A Guest Blog By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Dan Bronstein
This upcoming NBA season, I believe the Washington Wizards are going to be one of the most underrated teams. It is no wonder since the team won just 26 games last season and traded away some of its most productive players such as Caron Butler, Antwan Jamison, and Brendan Haywood. This year the Eastern Conference might be stacked, but I still believe the Wizards will be a top ten team in the NBA.
Having the number one overall pick in this year’s draft didn’t hurt the Wizard’s chances of being a top 5 team in the East. John Wall has been a beast so far in summer league, training camp, and in preseason averaging over 15 points and about 8 assists per game. His blazing speed could already make him the fastest player in the NBA as shown by his ability to run the floor past defenses especially on the fast break. He may have learned that quickness growing up with his good friend Brandon Banks who is the electric kick return man for the Washington Redskins. His defense isn’t too bad either. If you have watched him at all this preseason, you would know that he has caused turnovers on opposing offenses not just with steals, but also with his defensive awareness and ability to pressure the ball. Let us also not forget that he is only 20 years old and with each game he is only going to get better.
By now you are probably wondering how this rookie is going to carry a Washington Wizards team that lost 56 games last year all by himself. The answer is he’s not, well at least at first. There are going to be times when Wall drives to the hoop so fast that big men are not going to know what hit them. There are also going to be times when he drives to the basket and will have no easy shot, so who will he dish it out to for the open jumper? Well let’s take your pick.
There is last year’s break out player in Andray Blatche, who averaged just over 22 points per game after last season’s all-star break and whom I think is one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the game. The newly acquired 7 foot tall Yi Jianlian from China has an unbelievably nice shot for his size and has the potential to hit that open jumper 95% of the time. The 7 ft. 1 in. athletic center JaVale McGee will always be looking for the open alley-oop from Wall, just as they have done countless times in summer league and preseason. McGee at just 22 years old already had a run with team USA this summer proving he has upside and I am sure he will rack up a huge amount of blocks this season.
Besides the Wizards big men, let us not forget about the other guys. The addition of Kirk Hinrich will help to give Wall a rest at point guard, but when they are on the floor at the same time, Kirk will almost always hit that open jumper like he did in Chicago. Hinrich is also one of the only point guards to make the NBA all-defensive team in the past 5 years besides Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Jason Kidd. Then there is the 16th overall pick from the 2007 draft, Nick Young who has shown flashes of potential over the years for the Wizards. When Nick gets hot, he lights it up on the court with his standout shooting ability. John Wall will also have the always consistent small forward in Al Thornton who averaged about 17 points per game for the Clippers the season before he joined the Wizards. Al has seen his FG% rise in all three of his professional seasons and I still think he is a tremendous player even at age 26. Once former all-star Josh Howard recovers from injury which is coming along smoother than predicted, he will provide enough veteran leadership at that small forward position to help Wall take the Wizards to the playoffs just like he did for the Mavs.
I forgot to mention one crucial element of this revamped Wizards team. Gilbert Arenas is back and with a vengeance. He has paid his dues and now he is serious in getting the Wizards back on the right track. Gil understands this is Wall’s team now and only wants to play his part in helping Wall become a better player while also helping his team be a playoff contender. Agent Zero will play the shooting guard position and we all know how well Gilbert can knock down a three as long as Wall provides for the open shot. Arenas is pretty much healthy as he has had a lot of time to rest his knee and has put the past into the past. Although Gilbert probably won’t be able to drive to the lane as much as he once did, the bottom line is that this season he won’t need to thanks to Wall. Gil is going to be so open this season that he will have to take out his old hibachi grill and be hot almost every game. True Wizards fans know what I am talking about and remember when the former all-star hit numerous game winners for Washington or when he had 60 points during a game against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in 2006. Gil is no longer wearing the number zero, but I am sure he will reinvent himself and help lead the Wizards back to the playoffs.
My Eastern Conference Season Predictions By Ranking:
1. Boston Celtics
2. Miami Heat
3. Orlando Magic
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Washington Wizards
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Milwaukee Bucks
8. New York Knicks
9. Charlotte Bobcats
10. Philadelphia 76ers
11. Indiana Pacers
12. New Jersey Nets
13. Detroit Pistons
14. Toronto Raptors
15. Cleveland Cavaliers