30 in 30: WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Editor’s note: This is the last of Armchair 3’s 30 in 30 series, where we’ve run you up to date on all 30 NBA teams over the course of the last 30 days. You can find links to each individual team’s analysis piece here. Now that this series has concluded, we’ll provide more day-to-day analysis of NBA news, rumors and playoff jockeying.

Washington doubled down on the present, not the future, this summer, with the veteran acquisitions of Trevor Ariza and former No. 2 overall pick Emeka Okafor. The price for these 2 was Rashard Lewis’s $13.7 million — itself still the largest deal on New Orleans’ cap, even though Lewis, since released, is playing spot minutes in Miami. Before the end of the 2012 season, Washington had already traded for Nene’s 5-year, $67 million deal.

Then, a few months later, Washington selected Bradley Beal with their No. 3 overall selection. Beal, 19, is Washington’s leading scorer, at 14.2 points per game, and arguably the league’s 2nd most impressive rookie after Blazers’ 1-guard Damian Lillard. Beal’s only 6’3″, but has unique ability as an outside scorer who can also create his own shot and score in isolation sets. Beal’s a 41% shooter, but is coming on strong late, averaging 18.8 points on 48% shooting in his last 10 games, as the Wizards have surged since Wall’s return from injury.

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Diagnosed with that stress injury in his left kneecap, Wall did not make his season debut until Jan. 12. Without Wall, Washington started the year 0-12 and was 5-28 until his return; since, Washington’s improved to 19-39, winning 14 of 25 with the star point guard in the lineup headed into Sunday. The Wizards are 9-5 against likely playoff teams since Wall’s return, as well, and even won in Denver, who are tied atop the NBA with only 3 home losses.

With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Okafor, Washington’s operating at a +60 points differential in 104 minutes together. Those 5 are, headed into Sunday, scoring 1.15 points per possession, while allowing opponents 0.86 points; those are the best outputs, on both ends, from any Wizards lineup to play at least 30 minutes together this season.

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Through any other statistical prism, Washington stinks — they’re 30th in scoring offense, at 92 points per game; 29th in field goal percentage, at 43%; 24th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.41; and tied for 19th in rebound differential, -1.4. Defensively, though, Washington’s made strides, allowing a 6th-best 95.5 points per game, better than Boston, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City. They’re 4th-best in opponent’s FG percentage, 43.7, and tied for 6th-best in opponent’s 3-point percentage, 34.3. (And, somehow, their opponents shoot a 3rd-worst 72.8% from the foul line.)

But then, of course, there’s Washington’s personnel issues. Head coach Randy Wittman assumed the responsibility after the team fired Flip Saunders mid-season in 2012 and is on through at least this year, but who knows after that. Wittman, though in stalwartly standing behind his franchise guy Wall, blasted the supposed stubbornness of his young players publicly in February. Injuries and consistency are also an issue; 16 different guys have started games for Washington this year, easily the most in the NBA. (And only 1 guy, Okafor, has appeared in all 57 games.)

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Wall is one of the league’s top PGs in his 3rd year — he’s playing less than 30 minutes, but still posting 7.3 assists per on the NBA’s worst scoring offense. The game still needs to slow down for the super quick Wall, who’s also tallying 3.7 turnovers. And his 3-point game has never developed, dropping from 30% his rookie year to 7% this season.

Behind Wall and Beal, Washington’s best backcourt scorer, Jordan Crawford at 13.2 points per, has since been dealt to Boston for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa’s expiring deal (and torn ACL). Crawford was shooting a mediocre 41.5% from the field and 34.5% from 3, though good enough to be career-highs, and his shot selection reportedly did not endear him to the Wizards’ coaching staff.

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At the 3, Washington’s had a revolving door of Ariza, Webster and Jan Vesely. Webster, a lottery pick out of high school in 2005 and August signing, has been the most consistent, appearing in 56 games (42 starts) and averaging 10.7 points per game. Webster is also Washington’s primary deep threat, at 45% from 3. Ariza’s missed 17 games with a calf issue and is only shooting 41%. Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, has struggled finding time in Wittman’s rotation, logging only 2.6 points per in 34 games. Even Chris Singleton, also a first-round selection in 2011, and his well-below-average 8.8 player-efficiency rating has played in 42 games.

In the frontcourt, Nene is one of the league’s most skilled players around the basket on both ends, when healthy. In 42 games this year, he’s tallying 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Okafor’s adding 9.5 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. The departure of Lewis was supposed to free up time for Kevin Seraphin, a 1st-round selection in 2010 Washington’s particularly high on. And Seraphin, the 6’9″ stretch forward, is averaging career-highs in points, 9.5, and minutes, 22.7, but shooting a career-low 44.5% from the field.

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Washington’s long-term future is, even with some of those higher-profile acquisitions, predicated on its upcoming draft picks. The draft, obviously with Kwame Brown the staple in 2001, has not been kind to Washington, aside from Wall and Beal, as none of Washington’s 1st-round picks prior to 2010 are still with the team. And Washington’s limited in free agency, with $14.5 million owed to Okafor in 2013-14, $13 million to Nene and another $7.7 million to Ariza, who’s likely to pick up his player option.

I understand $13 million is a little high for Nene, but his leadership and offensive polish is crucial to this team’s continued development. And let’s remember this is a team still trying to overcome the immature label, particularly because of the gun incident involving the since-departed Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in 2009. Washington also amnestied the controversial Andray Blatche, now in Brooklyn — but not before the Wizards gave him an extension in 2010 that pays, on average, $8 million per through 2015.

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Hypothetically speaking, say Ariza picks up his option for 2013-14, and so Washington would have about $56-57 million committed to 9 players, not counting the $7.8 million they’re paying Blatche off the cap. Webster’s the only guy coming off the books this summer Washington may want to extend; Okafor and Ariza’s deals expire next summer, meaning enough cap flexibility to ink up Wall long-term, who would be a restricted free agent.

As for next year, my bets are on Washington, if healthy, making a push for a lower-end playoff spot, as Milwaukee, Boston and Atlanta likely retool this offseason.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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One Response to 30 in 30: WASHINGTON WIZARDS

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