Which Washington Wizards Player Will Make Biggest Leap in 2014-15?

Bradley Beal‘s upside is difficult to predict. Not because he’s wildly inconsistent or because he has so much to improve on.

It’s because he has the highest upside of almost anyone in the NBA right now, and there’s simply no telling how good of a player he can grow into.

Beal just recently turned 21, and he’s already played in two playoff series, went toe-to-toe with Paul George, made clutch three-pointers to sink a higher seed in the postseason (the Chicago Bulls) and has simply gone where only a few players have gone before.

Although John Wall is a young talent, it seems as if we already know where he’s headed. It’s likely that Wall will be an All-Star year in and year out as long as he’s healthy.

But Beal‘s upside is much higher at this point, and for this season, he’ll take a bigger leap forward than Wall.

In his second year in the league, when he was 20 years old at the All-Star break, Beal was one of only four players ever in their sophomore campaign to shoot at least 40 percent from three-point range, average three assists and 17 points per game and have four win shares.

The other three guys? Vince Carter, Hersey Hawkins and Stephen Curry. That’s some pretty great company to be in.

In his third year, Carter’s per-game averages in those categories increased by 1.9 points and 1.1 win shares while his assist and three-point numbers stayed the same. Although Curry started only 23 games in his third year and his points-per-game average dropped, his three-point shooting increased to 45.5 percent, and he had .144 win shares per 48 minutes, up from .128 in his second year.

It’s not unreasonable to see Beal‘s assist and points averages making a similar jump in addition to his win shares increasing by one or two.

Beal also was only one of two players ever between the ages of 18 and 21 to have a player efficiency rating of at least 17 in the playoffs while averaging 19 points and shooting 41 percent on three-pointers. The only other player to do that was Russell Westbrook in 2010, who played in just six postseason games that season. Beal played in 11.

Just based on that grouping of players, it’s clear that Beal is on pace to be one of the top players in the NBA.

In the context of Washington’s offense, Beal will improve on the offensive end with the addition of Paul Pierce.

Beal‘s biggest flaw last season was his propensity to take ill-advised mid-range jump shots.

He shot just 37 percent between 16 and 24 feet and attempted more shots from that range than any other shooting zone.

By adding Pierce, Beal will be able to patrol the perimeter more—his strength—and Pierce can be more of the mid-range guy. Pierce made 42.41 percent of his shots from that range last season, as shown in his shot chart from NBA.com/Stats.

Beal had an effective field-goal percentage (a field-goal percentage that weighs three-pointers as being worth more than two-pointers) on catch-and-shoots last year of 58.1 percent, according to NBA.com/Stats.

We’ve seen that Beal is a below-average ball-handler and that the Wizards are better off when Wall is making plays at the rim with Beal at the corner. Although Pierce isn’t an elite three-point shooter, he’s effective at making threes on the fast break and is at least a better ball-handler than Beal.

The Wizards want Beal doing what he’s best at: shooting threes. Having a veteran like Pierce on the floor is only going to help Beal grow.

On the defensive end, Beal is going to have to take on a larger role with Trevor Ariza gone.

Washington will likely go with a “by committee”” approach to having a primary defender mainly because there isn’t an elite guy on the roster right now on that end of the floor.

Wall tends to look lost at times, Pierce isn’t as quick as he used to be, and Beal is simply not experienced enough to cover guys like Lance Stephenson, LeBron James and Derrick Rose—players whom the Wizards will face multiple times this season and likely in the playoffs.

Off the bench, Garrett Temple can be an end-of-game defensive stopper but probably won’t be on the floor at the same time as Beal in the first three quarters. Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. both have the length to be solid defenders, but we haven’t seen them on the floor enough to know what they’ll bring to the table.

When given the opportunity, Beal will struggle at first to cover elite guys but will only improve over time this season. Like Wall, he has great close-out speed, as seen against this defense of a D.J. Augustin shot in the playoffs.

However, he has problems with rotations on defending the pick-and-roll.

As Umair Khan of Bullets Forever wrote when describing Beal on defense:

For Beal, containing dribble penetration will be how he earns his keep on defense. He’ll have to do a better job on ICE calls, which requires him to position himself on the ball handler’s hip and away from the screener and force his man baseline, making it impossible for his man to use the screen. There were a number of times last season where he failed to do so despite his big man being in position to defend on the sideline, and the end result was the ball handler getting to the middle of the floor.

