My colleague Frank Hanrahan campaigned for Bradley Beal as Wizards starter on day one of the 2012-13 season. Good points throughout, but if I were to offer a counter - which coincidentally I'm about to do - my retort as to who should lineup next to John Wall centers less on the No. 3 overall pick or the man he would replace, Jordan Crawford. The only start the Wizards need to focus on next year is getting off to a good one record-wise. Having a green rookie help set the early tone each night might not be ideal.Let's look at the facts. Last season the Wizards opened the season with eight straight losses and dropped 12 of 13. In 2010-11, they slipout of the gates by dropping 4 of 5 and six of the first eight games. The 2009-10 campaign began by the Wizards going 2-1, but six straight setbacks followed. In each case they missed the playoffs by miles.With starts like that, even the most optimistic supporters quickly begin thinking about the promise of next year's draft rather than the upcoming postseason. We've been told this season is playoffs or bust so another dismal start won't do.That's why the Wizards went out and added veterans Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza over the last few months. There are now more experienced hands on deck to compliment, to lead the overall youthful roster. The starting lineup will reflect the change, as it should, for now anyway.With his high confidence and volume shooting ways, Crawford's ultimate NBA role should be that of an instant-offense sixth-man. At some point this season perhaps Wizards coach Randy Wittman makes it so. Just not on October 30, opening night at Cleveland, or the immediate games afterward. Crawford and Wall have chemistry; let Beal's develop naturally, over time. If nothing else, let the first rounderearn his spot, let him beat out the incumbent Crawford.For all the additions, this team will soar as high as Wall can fly them in thisstepping stone of a campaign. Why havethe rising third-year guardpotentially weighed downed early on by having to carry a kid learning the NBA ropes.At the start of the upcoming season, the Wizards do not have time to find their way. Want to change the losing culture, start strong. Open with another string of losses, well, we know what history says will happen.Ben Standig blogs about the Redskins, Wizards, Hoyas and the D.C.area college basketball scene for CSNwashington. You can reach him by email at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @BenStandig and catch his musings at the D.C. Sportalistand his fantasy football thoughts at FFToolbox.com.
With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season. Today, at No. 2, a look at the Wizards' young core and how those players can make another leap...
In signing Dwight Howard and Jeff Green, trading for Austin Rivers and drafting Troy Brown, Jr., the Wizards arguably added more talent to their roster this summer than they did in any recent offseason. Yet, the ceiling for this team will once again be determined mostly by a familiar dynamic. The best and most likely way for the Wizards to significantly change their fortune as a team is for one or several of their young, core players to make a big leap in their development.
Those core players would be John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr., four first round picks drafted between 2010 and 2015 who have served as the nucleus of their recent success.
Wall, Beal and Porter in particular are the straws that stir the drink. Oubre is worth including because of his pedigree and potential and because this, a contract year, is such an important season for him.
There are reasons to believe that all four of the Wizards core players can get better, despite what they have already shown at the NBA level.
Wall, at 28 and entering his ninth NBA season, is probably looking for more incremental improvement at this point in his career. He has already made five All-Star teams and earned All-NBA honors. As long as he's healthy, which wasn't the case last season, the Wizards know what they are going to get.
That said, it may be unreasonable to expect Wall to make another major leap in his career. It's possible he has already entered his prime and his peak as a basketball player. If there is another level for him to reach, he will likely need to get there soon, as he's two years away from turning 30.
When healthy, Wall is one of the 10 or so best players on the planet. More consistent defense and more efficient scoring are the ways he can move up the ladder. Also, simply going further in the playoffs would change a lot about how he is perceived among NBA superstars.
At 25, Beal is young enough to have a lot of room to grow. Last year was his first All-Star season. If he has another gear, the logical next step would be All-NBA honors and perhaps going from a guy who scores 22-23 points per game to one of the elite scorers in the league.
Porter is also 25 and therefore may still not be in his prime. He has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA and is as reliable as anyone on the Wizards. But to become an All-Star or an All-NBA candidate, Porter will need to have volume numbers to buoy his high shooting percentages.
Bad players in the NBA have neither volume or efficiency, good players have one or the other, while true stars have both. Porter may take his game to the next level simply by taking more shots and expanding his role from a usage perspective. If he can maintain his efficiency while adding a few points per game to his scoring average, Porter will enter another echelon as a player.
Oubre has more room to develop than the other three because he is younger and less accomplished. He is 22 and entering the final year of his rookie scale contract.
The Wizards have kept Oubre around, hoping for a breakout year much like they saw from Beal and Porter at this point in their careers. Those guys did not get contract extensions from Washington before their rookie deals were up, but ended up with max money. If Oubre can follow a similar track, the Wizards will be significantly better.
Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre are all at different points in their careers and have a wide range in their room to grow. Their continued development will be the most important indicator for the Wizards' success this year and beyond.
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No matter what happens this fall and winter, the year of 2018 was a big one for Ted Leonsis. His Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup and the new practice facility and arena for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go in Ward 8 was opened. Even his Valor won the Arena Football League and Wizards District Gaming played their inaugural season.
The Caps winning and the St. Elizabeth East Entertainment and Sports Arena opening its doors has Leonsis thinking bigger and particularly when it comes to the Wizards. As he puts it, there are "no excuses" anymore. It's time to accomplish their goals and Leonsis has some specific ones in mind.
"We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I'd like us to win 50 games. I'd like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington.
Leonsis, in many ways, feels like he has done his part as the owner. He has given the Wizards the resources to compete and win at the highest level. They have the salary commitment - the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in payroll ($134.9M) - and the facilities that any team in the NBA would covet.
"We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They're healthy entering the year," he said. "Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you're getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let's play ball."
When it comes to the practice facility, it's much more than just added space, new locker rooms and shiny courts. The Wizards will have at their disposal the newest training technology and all the medical resources they need from Medstar.
The facility has a virtual reality room, which goes way beyond the headsets and cameras they have utilized in recent years. They will also have a sensory deprivation tank.
It's a pod that fills with salt water and allows people to float without light or sound. The benefits include decompression of the spine, alleviation of soreness and muscle tension and stress relief. In case you are wondering, they aren't cheap.
The weight room at the Medstar performance center is also calibrated for different exercises and methods. And with more space, the Wizards can continue to move into the future from a technology perspective and stay ahead of the curve.
"It's not just being an early-adopter. If you make an investment in this size and scale, you'll be at an advantage because you can build in and not add on a lot of that right into the utility of the building," Leonsis said.
In having this type of facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, Leonsis hopes those teams can follow the model that worked for the Capitals. The Caps have had a specialized training facility in Ballston, Va. for years and have benefitted from a strong minor league system, most notably with the Hershey Bears. That top-to-bottom approach can help the Wizards, in particular, as they now have a G-League affiliate.
The foundation is in place for the Wizards to someday compete for an NBA championship. Many never expected to see the day the Capitals would reach the mountaintop. Now the Wizards can follow the blueprint.
"We've proven that there is no [D.C. sports] curse," Leonsis said. "If you are patient and work hard and are committed to continuous improvement than you can win a championship."
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