Now that we're removed from the intense portion of the NBA offseason, there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the NBA road ahead. For the next couple of weeks, CSNwashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward the 2015-16 campaign.
We can all agree that LeBron James is the best player in the East. But who is number two?
J. Michael: That would be Paul George, if he’s anything near the player he was before he broke his leg, for the Indiana Pacers. Just a few years ago, he was an early MVP candidate because he was just that good – a two-way player who can dominate a game with or without the ball.
But let’s say he’s not the same player, that designation – though strictly conjecture and not empirical – is up for strong debate. John Wall and Jimmy Butler definitely enter the conversation. And before he developed a lung ailment, Chris Bosh, too. These players definitely are not if we’re talking about now and not taking into account their previous work in the league: Carmelo Anthony. Pau Gasol. Derrick Rose. Or Kyrie Irving/Kevin Love.
Ben Standig: The most amazing part of pondering this question was realizing the answer isn't remotely obvious. That's because so many of the game's best aren't in the Eastern Conference. Of the 15 players that comprised the 1st, 2nd and 3rd all-NBA teams this past season, 12 were from the West. (That's not even counting the injured Kevin Durant.) Besides James, Pau Gasol and Kyrie Irving also represented the East on the all-NBA teams. Neither is clearly one of the 10 best players in the NBA, let alone an obvious call as the second-best player in the East.
Paul Millsap, Al Horford, John Wall and Jimmy Butler would have made the fourth team if such a thing existed. At points in their careers, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George would be the easy answer. Of course, Anthony missed half of last season, marking the third time in four years he played fewer than 70 games. George, coming off a devastating leg injury, only returned in the final days.
Kevin Love went from looking like a franchise player in Minnesota to serving as a role player in Cleveland. Some want to believe Derrick Rose is still at that NBA Most Valuable Player level. Respect for the comeback from one injury after another, but I'm not one of them, not yet anyway.
Fine, I'll stop stalling. Factoring in all that plus the uncertainty over Chris Bosh's health, my answer is...John Wall? Wow, I know. Also, not a homer pick. With all due respect to Bradley Beal, Nene and Marcin Gortat, Wall has been the best player on a team that was among the last eight remaining in the playoffs the last two straight seasons. Yes, final eight isn't exactly the goal all teams shoot for, but how many predicted Washington would get there either time? Wall shined in the playoffs last season- even when playing with a busted wrist - after struggling the previous year. More than a few people believe the Wizards defeat the Hawks and reach the Eastern Conference Final last year if Wall isn't injured. Growth is a good thing and the pass-first point guard keeps showing just that.
Butler is close, but the two-way threat hasn't truly taken on the alpha role with Gasol, Rose and Joakim Noah around. Irving works as LeBron's wing man or among the many standouts in a Team USA situation, but he flamed out when slotted as Cleveland's best player. The answer was George before the injury. Maybe it will be again sooner than later. Until then, we have to give somebody the nod. For now, I can make the argument that player is John Wall.
Previous one-on-one debates