These are things that are certainly fixable, and with more experience, Beal will improve on defense, only making him a better player.

Even with slight tweaks and the addition of Pierce, Beal is going to take a huge step forward. It’s easy to forget that he’s just 21 years old, and by the time he’s 25, there’s no telling how great of a shooting guard he’ll be.

- All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Former Washington Bullet Rex Chapman arrested for shoplifting at Apple store

In the ‘Where Are they Now?’ category, former Washington Bullets guard Rex Chapman was arrested in Arizona on charges of theft after allegedly stealing $14,000 worth of merchandise from an Apple store.
MORE: Chapman is alleged to have swiped items through Apples’ self-checkout & then sell them at a pawn shop for cash. pic.twitter.com/0kO6HJkJRI — AZ Family (@azfamily) September 19, 2014
According to ABC15.com, Chapman was charged with nine counts of theft and five counts of trafficking in stolen goods.
Sgt. Mark Clark said Rex Chapman is alleged to have picked up items in the store, located near Scottsdale Road and Greenway, and made it appear that he was paying for the items through the store’s self-checkout. He would then leave the store without actually paying for the items. He reportedly took the items to a local pawn shop and sold the goods for cash.
Chapman, 46, played four of his 12 NBA seasons with the Bullets (now Wizards) from 1991-1995. He had his best statis…

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College basketball countdown: No. 35 George Washington

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.



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How Washington Wizards Can Seamlessly Integrate Paul Pierce

The Washington Wizards made a few key tweaks to their roster this offseason, but none will change what the team looks like on the court more than the move to replace Trevor Ariza on the wing with Paul Pierce

For the last two seasons, Ariza plied his trade as a catch-and-shoot specialist in Washington, topping out with a 40.7 percent finish from beyond the arc last season.

According to SportVU data released by the NBA and STATS LLCAriza‘s 63.6 effective field-goal percentage ranked eighth-best among the 113 players who attempted at least 3.0 catch-and-shoot field goals per game, and he actually finished the season ninth in the league in total catch-and-shoot points. Nearly half of his shot attempts (5.3 of 11.1 per game) came courtesy of the catch-and-shoot. 

He also did almost all of his damage through shots created for him by others. According to NBA.com, Ariza was assisted on 76.1 percent of his baskets, with John Wall alone accounting for 165 of 389 makes. 

It is also apparent when looking at his shot chart from last season (courtesy of Nylon Calculus) that Ariza did almost all of his work from three-point range, much of it from the corners.

In fact, 442 of Ariza‘s 853 shot attempts last season were threes, and 180 of those attempts came from the corner, according to NBA.com. He didn’t discriminate, either, knocking down 47 of 103 (45.6 percent) from the right corner and 34 of 77 (44.2 percent) from the left side. 

Note: The only place along the arc Ariza didn’t shoot well from is the right wing, where he made only 33.6 percent of his attempts. This is somewhat unsurprising because, as I detailed in this space last season, the Wizards loved to put point guard John Wall in pick-and-rolls moving toward the right side of the floor, and he loved to attack the area near the right elbow. Attacking that spot on the floor draws defenders to the area, making it both a difficult pass to find Ariza behind the arc and a difficult shot if the ball found him there. 

Now let’s take a look at Pierce’s shot chart, again via Nylon Calculus. 

You’ll notice the heavy volume behind the three-point line yet again, but it should be noted that last season was the first ever in which at least 40 percent of Pierce’s shots came from behind the line, according to Basketball-Reference. It’s all part of a four-years-in-the-making move away from the basket for Pierce. 

But you’ll also notice that Pierce is still active in the mid-range area (particularly that right-elbow area Wall loves), certainly far more so than Ariza. The Wizards, presumably, did not bring Pierce in to just do his best Ariza impression; they want to see that herky-jerky off-the-bounce game that has made Pierce a future Hall of Famer as well.

Even while attempting fewer mid-range shots as his career winds down, Pierce still ranked in the top third of the league in conversion rate among those who took as many or more mid-range attempts, per NBA.com

These days, Pierce gets most of his mid-range attempts through pick-and-rolls, isolations and post-ups. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Pierce made just over 40 percent of his attempts on those three play types combined, a solid but unspectacular number that is more than 3.0 percent worse than his average over the previous four seasons. 

