be a large leap after a 20-46 campaign last season that was the second-worst in the league, behind only the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats.
There will be growing pains for sure and an adjustment period. The gentleman wearing the suit on the sidelines is in a similar situation.
Wittman replaced Flip Saunders in the middle of last season and brought some energy. He also brought some victories. The Wizards finished last season on a six-game winning streak.
"We've got to start winning, consistently. That's the next step this team has to take," said Wittman. "We haven't had that understanding of that consistency of winning, and so that's got to be something that this team develops."
2011-12 Results: 20-46, fourth in Southeast; Missed playoffs.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Bradley Beal, F Emeka Okafor, F Trevor Ariza, F Martell Webster
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- John Wall SG- Bradley Beal SF- Trevor Ariza PF- Emeka Okafor C- Nene
KEY RESERVES: F Martell Webster, F/C Jan Vesely, F Trevor Booker, G Jordan Crawford, C Kevin Seraphin, F Chris Singleton, G Shelvin Mack, G A.J. Price, G Jannero Pargo. F Cartier Martin
FRONTCOURT: This is a tough group of hands who will do a lot of the grunt work while the backcourt puts the ball in the hole.
Nene emerged in the last few seasons as a top 10 center, although the position has been watered down some. He still plays hard every possession and is an equal leader of this team to Wall.
Okafor has never lived up to his hype as the No. 2 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, but he's put up decent numbers on really bad teams. Would it shock you to learn that Okafor's career numbers are 12.7 points per game and 10.1 rebounds? That's very capable production from a player no one seems to keep around.
Ariza has been a double-digit scorer his last three seasons after he won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09. His game is defense and he will have to cover the opposition's best wing every night.
BACKCOURT: Wall and Beal are one of the league's tremendous young backcourts.
Wall looked ready to join the group of elite ball-handlers. In two seasons, Wall averaged 16.3 PPG, 8.2 APG and a sturdy 4.6 RPG. He is arguably the NBA's fastest player, draws fouls and attacks the rim.
But man alive, is he a terrible shooter.
Wall shot a traffic-stopping .071 from the 3-point line last season. He made only three in 42 attempts. That number has to improve for Wall to become one of the best and make his team a legit playoff contender.
Some experts believed Beal to be the second-best player in the draft after Anthony Davis. He can shoot, although his numbers in college (33.9 percent from 3 and 77 percent from the foul line), don't say lights out.
Beal's a good, smart kid who should be a very productive NBA player. It should be exciting to watch these two potential All-Stars play side-by-side for years to come.
BENCH: There's a reason that almost every non-starter was listed above. Anyone could emerge from this pack, because this is not a strength of the Wizards. There's some talent in there for sure, but it's almost all raw.
Webster signed a free-agent deal after he was waived by the Timberwolves. He's the most veteran of the group.
You may not have heard of Seraphin, but he emerged late last season. He's got a good mid-range game and is a stout defender.
Vesely was taken No. 6 overall by the Wizards in the 2011 NBA Draft and should get more time to develop with the inclusion of both Ariza and Okafor. Vesely needs a lot of work. A lot.
Singleton needs to improve upon his rookie season. Booker is all energy. Martin actually put up close to 10 PPG in 2011-12.
The most significant member of this group, once Wall is healed, is Crawford. He's a scorer in both the best, and worst sense of the word. Crawford finds his way to the basket, but is a below-average shooter and that's a problem, because he loves to shoot. If the Wizards want to go slowly with Beal, he's the starter. You won't lose point production, but the quality of shots will take a nose-dive.
There's no way to replace Wall, and the Wizards aren't stocked well at backup point guard. A.J. Price, Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo are as mediocre as you can find and that's trouble for a team without its point for almost two months.
COACHING: Wittman is on his third head-coaching gig and is widely respected. He did a superb job with the Wizards after Saunders was shown the door last season. He's got a nice mix of youth and veterans, but weathering the storm in Wall's absence will show his mettle.
OUTLOOK: The Wizards had so much cause for optimism with last season's finish and a solid offseason. If they can stay afloat while Wall is out, they could sneak into the mix for the eighth playoff spot in the East.
That is a big if.
The Wizards just don't have enough talent, but they're getting there. Another trip to the lottery is probably coming. They are putting something together with high-character veteran leaders, but unless some of these young bench guys seriously step forward, this team is not quite where it needs to be.