FanHouse Preview: Wizards
The Wizards are hoping that a healthy roster, a few new additions and a new head coach will help the team get back to relevance and into the fairly stacked upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. But reconstructing a group that won just 19 games a year ago might be a project that will take longer than a single campaign to complete.
The good news is the Wizards have plenty of positives going for them as they head into the season.
First and foremost is the return of a healthy (and more introspective) Gilbert Arenas, who is the team's heart and soul as much as he is its point guard. Arenas is a legitimate All-Star when healthy, and he's the only one on the team that seems to be able to distribute the ball to get others involved in the offense.
Arenas appears to be back with a vengeance, making basketball his top priority, while suffocating the personality that made him a fan favorite off the court -- as well as a legend and pioneer in the NBA blogosphere. Gilbert has stopped blogging, and until recently, stopped dealing with the media altogether, saying he wants his game to do the talking. As much as we'll miss the wackiness, it could be that the renewed focus on hoops will make the Wizards a much more dangerous team.
That is, if they can manage to stay healthy.
Washington was arguably the team most stricken by injury problems last season, and early in the preseason, they're not off to a great start. Antawn Jamison just went down with a shoulder injury, and his status for the season opener is up in the air. The Wizards made some improvements, but those will only take them so far if any one of the team's "big three" misses significant time due to injury.
Adding Flip Saunders as head coach should do wonders, as Eddie Jordan seemed to be content with coaching a team that played zero defense and took amazingly bad shots (like, say, contested three-pointers early in the shot clock) with startling frequency.
The Wizards are totally loaded at shooting guard, with recent additions Mike Miller and Randy Foye providing a new spark to compliment returning producers DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young. And in case the team wants to go with a bigger lineup, as it did against the Cavaliers the other night, they can just move Caron Butler to the two, and play Jamison, Andray Blatche, and Fabricio Oberto (or a healthy Brendan Haywood) up front in the starting lineup.
All of this amounts to the Wizards having options this season. Flip Saunders will fine tune the offense, and make the team play just enough defense to keep their opponents honest. Now, if they can just stay away from that pesky injury bug, the ceiling for this team is likely the four seed in the East.
The basement? Well, it can't get any lower than where the team finished last season.
Last Season By the Numbers
Record: 19-63. Finished 5th in the Southeast Division, last in the Eastern Conference.
Offense: 105.4 points per 100 possessions, 26th in the NBA. 29th in shooting, 16th in turnover rate, 13th in offensive rebounding, 23rd in free throw rate.
Defense: 113.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA. 30th in shooting defense, 11th in opponent turnover rate, 25th in defensive rebounding, 13th in opponent free throw rate.
Top Performers: Antawn Jamison led the team in scoring with 22.2 points per game, and Caron Butler wasn't far behind with his average of 20.8. The pair also pretty much led the team in rebounding as well, with Jamison averaging 8.9 boards and Butler bringing down 6.2 per game. Sure, Brendan Haywood averaged 7.2 rebounds, but he appeared in only six games. Gilbert Arenas led the team in assists with an average of 10 per game -- but only played in two of them. Butler was the second best in that department, averaging a mere 4.3 assists per game.
All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
Player to Watch
FanHouse's Matt Moore and Tom Ziller preview one player to watch from each team. Here's a snippet of Ziller's post on Wiz forward Caron Butler.
Butler still had a Butler-like season: 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, 1.5 steals -- but there's no self-promoting allowed when there are only 19 wins in the ledger.
So the song remains the same: Butler is one of the most bizarrely solid players this league has, worthy of our attention and appreciation. Luckily, as the Wizards around him improve -- through addition of the previously injured (Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood) and previously exiled in Minnesota (Mike Miller, Randy Foye) -- we'll get to see Butler's glow more frequently.
See Ziller's full post on Butler.
IN: Mike Miller (trade), Randy Foye (trade), Fabricio Oberto (free agency).
OUT: Oleksiy Pecherov (trade), Darius Songaila (trade), Etan Thomas (trade).