It’s worth asking if that difference signifies that Pierce is just done as a player who can create for himself, but only looking at that number alone wouldn’t tell the whole story.

Pierce spent a lot of his time playing as a small-ball power forward in the Nets’ new “long-ball” look last season. This meant he spent more time playing against stout post defenders than in years past, which undoubtedly contributed to his poor performance (37.8 percent) on post-up shots. Posting up against Draymond Green, Kenneth Faried or Paul Millsap is a whole lot different than posting up Iman Shumpert or DeMar DeRozan

The Nets, in fairness, tried to matchup hunt on a bunch of Pierce post-ups as well, but spending a lot of time playing next to Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche tends to cramp spacing a bit when Pierce isn’t hanging out outside the three-point line himself. 

You’ll notice all five bodies of the Hawks in the paint here as Pierce attempts to back down Kyle Korver on the left block. That’s not ideal. 

Nene and Marcin Gortat aren’t the greatest outside shooters in the world, but they are stretchier than Blatche or Mason Plumlee, or even last season’s version of Kevin Garnett.

It also helps having Bradley Beal or Martell Webster (who will eventually make it back from his injury) on the floor to draw defenders away from the post. And though John Wall is not yet a league-average outside marksman, he’s improving, and he is deathly dangerous when attacking on-the-move defenders after receiving a pass from the perimeter, so it’s dangerous to stray too far away from him on the perimeter as well. 

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Wall, for his part, is extremely enthused about what the acquisition of Pierce might mean in that respect, noting in an interview with Monumental Sports at a Baltimore Orioles game that “He gives us another versatile guy who can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, and also knock down shots.”

Last season, the Wizards really only had two guys who could create their own shot: Wall and Beal. Even Beal required some help, often being run through a maze of screens or receiving a handoff near the elbow to help generate space. 

Adding another player who can create separation allows for more diversity in the offense. Specifically, it provides another backup option if things break down in the initial action for Wall or Beal.

When the ball was kicked out to Ariza or Webster last season, it was either going up for a shot or else being passed back to one of the two primary ball-handlers. Pierce provides the additional skill of being able to create for himself off the bounce, or even to make a dribble-drive and dish to a teammate. 

The real challenge for Randy Wittman in integrating Pierce will come on the other end, where Pierce has the tall task of replacing one of the NBA’s stoutest defenders. Ariza‘s combination of height and length makes him extremely bothersome to all of the top wings in the league, whether they be of the bigger variety like LeBon James, Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony, or the smaller, quicker types like James Harden or Monta Ellis.

Pierce has the bulk to deal with bigger players on the wing, but he no longer possesses the foot speed or lateral mobility to handle quicker players off the dribble in space. He also developed a bad habit of straying a bit too far from shooters who were a bit too dangerous when off the ball last season, something he’ll have to clean up if he wants to pick up Ariza‘s slack. 

Luckily, he has some excellent defenders on hand to help with any mistakes he might make. Wall, Nene and Gortat formed the core of a very strong defensive unit last season.

According to NBA.com, Washington allowed a defensive efficiency of only 95.7 in the 947 minutes that trio shared the floor last season, a mark that would have led the NBA over the full season. Add in Beal and the number dropped to 94.9 in 588 minutes, which, again, would have led the league. Pierce will have plenty of cover. 

With Ariza out of town, Webster injured and a host of traditional bigs on the roster, Pierce will be returning to his natural position of small forward for most of the season. While his shift to the 4 was crucial for the Nets in creating spacing around their post-up guards who lacked range last season, it may not have been the best thing for Pierce as an individual player. 

He took advantage of some slower forwards guarding him at times, but when he tried to go to his bread-and-butter post moves and dribble-drives, it at times left the spacing too cramped. That will be less of a problem this season as he plays with some better shooters and is able to generate more favorable post matchups against wing players. 

If he can hold his own on defense, and if the Wizards can patch up whatever deficiencies he has in speed and quickness relative to Ariza, the Wizards could be a dark-horse challenger for the conference finals. 

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Washington D.C., Pittsburgh to host A-10 tournament

The D.C. metro area is home to two Atlantic 10 schools: George Washington and George Mason.



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Washington Wizards Ensure Eastern Conference Is Not a Two-Team Race

Don’t forget about the Washington Wizards.

Peddlers of “The Eastern Conference is the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ and Chicago Bulls‘ to lose” already have. They’re hawking two-team arguments that are narrow-minded and presumptuous, and plainly wrong. 

