Entering the playoffs last season, nobody really knew what to expect from the Washington Wizards. While holding down a high seed in the Eastern Conference for much of the first half of the season, they struggled mightily down the stretch, ultimately finishing the season with the fifth overall seed for the second year in a row. They seemed to be an obvious candidate for a brisk first-round exit.
Most of the questions surrounding the Wizards centered around their obvious shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball, where they finished 17th overall in points per game (98.8) and 21st in offensive efficiency (1.006). Conversely, they were ranked fifth in defensive efficiency (0.995). Sure the pace of play slows down significantly in the playoffs, but a team still needs to be able to score the ball with some regularity to outlast even the ugliest of Eastern Conference foes.
But, the Wizards didn’t wilt in the playoffs. Quite the opposite actually. In fact, they somehow upped their scoring average by nearly 11.5 points over their regular season mark in the first round. Of course, there are questions about the quality and condition of their first round opponent, the Toronto Raptors, but for a team who struggled so much to score the ball over the course of the season, it was hard to not be astounded by their sudden turn around.
Things didn’t go as well in the second round, as they returned back to Earth, averaging 95 points per game during their series against the Atlanta Hawks. But, missing one of the best players in the NBA, John Wall, for half of the series tends to have that kind of effect.
As confusing as their regular season was amidst their countless peaks and valleys, their run in the 2015 NBA Playoffs makes this team even harder to diagnose. But, let’s take a closer look.
What The Heck Happened?
At the end of the day, the Wizards simply lacked the offensive punch to make a realistic run at the title.
Their best player, Wall, is as dynamic as they come with his command over the offense, especially on the break, but despite obvious improvements, his jumper is still not an element opposing defenses need to pay attention to. Bradley Beal, on the other hand, is a brilliant shooter but has demonstrated problems staying on the court, and when he is on the floor he appears reluctant to assert the aggressiveness the Wizards desperately need.
The Wizards need Beal to live on the three-point line, where he is so deadly. 40 percent of his field goals this season were attempted between 10 feet and the three-point line, and he only shot 35 percent on those attempts. This is a product of the opposing team’s ability to hone in on Beal as one of their only legitimate threats from long distance.
Far too often he was forced to put the ball on the floor and create shot opportunities for himself. Beal averaged 5.7 shots per game in catch-and-shoot situations. Conversely, he took 7.5 shots per game on pull-ups. This number must shift significantly for the Wizards’ offense to become respectable.
The Wizards must focus their attention on finding additional players who can stretch the floor and take some of the pressure off of Beal, and to open up additional space for Wall to operate within.
Where Do They Go Now?
The Wizards got off to a good start when they swapped their 19th pick in this year’s draft, along with two future second-round picks, with the Hawks to land Kelly Oubre out of Kansas. While he isn’t the immediate answer, his strengths are certainly in line with where they need to focus their attention (i.e. on the offensive side of the ball). Oubre brings a silky-smooth jumper to a team desperate for some additional long-range potency.
With Paul Pierce recently opting out of the final year of his deal with the Wizards, he also offers some insurance in the event they are unable to convince Pierce to return. That said, the Wizards should do anything in their power to ensure Pierce is once again on this roster. His performance over their playoff run should tell you all you need to know about the value he still has, even at an advanced age. You can’t teach ice-cold.
Otto Porter’s emergence in this year’s playoffs was also an encouraging sign for this team’s future. His 10 points and eight rebounds per game were finally an indication that he may be able to fulfill some of the promise that led to his selection with the third overall pick in 2013.
The Wizards appear to be set in the backcourt and on the wings, although they could stand to upgrade their backup point guard position. Aaron Brooks or Cory Joseph might be good, cheap alternatives to Ramon Sessions. Both could provide some of the speed and offensive punch they miss when Wall is off the court.
The Wizards really need to focus their attention on adding some bigs who can stretch the floor. Between Marcin Gortat, Nene and Kris Humphries, they have plenty of size in the paint, but virtually no ability to do anything besides dump the ball into the post and hope that a contested shot finds the mark.
There are several options in free agency that could help address this weakness. Andrea Barnani will never live down his status as one of the biggest draft busts of all time, but at this point in his career he could be had on the cheap, and he would definitely add another player on their roster who would require a defender on him at all times.
Mirza Teletovic would have a similar effect, and without the stigma of failure accompanying him. Darrell Arthur would be another great option for the Wizards. He has been one of the few good locker-room guys for the Denver Nuggets, and besides adding some additional veteran leadership, he also has the ability to stretch the floor, although not with the same accuracy as the other two.
By adding one or two more players that would require defenders to honor their shooting ability, Wall would have significantly more room to operate within, which would in turn lead to more catch-and-shoot opportunities for Beal.
If the Wizards can improve their offensive efficiency, even if it only turns them into a top-12 team, they would finally have the balance to make them a serious threat to make a run to next year’s Eastern Conference Finals. They already have many of the elements that make team’s successful in the playoffs, gritty defense, star-power, etc. All they need is to improve their half-court offense to a respectable level, and this team is ready to compete.