Tonight's the night when John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards officially tip off the 2015-16 season. The Wizards are in Orlando to face the Magic with 81 regular season games and probably the playoffs to follow. Before the journey begins, a look at the questions that will hover over the season plus season, playoff and award predictions.
Will Wizards miss Paul Pierce?
This is more about those clutch shots in the playoffs than dealing with the grind of 82 games. The Wizards have an entire campaign (or at least a good chunk of it) to figure out their best end-game options -- and for Wall and Beal to work out a plan when the clock is ticking down. One thing is already clear: There is no way the way the 38-year old Pierce would last playing in this hyper-speed offensive attack. Losing him to the Clippers probably ends up becoming a blessing in disguise. (Not for the media, however. Pierce's quote game PER broke records during the playoffs.)
Will all the upcoming free agents stay with the team approach?
Barring a last second deal, Bradley Beal becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Nene, Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Ramon Sessions, Gary Neal and Garrett Temple are entering the final year of their respective contracts. The Wizards have team options for Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair and Martell Webster. Just about every name listed plays with a team-first vibe so in theory this won't be an issue. Of course, we've seen other teams over the years in similar spots ruined with me-first basketball. Avoid lengthy losing stretches and this shouldn't be an issue.
"I always tell player, doesn't matter who it is...winning solves all that," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said at the start of training camp when asked about potential chemistry concerns for teams with numerous free agents. "Very seldom unless you're an established star, numbers aren't going to get you were winning does. ...The golden rainbow is out there with the way the money is going to be escalating. ...You better focus on winning if you're worried about that."
Can the Wizards avoid another mid-season swoon?
During a discussion with John Wall about the games he's looking forward to this season, the All-Star point guard shifted the conversation to games toward the middle-ish part of the season.
"The key for us is going into the All-Star break winning games and then coming out winning games. That's when teams get over the hump and get 50 wins, finish in second or third place. Every year we [a lot] in a row, go into the All-Star break and then lose four more," he said.
The Wizards entered last year's break losing six of eight and then dropped five in a row on the other side. During the 2013-14 season, Washington lost four of five games before the All-Star break.
How does Wittman divvy up the power forward minutes?
Even if we deem Nene as center Marcin Gortat's backup, some interesting math remains. Kris Humphries evolution from mid-range shooter to stretch-4 appears surprisingly easy. Whether he can hang defensively on the perimeter is perhaps the bigger question. That's where Jared Dudley comes in. Or at least he does once the 6-foot-7 forward coming off back surgery can play full minutes. As for Drew Gooden, when he plays, he produces. Now that his 3-point shooting isn't so rare among Washington's bigs, Gooden is probably the odd man out barring injury or Wittman using consistent 11-12 man rotations (Which he might at first considering the up-tempo approach). By the way, this doesn't even factor in the potential of truly small lineups with Otto Porter at the four.
Can Wizards rebound effectively playing small ball?
Glass work was one of the underrated issues in the Eastern Conference playoff series against the Hawks. The final rebounding numbers were essentially a push, but that meant a loss for Washington based on regular season numbers. The good thing is Wall and Beal aren't afraid to board and Otto Porter has magnets in his hands. Humphries kept up his strong work during the preseason despite spending much more time around the 3-point arc. Gortat desired more space inside offensively. Now he'll need to man the paint for defensive rebounds even more this season.
Will Randy Wittman stick with the pace and space plan?
The doubters say no way the old school coach is truly comfortable playing this modern style even though "Playoff Randy" essentially did just that in the 2015 postseason. Now, let's not take preseason games as anything definitive, but with younger legs, the Wizards are running more. With more 3-point shooters on the roster, the Wizards are taking more shots from beyond the arc. By the way, this is essentially what Wittman previously said would happen if the roster had the proper personnel. I totally get the argument that the Wizards were slow to change relative to the league, but I'd argue part of that was personnel. Go back and look at their top-8 last year before the Andre Miller-Ramon Sessions trade. Lots of age and non-deep shooters. Running lots with Nene, Marcin Gortat and Pierce in the lineup didn't make sense. No argument more 3-pointers from Bradley Beal would have been nice, but three-fifths of the starting lineup were essentially non-threats from deep. Anyway, this "new" plan is here to stay. Now, if the defense starts looking like the Paul Westhead era Denver Nuggets, all bets are off.
While we're here...I made a few predictions earlier this week, but not the heavy duty kind like the CSN Insiders. Here goes...
Eastern Conference: 1) Cavaliers 2) Bulls) 3) Heat 4) Wizards [49-33] 5) Hawks 6) Celtics 7) Raptors 8) Bucks
Western Conference: 1) Rockets 2) Thunder 3) Warriors 4) Spurs 5) Clippers 6) Grizzlies 7) Jazz 8) Pelicans
Wizards run: Lose 4-3 to Cavaliers in ECSF
East finals: Heat over Cavaliers 4-2
West finals: Rockets over Warriors 4-3
NBA finals: Rockets over Heat 4-2
Regular season MVP: 1) James Harden 2) Kevin Durant 3) LeBron James 4) Stephen Curry 5) Anthony Davis
Rookie of the Year: 1) Emmanuel Mudiay 2) Jahlil Okafor 3) Karl-Anthony Towns 4) R.J. Hunter 5) Mario Hezonja
Coach of the Year: 1) Billy Donovan 2) Kevin McHale 3) Scott Skiles
Most Improved Player: 1) Otto Porter 2) Rudy Gobert 3) Giannis Antetokounmpo 4) C.J. McCollum 5) Aaron Gordon