More than two teams are going to legitimately contend for the Eastern Conference throne. The East isn’t the powerhouse-packed West, but it’s not an invite-only dinner for two, either. 

There are the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, all teams with the potential to be far better than expected. 

Located slightly above the field, nestled somewhere between the terrific two (Cleveland and Chicago) and their underlings, are the Wizards. They have as much potential to vault themselves up the Eastern Conference’s hierarchy ladder as any other team. They insure the East against what should be a six-to-eight wheeler regressing into a tandem bicycle. 

So don’t forget about them. Don’t you dare. Not for a second. They’re here, among the elite, intentions directed toward title contention, eyeballing the top, ensuring the East is, at worst, a tricycle of crown-seekers.


Dominant Duo

For as much as the Wizards are bigger than any one or two players, their fate is still firmly fixed to those of Bradley Beal and John Wall.

Which is a good thing.

Beal and Wall still have their collective warts to work out. The Wizards only outscored opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with them on the floor together last year, according to NBA.com. But the Wizards were a plus-0.9 overall last season, meaning Wall and Beal‘s plus-2.3 more than doubles the team’s usual potency.

The two are long past learning to play alongside one another. Beal complements Wall as someone who can play on or off the rock; Wall complements Beal as someone who relentlessly wages drive-and-kicks; the two complement one another by working together as one.

Wall assisted on nearly 25 percent of Beal‘s made buckets last season. Wall’s field-goal percentage also climbed by more than three points with Beal on the floor; his three-point percentage skyrocketed beside Beal as well, going from 29.2 percent to a mouth-widening 39.3 percent.

Next to Wall, Beal‘s three-point conversion rate also improved, rising from 35.3 percent to 41.1 percent—no surprise considering Wall ranked first among all NBA players in corner and wing assists from beyond the arc, according to BSports.com

Collectively, they just fit. They can both score and pass and run and defend. There aren’t many backcourts that house equal talent. Very few, actually.

Perhaps none.

Individual evolution is the key for Washington’s backcourt studs. Each of their games still has holes.

Continuing down the path of well-roundedness must be the focus for Wall. He earned his first All-Star selection in 2013-14 during what was considered a breakout year headlined by career-best efficiency from deep (35.1 percent). 

But like Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes observes, Wall’s offensive adaptation came at personal expense:

The dirty secret about Wall’s so-called breakout campaign, though, is that it wasn’t actually all that much better than his performance the prior year.

Wall’s suddenly respectable three-point shot was a real thing, but it came at the cost of other efficient opportunities. He swapped out free throws for threes, and the result was an offensive season that was only marginally better than what Wall produced in 2012-13.

More troublingly, Wall swapped out rim attacks for three-pointers. After averaging 5.4 shots within five feet of the basket per game in 2012-13, he averaged 4.8 shots within that same range last season.

Point-blank opportunities are still Wall’s bread and butter. He shot 63.1 percent within five feet of the iron last year, compared to 35.1 percent between five and 19 feet, and 35.7 percent between 20 and 29 feet.

Greater balance is a must if he’s to legitimately take another step.

Shot selection, meanwhile, has been the bane of Beal‘s offensive existence.

More than 45 percent of his shot attempts (520) came outside the restricted area but inside the three-point line last season (aka long twos); he connected on just 37.1 percent of them.

Both players are still so young, though. 

At 23, Wall joins Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Isiah Tomas, Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson and Tiny Archibald as the only seven players in league history to average at least 17 points, eight assists and 1.5 steals per game through the first four years of their career.

And he’s still developing.

Barely 21, Beal has already established himself as a lethal scorer who performed with such ferocity and effectiveness during his first postseason push, he joined a certain competitive maniac in a little history-hoarding:

And he, too, is still developing.

Follies, foibles, flaws and all, Beal and Wall, together, make for an elite backcourt and coalesced cornerstone. 

That their games are still developing and, in some ways, unpolished spells only good news for the Wizards’ imminent and long-term future.


Depth Backed by Development 

Of any problems the Wizards may have, frontcourt depth isn’t one.

Although they’re thinner in the backcourt—built to rely on Andre Miller and Glen Rice Jr. to relieve Wall and Beal—they don’t need to be especially deep. Wall and Beal are going to log 35-plus minutes per night, sometimes 40-plus. Those behind them aren’t of great significance.

