Grading Washington Wizards' Final 15-Man Roster
The Washington Wizards' season may have started in a less-than-ideal fashion, but it would be wise not to get down on the team just yet.
Not only were Bradley Beal, Glen Rice and Martell Webster nursing injuries, but DeJuan Blair and Nene were both suspended for the game due to a preseason altercation. That's five potential rotation players who didn't even suit up.
It may take some time to get everyone on the floor, but Washington has one of the deepest rosters in not only the Eastern Conference, but the entire league. Now that the season has begun, let's take a look at that roster and hand out some grades.
Projected Starter: John Wall
Reserves: Andre Miller, Garrett Temple
Last season, Wall emphatically made his case to be considered among the best guards in the league. He averaged nearly 19 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game on 52 percent true shooting, and even those numbers don't do him justice.
Wall was arguably the NBA's best distributor last year. No one recorded more assists, and perhaps more importantly, few players recorded more valuable assists.
Wall assisted on 247 three-pointers last season, 112 of which were corner threes, per BSports.com. Both marks led the league, and no one else really came close. That's incredibly valuable.
Perhaps Wall's biggest weakness is shot selection. He's a bit too eager to fire long jumpers out of the pick-and-roll, and over a third of his shots came from between 16 feet and the three-point arc last season.
Those shots do often give Wall easier avenues to the rim, as they force defenders to play up on him. Still, he hit just 37 percent of them, too low a mark to justify a high number of attempts.
Miller is as good a backup point guard as you could hope for, and it's always enjoyable to watch defenders jump from guarding perhaps the league's fastest guard to perhaps its slowest. Miller is a solid defender, and his strong post game gives the Wizards some unique ways to attack defenses.
It'll be interesting to see if Washington chooses to play Wall and Miller together more this season, especially while Bradley Beal is out. They played sparingly together last season, but the Wizards fared decently when they were out there.
The two would have some defensive issues, particularly against bigger 2s, but the sheer playmaking they would provide on the offensive end could make it worthwhile.
Temple, third on the depth chart, is a sturdy defender and started at the 2 to open the season against the Miami Heat. He lacks offensive punch and is unlikely to play big minutes, but combo guards are always useful to have around.
Projected Starter: Bradley Beal (Injured)
Reserves: Glen Rice
Washington's shooting guard rotation is a bit of a mess right now, but everything should settle down nicely once Beal returns.
It's hard not to be excited about Beal, who was brilliant in the playoffs last season. Beal's first two years in the league were up-and-down affairs, as his killer shooting was mitigated by his shaky off-the-bounce game. That changed in the postseason.
The Wiz have scored .926 points per possession in the playoffs when Beal runs a pick-and-roll and finishes with a shot, turnover, or drawn foul, per Synergy. That’s a massive jump from his putrid regular-season number, and would have ranked 12th for the season among 130 players who finished at least 75 such plays — right above Tony Parker. Include pick-and-rolls in which a Beal pass leads directly to a teammate’s shot, and the number jumps to 1.066 points per possession — about identical to what LeBron James put up for the season, per Synergy.
The playoffs are obviously a small sample, and Beal still has his struggles. Like Wall, he's too eager to fire deep twos coming out of picks, and he sometimes seems unsure of what to do even when he has a clear lane to the basket.
He'll learn though (he's barely 21 years old), and his improvement in the postseason could be a sign of things to come.
Ultimately, the evolution of Beal's off-the-bounce game could go a long way toward determining Washington's status as a legitimate contender.
The Wizards offense plummeted to near worst-in-the-league status when Wall was on the bench last season, namely because it lacked an elite secondary shot-creator. If Beal can grow into that role, Washington becomes very dangerous.
Rice is the one set to soak up some of the shooting guard minutes in Beal's absence. He's essentially an unknown commodity, but he averaged an efficient 25 points per game during NBA Summer League play and looked solid in the preseason as well.
Ideally, Rice will serve as instant offense off the bench, but the Wizards would likely be happy if he was just a capable spot-up threat this season.
Projected Starter: Paul Pierce
Reserves: Martell Webster (Injured), Otto Porter, Rasual Butler
Defensively, Pierce is a clear step down from Trevor Ariza, but he's a better fit offensively.
Pierce should be able to replicate some of Ariza's prolific corner shooting, and he'll add some sorely needed shot creation as well. Pierce is still a super-efficient scorer, and the Wizards could do far worse for a secondary ball-handler.
