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Washington Wizards

Why you should watch the Wizards in 2017-18

Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal (3) gets a handshake after the Wizards 127-115 win of an NBA basketball game over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland, Saturday, March 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
Phil Long/AP photo

The Washington Wizards matter in the East. For years, they’ve had the slow build of bringing the John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt into the forefront of the NBA. In the Eastern Conference, it has always been LeBron James’ team (Cleveland or Miami) and then everybody else.

This year, the tiers appear to be Cleveland still in its own space, then the Boston Celtics right below them, and then everybody else. Washington’s job is to not only prove it is above everybody else, but to also prove it belongs in the same company as the Celtics.

Washington won 49 games a year ago under Scott Brooks. The Wizards finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and lost to Boston in the second round in seven games. They were good enough to be an Eastern Conference finalist but couldn’t win on the road in Game 7.

Assuming health, 50 wins should be a lock for the Wizards. They should be able to leap past Toronto, who can be a pain in the tuchus on random regular season nights. The Wizards mostly have the same team as they brought in a year ago: no big changes to the core, which breeds continuity and hopefully better basketball.

The Wizards aren’t just a good Eastern Conference team. They’re also a joy to watch most nights, especially if you don’t have an emotional attachment to them. Maybe Brooks will drive you crazy as a coach or maybe the defense will make you pull your hair out, but this backcourt slaps on a nightly basis and the Wiz have versatile wings to push them into the new era of small ball that isn’t actually small. The Wizards suffocate areas of the court and become a nightmare in transition.

If you’re wondering why you should care about the Wizards, here are four fun reasons to watch them in the 2017-18 season:

Bradley Beal in the pick-and-roll

We all know about the maestro efforts and execution of John Wall in the pick-and-roll. A distributing point guard like Wall, who can also score, is hard enough to defend within a team concept. His speed and quickness suffocate help defense and petrify unsure rotations. Eventually opponents can load up enough into the scouting report to lessen the impact of one All-NBA pick-and-roll savant. What happens if there is a second guy on the team who can also kill opposing defenses in the PnR?

That’s what Washington has with Bradley Beal. The “other guard” for the Wizards creates a world of hurt for opposing defenses. Beal was the ninth-most efficient pick-and-roll creator factoring in scoring and passing. He finished higher than Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and even Wall. Watching Beal operate in the PnR reveals a weaponized cyborg. He attacks the basket, he steps back into 3-pointers, and he shreds coverage as he snakes through athletes like they’re traffic cones.

The filth he puts out in the pick-and-roll goes highly underappreciated from the national audience. Throw it on League Pass, hope it buffers correctly, and enjoy him dicing up defenses.

He doesn’t merely score, though. Beal can also dish out to teammates for bucket after bucket. He excels at finding basic pick-and-pop assists, but he really shines at finding cutting teammates on the baseline. Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter can rack up easy buckets by flashing right to the hoop. Beal’s scoring ability sucks in the defense and he’s a willing passer.

Appreciate Beal’s zest for playmaking in the pick-and-roll this season.

The Wizards’ Go-Go-Gadget Lineup

Everybody loves and strives for small ball. Instead of a traditional four or five in the NBA, teams go with lanky small forwards at both the three and the four to extend the range and coverage of the defense. The Wizards did a great job of doing this last season. Even though Markieff Morris isn’t a typical power forward, replacing him with Kelly Oubre in the lineup created huge advantages for the Wizards.

The regular lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, and Gortat did really well. They outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions and played the most minutes of any lineup in the NBA by far. This lineup played 1,347 minutes, which was 467 more minutes than the second-place lineup. When they replaced Morris with Oubre, the Wizards outscored opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions. This lineup was the 46th-most used lineup in the NBA last season, totaling 200 minutes on the court.

The defense held opponents to just 100.2 points per 100 possessions. Extrapolate that over a season in a vacuum and it would have bested San Antonio’s top-ranked defense (100.9). The offense killed as well. Washington scored 117.6 points per 100 possessions with a true shooting percentage of 60.4. The Wizards (11th-highest pace in the league) increased their tempo by nearly two possessions with this small-ball lineup in.

Washington should employ this more often this season. If and when it does, it will only add to the entertainment factor for the Wizards.

Kelly Oubre will hound your opposing team’s point guard

John Wall believes he’s the best two-way point guard in the NBA. He has a valid claim. Despite Isaiah Thomas lighting up the Wizards during their playoff series, Wall excels at defense in a way most don’t. We also know of his offensive prowess, especially now that he has become a passable 3-point shooter the last four seasons. But even with his ability to defend, the meanest thing the Wizards can do to opposing teams is throw Kelly Oubre on the court.

A couple of things happen when they bring him in with the other starters. First and foremost, Wall gets to breathe on defense. He’s not necessarily the first line of defense anymore and it allows him to save energy. It also allows Oubre and his 7-foot wingspan to wreak havoc on opposing initiators. Watching All-Star point guards try to get a quality shot against Oubre is pretty entertaining. He’s a young guy without a lot of experience, so the veteran tricks should work.

Oubre counters that by locking in, using his quick feet, and eliminating space on the floor with his reach. He took over a huge stretch in the fourth quarter against Boston last season. He hounded Kemba Walker. Oubre made Goran Dragic look like EuroLeague was calling. This season, Brooks should use him a lot more to give Wall a breather on the court while asphyxiating opposing lead guards.

John Wall’s Transition Tsunami

Not much needs to be said about John Wall on the break. He’s as fast as anybody who has ever laced them up. He turns a possession into a bucket in the blink of an eye. Nobody changes speeds or hits the afterburners with as much control as Wall. Not even Russell Westbrook. For some reason, he loves to prove he can dunk with his left hand.

Watch Wall change angles and chop his steps to confound backpedaling defenses. Watch Wall outrun entire five-man defenses, even as they’re back before him. He’s the tsunami at the end of “Deep Impact,” and running for high ground won’t save your transition defense.

And of course, you’re not getting Wall transition highlights without the ridiculous passing he makes so basic.

The Wizards are fun. The Wizards are good. Are they elite enough to challenge that second tier in the East? I recommend watching them nightly to find out.

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