The Wizards aren’t promised such durability and stamina up front. Nene is prone to injuries, Marcin Gortat—proud owner of a way-too-long five-year, $60 million contract—is on the wrong side of 30 and the team lost Trevor Ariza to a more desperate Houston Rockets team.

What have the Wizards done to resolve such dilemmas? 

Bury their issues beneath gobs and mounds and oodles of depth, of course.

They signed Paul Pierce—who our own Stephen Babb posits could be an upgrade over Ariza—and they acquired DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries to shore up the middle. Oh, and they retained midseason standout Drew Gooden. And they still have that (sometimes-)sweet-shooting Martell Webster dude. And then there’s that Otto Porter guy, the No. 3 overall pick from 2013. 

Injuries limited Porter to only 37 appearances last year in what was a disappointing rookie campaign. To put the Wizards and their fans at ease, though, Porter decided to light up the summer league, averaging 19 points and 5.8 rebounds on 48.4 percent shooting (38.9 percent from deep). If healthy, he’s yet another weapon for Washington’s frontcourt. 

All this depth has left the Wizards free to experiment.

They can run traditional two-big lineups. They can embrace the exceedingly popular one-in, four-out trend. They can navigate substantial time without Nene or Gortat. They have a second unit to be feared. 

They have the ability to rank better than 19th in points scored in the paint, per TeamRankings.com. They have the means to space the floor even more than last year, when they ranked fourth in three-point percentage. 

They have ensured their top-10 defensive standing isn’t in jeopardy. They have positioned themselves to finish in the top half of offensive efficiency, unlike last season.

They have veterans.

They have youth.

They have the makings of a complete and, therefore, incredibly dangerous team. 


Watch Out, Here Come the Wiz Kids

The Cavaliers and Bulls—assuming Derrick Rose is healthy—figure to be spectacular next year.

But they are not alone. The Wizards are right there.

Right there. And Bullets Forever’s Thomas Pruitt accurately describes them—with specific reference to the Cavs—as a team that can ascend even higher:

Anyone who faces the Cleveland Cavaliers this year is going to have their hands full. Washington is no different, but if Pierce can turn back the clock, Porter steps up and they get a little lucky, they could surprise people. Favorites? No, by no means, but a healthy Washington team may have as good a chance as anyone of dethroning the King.

Dismiss the Wizards as you like, but while their roster might not be as flashy or LeBron James-powered as others, they aren’t at ceiling-crumbling disadvantages.

Cleveland and Chicago play in the same division. Both project to add at least two different players to its starting lineups—Kevin Love and James for Cleveland; Doug McDermott/Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol for Chicago—to Washington’s one (Pierce). The heart of the Wizards’ core has been together longer than Cleveland’s and Chicago’s when you consider that Rose has appeared in just 50 games—playoffs and regular season—for the Bulls since 2010-11. 

Chemistry matters. Where the Cavaliers and Bulls will look to establish it, the Wizards have it.

“The Finals. All you can ask for now is the Finals,” Wall said of the Wizards’ potential just before August, per The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee. “We’ve been to the second round. We know what it takes to win.”

They know what it takes to be memorable. They know they have something special in place.

Something sustainable.

Something capable of quickly growing into a threat so terrifying, not even the most criminal of Cleveland and Chicago cohorts can forget about them.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. 

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Why Washington Wizards Could Be in Line for Meteoric NBA Rise

Last season’s first-round victory over the Chicago Bulls marked the first time since 2005 the Washington Wizards won a playoff series.

It won’t take the franchise that long to win another one.

Despite a six-game defeat at the hands of the uneven Indiana Pacers, there’s little doubt that the 2013-14 campaign was a resounding success for Washington. Head coach Randy Wittman made his postseason debut and was summarily rewarded with a contract extension ensuring he’ll oversee this roster’s continued development.

That brings us to the strides said roster has already made.

Franchise face and point guard John Wall demonstrated heretofore unseen levels of maturity and growth. His 19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game both ranked as career highs, as did his 35.1 percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc.

Wall eventually showed that he still has plenty to learn upon being stymied by Indiana’s stifling defense. He made a combined 6 of 27 field goals in the first two games of that series and finished with a 5 of 17 performance in Game 6.

All told, Wall averaged just 14.2 points on 36.8 percent shooting during the conference semifinals. 

