Welcome to the first of what I hope will be 29 fan posts, one about each team in the NBA. I'll ask those interested to sign up to do one (or more) of these below. My goal is to generate conversation as this season mercifully comes to an end and we head into the draft and free agent period, and to collect information in what I hope will be an interesting and entertaining format.
I'm starting with the Washington Wizards, for no good reason other than I was looking something up about them when I got the idea to start this series.
Record: 16-46, 2nd worst in the NBA
*Courtesy Basketball Reference
The Wizards will finish yet another disappointing season with the 29th rated offense and 25 rated defense in the NBA. It was across the board bad for the Wizards this year, as was predicted at the outset.
A cursory glance at the chart above highlights some of their problems as a team. They are a terrible shooting team from both 2 and 3 point range; they also fail to get to the line, and don't convert a high percentage when they do get there. They are 8th in the league in pace, but can't shoot the ball. That's a bad combination, reminiscent of a certain Kurt Rambis coached squad of the past couple of years. Notably, their two highest usage (remaining) players, Jordan Crawford and John Wall are also two of their least efficient (TS% of .495 and .501 respectively).
Conversely, they give up the 8th highest FG% against in the league, and have failed to do much of anything better than their opponents this year. They are a marginally above average offensive rebounding team, but that is nullified by their putrid defensive rebounding. They turn it over more, assist less, and foul more than their opponents. Revealing its shortcomings as a valuable defensive statistic, the Wizards are 2nd in the league in blocked shots.
The general consensus on the Wizards coming into the season was that their lack of talent was greatly exacerbated by their roster full of quasi-knuckleheads, and that proved a combustible combination until changes were made at the deadline. Coming into the season, along with John Wall (more on him later), the Wizards were headlined by such noted professionals as Andray Blactche, Nick Young, Javale McGee, and Jordan Crawford, to say nothing of the presence of excessive-contract poster boy Rashard Lewis. This crew performed about like you would expect, and players took turns exasperating coach Flip Saunders. I'm not a huge believer that we as fans can really understand what goes on in the nebulous world of effort, professionalism, and behavior among a group of men we have no access to, but yikes, that's some crew.
Apparently the Wizards management (belatedly) realized that such a group was not going to reward them going forward, and worked diligently at the trade deadline to make changes. They replaced Flip Saunders (who may be still be suffering the effects of coaching this team) on an interim basis with another former T-Wolf coach, the ever popular Randy Wittman. Rumor has it that they desperately tried to find a taker for Andray Blactche, but his poor play, toxic contract, and dubious professionalism made him unmovable. They have since essentially banished him. They did manage to turn congenital chucker Nick Young and leaper Javale McGee into one of the prizes of last year's free agent class, Nene. Nene has a long and fairly costly contract, but in the 3 years prior to this he emerged as one of the top offensive centers in the league with Denver. He stayed healthy, led the league in TS% twice, EFG% once, and Ortg once. This year, he has been injured and less effective, but with bigs at a premium, having the center spot locked up with an above average performer, even at his price, is a nice building block for the Wizards.
I have now spent far too much time trying to create a readable chart with all of the Wizards' salary commitments going forward. I have failed, and am giving up. I feel inadequate, frankly.
Instead, I commend you to the excellent Storytellers contract website for specific contract information.
Some of the highlights:
Nene is guaranteed $13 million a year over each of the next 4 years.
John Wall has two option years remaining on his rookie contract, after which he has a qualifying offer.
Rashard Lewis' contract is entering its final season; they can waive him and pay $13 million, or keep him for $22 million.
Andray Blatche is owed more than $23 million over the next 3 years.
Total committed for 2012-13: $48,870,000 (assuming they waive Rashard Lewis and pay the $13 million guaranteed portion of his contract).
