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Winless Wizards need someone to step up


Winless Wizards need someone to step up

When Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld selected Bradley Beal with the third pick of the 2012 NBA draft it was with the idea that the 19-year-old rookie would complement third-year guard John Wall, not replace him.

Grunfeld had similar aspirations for A.J. Price when he signed him as a free agent.

And when Grunfeld traded for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza over the summer he did so with the intent of adding some muscle and scoring touch to a frontcourt anchored by Nene.

That all changed when Nene, who averaged 13.7 points last season, showed up for training camp with plantar fasciitis and Wall, who averaged 16.3 points, was found to have a stress injury to his right knee.

“We have a deep roster right now,” Grunfeld said at the time Wall’s injury was announced. “We have a lot of players in a lot of different positions.

“It’s not going to be about one player taking over what John has done. It’s about a whole team effort. I think we’re deep, we have players to pick up the slack and it’s not going to be up to just one player. It’s going to be a team effort until we get John back.”

With Nene and Wall watching from the bench, Beal, Price Okafor and Ariza have been everyday starters asked to shoulder a load that has ultimately proven too heavy to bear.

Through seven games the Wizards are the only team in the NBA without a victory, a streak they will try to end on Friday when the Utah Jazz visit Verizon Center.

The following numbers tell a quick story of the Wizards problems this season:

  •  They rank 27th in the NBA in points per game [88.1]
  • They rank 30th in points in the paint [29.4] compared to sixth last season [43]
  • They rank 29th with a point differential of 7.86
  • They rank 28th in field goal percentage [40.7] and 23rd from 3-point range [30.9]
  • They rank 20th in rebounding and have been outrebounded by an average of 44-41

But if you look closely at their individual stats, it’s hard to place a lot of blame on anyone in particular.

Beal, Price, Okafor and Ariza had not worn a Wizards jersey before this season and all four have started every game so far.

Beal, who averaged 14.8 points and 2.2 assists at the University of Florida, is leading the Wizards with 11.6 points per game, a number most fans would have been satisfied with if Wall was putting up between 20 and 25 a night.

Price is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.1 points per game, which is 6.2 points more than he averaged last season with Indiana.

Meanwhile, Okafor and Ariza have seen a dip in production. Okafor is averaging 8.4 points and six rebounds a game, slightly below the 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds he averaged last season in New Orleans. And Ariza is averaging 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds this season, well off the 10.8 and 5.2 rebounds he averaged last season

Wizards coach Randy Wittman could probably live with those numbers if Wall and Nene were in the lineup. Without them he is trying to keep the Wizards’ slow start in perspective in a season that began with playoff aspirations.

“We gotta keep fighting,” Wittman said after Wednesday night’s loss in Dallas. “We fought tonight. There have been very few nights where we haven’t. There are things we have to do better and be more consistent at. …  It’s a learning process.”





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Ted Leonsis maintains optimism amid harsh reality of John Wall injury

Ted Leonsis maintains optimism amid harsh reality of John Wall injury

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- It might be quite a while before we see John Wall on the court playing for the Wizards again.

It was already well-known Wall will miss extended time as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon, a rehab that usually takes at least 11 months. But it is starting to sound more and more like he won't play in the 2019-20 season at all.

Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis shared that harsh reality on Monday during a press conference at Capital One Arena.

"Our highest-paid player, our five-time All-Star, may not play at all next year. He probably won't play at all next year," Leonsis said.

If Wall follows the general timeline for the surgery, he could come back sometime early in 2020. A 12-month recovery would have him return in early February.

If Wall missed all of next season, he would return to start the 2020-21 campaign after a 20-month recovery. That would be nearly double the rehab time many players have taken for the same injury over the years. He would be 30 years old by then.

But Wall and the Wizards have reason to be extra patient. He is entering the first season of a four-year, $170 million supermax contract. Punting the first year, even if he is making $38 million, could be worth it in the long run if it means he returns to his All-Star form.

The Wizards are also likely to have a gap year of sorts anyways. They retooled their roster with young, inexperienced players. The odds they make the playoffs this season are lower than they have been in years. The Wizards are taking the long view and they know getting Wall's rehab right is paramount.

Leonsis and team officials currently get daily reports on Wall's progress. After making the supermax investment, they are taking extra measures to ensure he is holding up his end of the bargain. The Wizards closely monitor his weight and have a rotation of physical therapists working with him every day.

If it were up to Wall, he would be more likely to return next season. The team is the side taking extra caution.

"Trust me, nobody wants to get back to the court more than John Wall," GM Tommy Sheppard told NBC Sports Washington. 

"But I've tried to manage this with him and say there is no calendar or clock that is going to tell you to come back. You're going to come back when you're 100 percent healthy. Anybody who has watched him in the playoffs play with broken hands and all of the aches and pains he's had over the years and he still showed up and played at a high, high level. You know you need to monitor him a little more than most. That's the kind of player that is going to try to sneak back on the court any time he can."

What Leonsis said publicly has been the belief behind the scenes in the Wizards organization for quite some time. They are preparing for next season as if he won't play, 

"We have to see if John Wall comes back and how he looks and how he plays," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington. "If John Wall can come back at 80 percent the year after [in 2020-21], I would be really happy because then we would have a great, great backcourt."


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SPOILER ALERT! Wizards make appearance in New York Times crossword on Sunday

SPOILER ALERT! Wizards make appearance in New York Times crossword on Sunday

Fans of both crossword puzzles and the Washington Wizards had a leg-up when completing the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sunday. 

The clue: "Wizards, but not witches."

The answer: 7 letters, "NBATEAM." 

This isn't the first time famous crosswords have included sports-related clues. The Washington Post and LA Times have used Bobby Orr as an answer many of times (trust me, we always have a half-finished crossword puzzle hiding somewhere in our living room). 

But athletes aren't the only answers to clues. Remember when the Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan revealed the Washington Capitals' "cult of crossword men" back in 2016?

The New York Times even published a list of the top-10 sports names to know for crossword fanatics everywhere. 

Just further proof that sports continue to permeate every aspect of life.