It was a reminder that the 23-year-old’s best days are still ahead of him. For all the excitement surrounding one of the league’s most intriguing young clubs, there is still work to be done—and plenty of time in which to do it.

While Wall turned heads last season, it was Bradley Beal‘s emergent sophomore campaign that ensured Washington a playoff-worthy one-two punch.

The 21-year-old averaged 17.1 points per game during the regular season and cashed in on 40.2 percent of his three-point attempts.

Having drawn early comparisons to the iconic Ray Allen, Beal‘s upside is nothing new. The big revelation is that he’s put his skills together so quickly, giving Wall a much-needed sidekick who can fill it up from distance.

Even more impressively, Beal rose to the postseason occasion, raising his scoring average in each of Washington’s two series—to 19.8 and 18.7 points per game, respectively. At times, Beal appeared to be the most poised of all the Wizards.

“The way I think about it, I’m 20 years old, playing in the playoffs, something I always dreamed about, so why not embrace it? Why not accept that challenge?” Beal said after a Game 1 victory against Indiana, according to The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee. “I’m just having fun on a great team. Whenever we play together and play the right way, it motivates me to be the best player I can be.”

After that Game 1—in which Beal tallied 25 points—opponent Paul George sang high praise, per The Washington Post‘s Mike Wise: “Bradley Beal’s a superstar in this league. He’s on the rise.”

On the performance, Wise added, “I can say with conviction that Beal had Kobe’s supreme confidence Monday night. In yet another stirring performance that makes you forget he’s 20-freakin’ years old, Beal‘s stroke may have even been purer than Mamba’s at 21.”

Wittman deserves much of the credit for bringing his young stars along.

As Wizards owner Ted Leonsis explained to Washington’s local NBC affiliate (via ESPN.com). “Randy did a very fine job…The players respected the coach, and they played hard for him. I think he deserves the opportunity to come back and lead us even deeper in the playoffs.”

The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee similarly argued, “The dramatic turnaround for the franchise — in both culture and on-court success — was a credit to Wittman’s dedication through tough times and his constant demands for more.”

Now Wittman enters uncharted territory—the expectations associated with a suddenly successful organization.

After overseeing rebuilding efforts with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, this is the first time Wittman will be tasked with a truly ambitious set of objectives. In addition to Washington’s breakout 2013-14 campaign, the Eastern Conference now appears relatively up for grabs.

Kevin Love’s inevitable move to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers will alter the East’s balance of power, but the Cavs will likely face some early growing pains. The Chicago Bulls reason to contend with the return of a healthy Derrick Rose, but it’s hard to envision them dominating like yesterday’s Miami Heat.

Miami itself could hang around the title conversation, but it will hardly instill fear in the hearts of the opposition.

Other up-and-coming teams like the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets will vie with Washington in a bid to establish themselves as the next-big thing. Here too, however, the Wizards find themselves in favorable position.

In short, the obstacles lying before Wittman and Co. hardly seem insurmountable. A conference finals appearance may still be something of a long shot, but Washington’s future is growing brighter.

The veteran presence of recently acquired Paul Pierce immediately gives the club the kind of championship pedigree it’s been missing. Even if Pierce struggles to produce on a consistent basis, his leadership should elicit further growth from Wall and Beal.

The Wizards will still boast one of the league’s better front lines thanks to Nene Hilario and the return of center Marcin Gortat (who was briefly a free agent this summer). Washington even managed to solidify its up-front depth with the signing of 10-year veteran Kris Humphries.

Though Trevor Ariza’s defense will be missed on the wing, Washington still appears to have taken another step forward. If nothing else, the continued evolution of its young backcourt should yield tangible dividends come playoff time.

Then there’s the increasingly plausible possibility the Wizards will take a quantum leap forward in 2016 in the event 2014 MVP Kevin Durant embraces a return home. It still remains a distant and speculative eventuality, but imaginations stirred when KD expressed his admiration for James’ Cleveland reunion.

“I thought it was well thought out, it was classy,” Durant told reporters. “It’s fun to see a guy think about more than just basketball for once, and himself … He thought about the city where he comes from, northeast Ohio and how he could affect so many kids bigger than basketball. I love that.”

Durant has been effusive in his praise of Oklahoma City, but he hasn’t made any promises regarding his free agency in 2016.

Washington’s recent hiring of David Adkins to assist with player development registers as a minor but unmistakable overture. Adkins is reportedly close with Durant.