Going forward, the single biggest factor in the short and medium term future of the Wizards is whether John Wall develops into a star point guard. The trade for Nene hopefully solidifies the center position for the next several seasons, along with young big man Kevin Seraphin. They have a collection of young forwards (Booker, Singleton, Vesely) about whom the jury is still out. They have the execrable Jordan Crawford at the off-guard position, who somehow manages to grade out above average on offense (though terrible on defense) in vjl's PA100 metric. I have no idea how; he carries a massive usage rate (over 28%) and maintains reasonable TO% and ASST% (I guess that's how) but is a brutally inefficient scorer. Regardless, even by this metric he has the worst PAdiff. total in the league among wings this year.
The future depends in large part on Wall. He has some fairly obvious virtues: he has tremendous speed with the ball, can penetrate the lane, and gets to the line at an above average clip (6.2 FTA per 36, an excellent rate for a young perimeter player). However, his weaknesses leave him short of the stardom that was predicted of him when the Wizards made him the number one pick in the 2010 draft*
*Timberwolves related aside: remember our debate prior to the 2010 lottery about whether the Wolves should take John Wall if the got the number 1 pick (ha!) despite having picked Rubio the year before? If you don't, check the Let's Settle This thread in the archives.
John Wall is a terrible shooter. He has shot 24% from 3 in his career, and this year has been a train wreck (3-40. Yes, you read that right). He also carries a very high TO%; higher than is sustainable for a top level point guard in the NBA unless you also have Nashian efficiency and assist percentages. These two glaring problems limit him, and must improve if he is going to become a star point guard and a player who can successfully lead a winning team.
The Wizards have the option to waive Rashard Lewis, and pay him $13 million, instead of the $22 million his contract calls for in it's final (merciful) season if they choose to keep him. They could also amnesty him, taking that money off their cap, but a better use of the amnesty clause might be Andray Blatche, who the organization has clearly soured on, but is owed more than $23 million over the next 3 seasons. No matter what they do, those players are sunk costs, and even creating as much cap space as possible (perhaps $15 million if the waive Lewis and amnesty Blatche), it's unlikely that the Wizards will be adding any big contracts this summer. Washington is obviously not a premier free agent destination at the moment.
Randy Wittman seems unlikely to return as head coach. The ideal coach for the Wizards is someone who can develop through losing, work with young players, and instill a sense of professionalism in his roster. It's too bad for them that Mike Woodson is going to be retained by the Knicks, because he had great success in these areas during his tenure in Atlanta. Whoever they hire, it needs to be someone with patience, which also requires the support of the organization over time.
They will have a very high draft pick this year (no worse than 5th overall). Ignoring the first pick, which is obvious for every team in the league, what sort of player do the Wizards need? In an ideal world, a perfect player for them would be a young Ray Allen. Unfortunately, such a player is not available. Among the presumed top picks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might be their best option. Although he will not help their poor perimeter shooting, his ability in transition will pair well with Wall. In addition, if the reports about his work ethic, desire, and competitiveness are accurate, it will be of great benefit to a Wizards team that has often seemed to lack those qualities in recent years. They could also use a strong power forward to help them on the defensive boards, but I'm not sure that Thomas Robinson is different enough in style or quality from their current forwards to make him a worthwhile choice, and I don't think Jared Sullinger is a good fit for them.
The bright version of the Wizards future is that Nene stays healthy and effective, Wall emerges as a star, and either Jan Vesely (last year's lottery choice) or this year's draft pick is good enough to form a 3 man core that leads the Wizards to the playoffs. A lot has to go right for that to happen, and I'm not holding my breath. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
*On this series: as I wrote above, I'd like us to do one of these for each team in the league (other than the Wolves). It's a fun exercise, and I learned things, some of which I hope I communicated to you. I hope some of you choose to do one or more of these. Please volunteer in the comments section, and I will try to keep track of it like bsg007 did so effectively with the game reports this year. As for format, several people wanted to see a template, but ultimately I decided to encourage writers to do it however they want. You can certainly follow the form I used (with added competence in publishing tables, I expect), but you can also do something entirely different. I hope this is a worthwhile project that you will participate in both by writing one of your own Around the League reports and by commenting on the work of others.
Eric in Madison