Washington will likely try to stagger Pierce and John Wall's minutes so that at least one of the two is on the court at almost all times, at least until Bradley Beal returns. The Wizards just don't have enough playmaking to do much else.
Webster's health is the wild card here. Webster had back surgery—the third back operation of his career—in late June and was ruled out for three to five months. It's uncertain exactly when he will return.
Webster is the Wizards' best three-point shooter (39 percent last year) outside of Beal, and he's the player most likely to take over the brunt of Ariza's corner-three hunting. Wall excels when he has space to work with, and Webster will be responsible for providing a lot of that this season.
Back injuries tend to be debilitating though, and the Wizards can't afford for Webster to be anything other than 100 percent, especially on the defensive end.
If Webster's back slows him even more, the Wizards will struggle to find lineups that aren't gashed defensively when he's out there.
That uncertainty could make the development of Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, even more crucial. Porter was heralded as a do-it-all small forward coming out of Georgetown, but he played just 319 minutes last year and was ineffective at best in those minutes.
Porter had a strong preseason, and his game—heavy on threes and mid-range jumpers off of screens—should mesh well with that of Wall and Beal.
Should Porter's development trend the wrong way, the Wizards could be forced to lean on Butler for stretches. Like most of Washington's small forward options, Butler is a poor defender. However, he did shoot 42 percent from three with the Indiana Pacers, so he's not a terrible option in a pinch.
Projected Starter: Nene
Reserves: DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden
The Wizards have no end of options to plug in at power forward.
Nene is fantastic, a do-it-all big who perfectly complements Marcin Gortat on both ends. The Wizards smashed teams when the two shared the court last season, holding opponents to just 95.5 points per 100 possessions. For reference, the top-ranked Indiana Pacers allowed 96.7 points per 100 possessions last year.
Behind Nene is Blair, whom the Wizards acquired in a sign-and-trade last July. Blair is a big minus defensively, but he's a terrific rebounder and one of the more unique big men in the league. He attacks in typical big-man ways—pick-and-rolls, offensive rebounds, etc.—but not in typical locations.
Blair understands that he's too small to finish at the rim against many bigs (he's 6'7”), and he often won't even try to do so. Instead, he'll stop drives short of the basket and loft up runners or whip jump passes to three-point shooters.
Nearly 40 percent of Blair's shots were attempted between three and 10 feet last year, a massive number for a player who doesn't often post up.
Humphries is technically next on the depth chart, though Washington may opt to play him more at center than at the 4. Either way, he should fit well with the Wizards' other bigs, and his range could make life much easier for the team's ball-handlers.
John Wall has never played with a true pick-and-pop big, and the extra spacing could do wonders for him. Humphries doesn't have three-point range, but he shot nearly 48 percent from 16 feet and out, and the bulk of his shots came from that area.
Finally, there's Gooden, who was a pleasant surprise in Washington last year. He played extremely well in the Wizards' first game this season, finishing with 18 points and five rebounds. He's still probably a long shot to get heavy minutes, but play like that could change things.
On top of all the players listed here, the Wizards are also toying with the idea of throwing Paul Pierce out at power forward, per The Washington Post's Jorge Castillo. Again, Washington has plenty of options here.
Projected Starter: Marcin Gortat
Reserves: Kevin Seraphin
The Wizards will probably end up regretting the final year or two of Gortat's five-year, $60 million contract, but these next few seasons will be a blast.
When Gortat was on the court, Washington outscored opponents by five points per 100 possessions. When he sat, the Wizards were outscored by nearly seven points per 100 possessions. That's kind of a big swing.
Gortat's only so-so on the low block, but few players are better at catching and finishing at the basket. He shot 71 percent at the rim last season, a stellar number, especially considering how many shots he took there.
John Wall and Gortat developed some mean pick-and-roll chemistry as the year went on, and it'll be interesting to see if they improve further with another season together.
The only other true center on the roster is Seraphin. Seraphin played decently in limited minutes last season, averaging five points and two rebounds per game with some solid defense thrown in.
Even so, he could struggle to see the floor this year. The Wizards have tons of 4s who could slide over to the 5, and Seraphin played just eight minutes against the Miami Heat. He's not a bad option, but Washington can probably do better this year.