With or without the game’s most lethal scorer, Washington is going places. The 2014 playoffs revealed what this team can do, and they reminded us these Wizards are just getting started.

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Washington, Gonzaga to renew series in 2016-17 (Yahoo Sports)

Washington students cheer their team as they hold giant cut-out photos of C.J. Wilcox, left, and head coach Lorenzo Romar against Colorado in the second half of an NCAA men's basketball game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Seattle. Washington won 71-54. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

After a decade-long layoff, Washington and Gonzaga are finally getting together on the basketball court again. ”This series is great for the fans of our state,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement. ”The fans have shown that they really appreciate the game with Washington and Gonzaga. There was a proposal for a series of ”neutral site” games played at KeyArena in Seattle presented by Washington in 2009 that was almost immediately shot down by Gonzaga.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Washington Wizards with NBA Draft Complete?

The Washington Wizards stayed quiet Thursday night at the NBA draft. They traded their only pick, the No. 46 selection, to the Los Angeles Lakers for cash, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin.

Besides that, the Wizards did absolutely nothing.

After an uneventful draft night, where will the team’s front office focus its attention the rest of the summer?

The Wizards have just seven players (John Wall, Nene, Martell Webster, Andre Miller, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.) under contract for 2014-15, with their salaries totaling $46.5 million, according to Mike Prada of Bullets Forever. Prada projects the cap for next season at $63.2 million, which gives the Wizards lots of flexibility for the summer.

However, the front office has to be careful not to upset the mojo of a squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2004-05. 

The Wizards should have three priorities this summer: keeping the starting unit intact, signing a undrafted free-agent big man and signing a scorer off the bench. 


Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza Need to Stay

When the Washington Wizards were healthy last year, they trotted out an excellent starting lineup.

They had an All-Star point guard with great scoring and passing ability (Wall), a 2-guard who could drive the lane and shoot (Beal), an athletic, defensive-minded small forward (Trevor Ariza), a power forward with post moves and a mid-range jumper (Nene) and a center who cleared the glass and protected the rim (Marcin Gortat). 

According to 82games.com, this unit played 486.6 minutes together in 2013-14. The group posted an offensive rating of 108 and a defensive rating of 98. This means that they outscored their opponents by 10 points for every 100 possessions.

For reference, the Indiana Pacers‘ starting lineup of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert netted the exact same offensive and defensive ratings.

The Wizards have an elite starting lineup. Not necessarily because of sheer talent, but because of how the players’ games mesh with each other.

Gortat and Ariza will be unrestricted free agents this summer, but there is no reason for the Wizards front office to get too cute with their cap space and try to replace one or both of them.

And with how weak the Eastern Conference is at the moment, the Wizards should be more concerned with winning now than later. The 30-year-old Gortat and 28-year-old Ariza won’t improve much more as players, but they should be useful pieces for a few more years.

Now, re-signing Gortat and Ariza won’t be terribly cheap. The veteran starters both made approximately $7.7 million last year, and they have played well enough to earn around that amount for their next contracts. 

Wizards insider J. Michael of Comcast SportsNet Washington tweeted that the Wizards are working hard to keep both players in the nation’s capital:

If Gortat and Ariza are both re-signed this summer, the Wizards will have completed their biggest task of the summer.


There Are Plenty of Quality Players Who Weren’t Undrafted

The 2014 NBA draft is over, but teams shouldn’t give up on the draft class just yet.

SI.com interviewed Ryan Blake, the senior director of NBA scouting operations, before the draft. This is what Blake had to say about the 2014 draft class: ”It’s absolutely deep. After the 60 picks in the two rounds, teams will have players they want for the summer league whom they feel could make the team in the fall. Agents’ phones are going to be ringing off the hook.”

The Wizards, in particular, should look for a bruising big man who can play right away off the bench. Nene is always an injury risk, and unrestricted free agents Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin may be tempted to sign with teams that can offer bigger roles and salaries.

Signing an undrafted free agent with an NBA-ready game would certainly be a low-risk move. UNLV’s Khem Birch, North Carolina’s James McAdoo and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim are all big men who could make an impact in their rookie years.

But Florida’s Patric Young is the most intriguing prospect. 

