League wide, the 2010-2011 NBA season is a little bit of a smoke and mirrors act. While there have been plenty of offseason story lines that we finally get to see in action on the court, for all intents and purposes, the list of title contenders is shorter than any in recent memory. Not a surprise: this year’s Wizards aren’t on that list, and as a young and rebuilding team, that isn’t necessarily the expectation. Even if the Wiz aren’t quite ready to join the league’s elite four squads (the Lakers out West, and the Celtics, Magic and Heat in the East), the upward projection of the squad is going to be much more than a dead cat bounce.
I’ll be one half of the WLDC Wizards team this season, joined by the great Patrick Pho to recap the on and off court action all season long. While sometimes a forgotten team among the other three DC squads, we will do our best to keep you up to pace with all of the hardwood action at the Verizon Center. In honor of the season tip-off for the Wiz tonight in Orlando, we’re proud to bring you this recap of changes and a preview of what’s to come in 2010-2011.
2009-10 Look Back
The 2009-10 season was one that most basketball and Wiz fans will likely remember more for off-court craziness than the 26-56 record posted by the squad. Yes, this was a team dotted with the bizarre actions of Gil Arenas, leading to a national spotlight for his poorly thought through gun “prank” and subsequent suspension. After Arenas’s suspension, the team dumped Caron Butler and a few other pieces to Dallas at the deadline, and went 12-26, which included a truly pitiful 16-game losing streak that stretched the month of March. The bright spot of the year didn’t come until long after the Wizards’ were eliminated from the playoffs: the draft lottery. Now, there’s a joke of a curse with the Wizards selecting number one in the draft (*Cough* Kwame Brown *Cough*), but John Wall seems like such a can’t-miss prospect that it was a slam dunk pick for the Wiz in June.
Moving into the New Season
Acquisitions: John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian, Hilton Armstrong (and an unsuspended Gilbert Arenas)
Losses: Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Shaun Livingston
Projected Starters: Wall (PG), Arenas (SG), Al Thornton (F), Andray Blatche (F), JaVale McGee (C)
When it comes down to the 2010-11 campaign, there are a few major things to figure out with many shuffled pieces since last fall. Gone is Mike Miller (to division rival Heat), who was good for double digit points and the ability to switch between guard and forward play with his size. Gone is Randy Foye, who never really lived up to his college career from Villanova before bouncing around and ending up with the Wiz via trade for the season. But in their place, there is a lot of hope in what the backcourt of Wall, Arenas, Kirk Hinrich and Nick Young can do, so much so that the Wiz may run some small ball on frontcourt driven squads in the East and actually stand a chance.
The guards will have to step up, because there are definitely some concerns below the basket, where there are a lot of unfulfilled expectations. Yi Jianlian had a great summer with the Chinese National team in the FIBA World Championships – he averaged more than 20 points per game, a solid improvement on the 12.2 ppg he had last season with the Nets – but for as heralded as the prospect was when drafted, he never got settled against the other bigs in the NBA. He’ll also have to trade minutes with Andray Blatche in the low post spot, so that will also cut into his production if he can’t wrestle away the start. The same “what can we expect” expectations can probably be used for SF Al Thornton, who came over to the Wiz from the Clippers in a three-way deadline trade last year that sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland. Thornton was an All-ACC player at Florida State, but like so many other teammates with the Wiz, still just hasn’t found that right role in the Association.
Of course, the storyline that goes beyond the line-up is what John Wall just possibly may be able to pull off. Will he hit the Rookie of the Year line that has been set by dozens of NBA personnel and prognosticators? Or can his success be as team focused as he’d like it to be? Ideally, you’ll see both things happen on the season: a dynamite, healthy season from Wall to go with a squad that stays together to start building for the future and break back into the playoffs.
I consulted my hoops partner-in-crime here at WLDC for us to get down to the predictions on what is in store for the season. Here’s what we see on the horizon.
Patrick: 2005 was a definitive year that characterizes DC Sports before The Caps got good. The Nationals were a new face in town and finished 81-81. The Redskins went 10-6 and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Wizards went 42-40 and started a three year playoff run. In my time here in DC I’ve come to know our sports teams like the teams of 2005: not elite, but good enough make the post season and give hope for a better season next year. The problem is that next year didn’t come and those three teams languished while they should of been rebuilding. Well the rebuilding is finally here for The Wizards. John Wall will certainly be the big story all year round as the new face of the future. Questions will continue to surround Gilbert Arenas as he attempts to beat injury and return to the player he once was. JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche represent young building blocks that can develop alongside Wall to become a talented core. However the most important player this season won’t be on the court- but off it. New owner Ted Leonsis needs to turn around the image of a failing franchise while it takes time to rebuild itself into a contender. His ability to win back the fans is just as important as John Wall living up to his first pick hype- and I think both will do so. Patrick’s Final Call: 30-52, 13th in the East, 5th in the Southeast; the Wizards find a sucker to take on Arenas’ monster contract.
Dave: For me, I think the high water mark on the season is picking up enough wins from last year to get to that 8th spot in the East. The Southeast Division is a tough place to try and rebuild, carrying two of the four championship contenders as well as a feisty Atlanta Hawks team that is definitely in play for the fourth or fifth seed in the conference. Last year, the last spot in the playoffs went to a Chicago Bulls team that went .500, meaning that the Wiz would need to pick up 15 extra victories this year if the standings netted the same. Interestingly, I’d actually expect the hurdle for eighth to be lower because of the power concentration at the top of the conference, likely meaning that the last playoff spot may be for a record of around 38-44. As much as 12 more wins is realistic with the new guard mentality and hopefully Yi realizing some of his potential down low, I think the Wiz will fall just short of that mark and the playoffs in John Wall’s first season. Dave’s Final Call: 36-46, 9th in the East, 4th in the Southeast; John Wall wins Rookie of the Year.
After two games on the road, the Wizards will have their home opener next Tuesday against the 76ers. Stick with WLDC all season long for your Wizards news and recaps.