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What to expect from Wizards when regular season opens

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What to expect from Wizards when regular season opens

Now that the preseason is over, and the Wizards can focus on the Orlando Magic for Wednesday's regular-season opener, what can be expected in the early going? Based on their seven exhibition games in which they won four, here are my best guesses:

  • Kris Humphries, who started each game as the "stretch" power forward over Nene, will keep that role. He shot 10 of 28 from three-point range (35.7%), which is a huge improvement over his career average from long range when the games count 2 of 26 (less than 1%).  Although Drew Gooden would seem to be a better fit style-wise with the first group, the hope is that he's a better fit with the second group joining Nene.
  • John Wall had 22 turnovers in six preseason games, which is far too many but will be better. He clearly was taking risks, and even showboating at times, in ways that he wouldn't when the games count. Whether he'll be able to keep his turnovers to less than 3.0 per game is another matter. The Wizards play a fast pace and will have more possessions. But Wall won't be solely responsible for starting plays anymore. It's a reachable goal though most will bet against him being able to do it.
  • With Jared Dudley still not in form after returning from back surgery, Kelly Oubre will have to play a bigger role. "Bigger" here is a relative term. That doesn't mean he'll be averaging 20 minutes a game but that he'll get spot minutes behind Otto Porter. If he's able to hold is own, that's all that will be asked. Oubre can't focus on scoring or trying to do too much too early because coach Randy Wittman will have him on a short leash. It'll be defense and getting most of his buckets off hustle plays that keeps him on the floor. If he doesn't follow that script, he'll be parked on the bench and there could be more three-guard lineups to compensate.

MORE WIZARDS: WASHINGTON TRIMS ROSTER DOWN TO 15

  • Nene has a sore right calf, but him missing the last four games of the preseason is probably more of a precautionary move to make sure he's healthy. The 7-footer played in 67 games last season, his most since 2010-11. Martell Webster's right hip injury seems more serious, an arthritic condition that results in constant pain. It'll be up to him whether or not he can play through it. Based on the tone of what I've been told about Webster by multiple people, I'm not optimistic about his ability to contribute.  
  • Marcin Gortat will have his best season, his third, with Washington. The additional open space on the floor requires him to run the floor and move without the ball, which is the strength of his game. This will produce more easy finishes and with Gortat likely exceeding his field-goal accuracy of a year ago (56.6%), which is his highest as a starter in the NBA.

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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