Young is slightly undersized for a post position, at 6’10″ in shoes, according to DraftExpress. However, he makes up for his unimpressive stature with nice athleticism (37.5″ maximum vertical leap) and length (7’1.75″). Check out his YouTube highlight mix below, suitably titled “King Kong.”

(Warning: Background music in video contains NSFW language.)

Young, or one of the other big men who slipped through the cracks at the draft, would be a smart investment for the Wizards.


The Wizards Could Use a Scorer Off the Bench

The Wizards ranked No. 29 in bench scoring this season (26.1 points per game), according to Hoops Stats

Most of the top teams in the NBA feature a lethal scorer leading their bench. Manu Ginobili of the Spurs, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, Ray Allen of the Heat and Reggie Jackson of the Thunder can all heat up at a moment’s notice. The baskets these players hit are often huge momentum swingers for their teams.

Who do the Wizards have to fill that role? Webster, maybe? He’s not a bad player, but he doesn’t impact games the way the aforementioned players do. Porter may or may not develop into the player the Wizards want him to be.

There’s a way the Wizards can pick up a pure scorer off the bench, and that’s through the mid-level exception. According to Mike Prada from Bullets Forever, the team may have a full mid-level exception worth of salary to give out if it re-signs its higher-paid free agents, due to the cap holds technically putting it above the salary cap but still under the luxury tax. 

Last season, the full mid-level exception amount was at $5.15 million, also according to Prada. It should be slightly larger in 2014-15 due to the increasing salary cap. 

The Wizards can do some damage with that kind of cash. 

Nick Young is one player who could be a valuable bench spark for the Wizards.

Young, who was drafted by Washington in 2007 and played more than four seasons there, made about $1.1 million this season, per HoopsHype, but vastly outplayed his salary. Young’s 30.3 points per 48 minutes ranked No. 11 in the NBA in 2013-14, according to ESPN.com.

The front office should also look at the other free-agent wings with good scoring ability, but Young could be a nice fit with the team’s mid-level exception, if it re-signs Gortat and Ariza

Ariza could also be willing to take the mid-level exception, as Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb notes. If he is, the team would obviously have more money to offer other players.



Why mess with success? 

The Wizards shouldn’t make major changes to a team that overachieved in the playoffs and showed a lot of chemistry in the starting lineup.

But small fixes like improving the frontcourt depth and bench scoring could turn the Wizards from just a playoff team to a full-fledged playoff contender.


Note: All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.

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Washington Wizards a Dark-Horse Candidate to Make a Splash in NBA Free Agency

News broke around lunchtime on Sunday that forward Carmelo Anthony will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks to become a free agent this offseason. Anthony currently headlines the offseason’s free-agent class that will also include the likes of Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson and potentially Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Many of these stars (especially Anthony and James) have been linked to the likes of Miami, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles. All four cities offer their own set of desirable perks and are rightly being mentioned in the conversation. But one team that’s been unwisely ignored in the discussion is the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards are coming off a season in which they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 44-38 record, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The team’s rebuilding efforts finally came full circle, and Washington was arguably two or three big shots away from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

While the Wizards didn’t have nearly as much pure star power as Conference foes such as the Heat and Pacers, they found success in boasting one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. John Wall‘s ability to attack the basket and Bradley Beal‘s ability to stretch a defense made the Wizards’ backcourt one of the most dangerous combinations in basketball, while no single player in the starting lineup proved to be a significant liability on defense. 

Fast forward to now, and the team is set to have roughly $20 million in cap space this offseason with the contracts of Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and others coming off the books. While the team seems to be making re-signing Gortat its top priority, there’s certainly some cash to play with.

The Wizards shouldn’t be considered favorites to land an Anthony or a James (if he becomes a free agent), but they should at least be on basketball fans’ radars as a dark-horse candidate. Putting one of those two on a roster that already has Wall, Beal and (to a lesser extent) Nene would make them able to go toe-to-toe with any roster in the league, and certainly the Eastern Conference. 

Without Ariza and potentially Gortat, the Wizards do lose some of the balance that let them thrive in 2013-14. But if they were to spend on an Anthony or James instead of re-signing Gortat, bringing in defensively sound rotation players like DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner to pair with Nene up front would still give the Wizards arguably the best starting five in the East.

Again, Washington is obviously no favorite to make a splash this offseason, but between the talent on their roster and their $20 million in cap space, they’d certainly make a logical suitor for one of this offseason’s top-tier, free-agent forwards. 

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