Written by Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
The 2013-2014 season was a very successful one for the Washington Wizards, as they found a successful balance and youth and experience. The perfect pairing resulted in a 44-38 season, the most wins by the Wizards since they won 43 games in the 2007-2008 season, coincidentally also the last time they made the postseason prior to this one. The 44 wins are tied for the second most since they were re-named the Wizards prior to the 1997-1998 season. Head coach Randy Wittman received a contract extension because of how well he and the Wizards performed this past season as well.
The road to success was built before any games were even played, as the Wizards traded for Center Marcin Gortat from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for the injured Emeka Okafor and a first-round draft pick. Gortat was durable and productive for the Wizards alongside Nene’ giving the Wizards one of the most formidable big-men combination in the NBA. Another savvy addition in the summer was the signing of Al Harrington. The mercurial forward added a scoring punch and veteran leadership when the Wizards were into the postseason.
They continued to make strong moves during the season, finding a gem in Drew Gooden on the free agent wire. Gooden did not have a big role with the team, but he performed when called upon, and like Harrington, gave veteran leadership the Wizards lacked. They added more leadership, and filled a massive hole at backup point guard, when they traded for Andre Miller. In a three-team trade six days before signing Gooden, the Wizards landed Miller for spare parts. It was a great trade, as the Wizards got on a roll they were able to ride the remainder of the season.
The Wizards had a strong finish to their season, going 19-10 after a loss right after the All-Star break. The strong finish to the season enabled the Wizards to move up in the Eastern Conference standings, finishing fifth as they won the tiebreaker with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Wizards manhandled the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, as Gortat and Nene took advantage of a Bulls team that focused on the dynamic duo in the Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The two big men combined to score 28.8 points and 16.1 rebounds per game.
They built up momentum heading into the second round, but were defeated by the Indiana Pacers as the playoff-hardened Pacers were able to slow down the Wizards. Even with the loss in the second round this was a great season for the Wizards. They took a major step forward, as their veteran additions worked out well and the backcourt combination of Wall and Beal continued to blossom.
Standout Star: John Wall
|Win McNamee/Getty Images|
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2010 NBA Draft was beginning to hear whispers that the Wizards used yet another top pick on a player that wasn’t going to pan out. Durability concerns and losing seasons were starting to mount against Wall, as plenty of people were ready to give up on him. The 2013-2014 season was the first time Wall had any real talent around him, and he like the Wizards as a whole, really benefited from it.
Wall took the next step in his career development, putting up career-high numbers across the board. The lightning quick point guard can get into the paint with ease, but struggled at times as defenders just sagged off of him and dared him to take jump shots. It was an effective strategy in past seasons, as Wall is one of the best finishers at the rim for a guard. His combination of strength, speed and athleticism is rivaled by very few players in the NBA.
But unlike past seasons, Wall was a threat from away from the basket this season as well. He shot by far his highest percentage from the three point line, knocking down 35.1 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. He actually made more three pointers this season, 108, than the rest of his career combined, as he made only 49 his first three seasons in the NBA.
The jump in three point percentage helped raise Wall’s scoring to a career-high 19.3 points per game, to go with a career-high 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 80.5 percent from the foul line.
Wall is finally starting to come into his own, and will only continue to improve. If he can keep trending upwards from the perimeter, he will be virtually unstoppable. Teams can get away at times letting him take jump shots now, but that looks like something is going to change very soon. As Wall goes, the Wizards go. He is the conductor of this locomotive that is beginning to pick up steam.
The Wizards main focus during the offseason should be bringing back their own free agents, namely Gortat and Trevor Ariza. It would be a big blow to the team if either player left as a free agent, but Gortat would be the bigger loss.
It is tough to find productive centers, and Gortat is one. He is going to be 30 years old when the season starts, but he does not have the wear and tear of a 30-year old in the NBA, as he was a backup for most of his first five seasons in the NBA, only becoming a starter for the 2011-2012 season with the Suns. He will have plenty of suitors, but a return to the Wizards is likely.
Ariza is not a player they should just let walk, but he will have plenty of suitors as well. He is a great two-play player, as he has finally developed an offensive game that almost rivals his high level of defense. Ariza came into the NBA with the reputation of a defensive stopper, and that has not changed; now he also is a threat offensively.
Like Wall, Ariza had career-highs across the board offensively, posting his best shooting season overall and from the three-point line, resulting in a career best 14.4 points per game. Not otherworldly, but a solid contribution for an offense that has plenty of other options ahead of him.
They also have decisions to make regarding Gooden, Harrington and a couple of players eligible for qualifying offers in Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. Gooden and Harrington can most likely be brought back on minimum deals, while Booker and Seraphin may be allowed to enter free agency as unrestricted free agents.
Most of their cap space will most likely go into retaining their own players, as they look like they will try and go at it with the same core next season. As for luring other players over, they should look at getting some help on the bench. If they retain their players, their starting five will be set with Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene and Gortat. Filling out the bench with some more explosive players to go with the veterans they already have could help them reach that next level.
The teams that can throw a wrench in these negotiations are the Suns, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers to name a few. They all have either cap space or pedigree to offer if any of the Wizards players are looking to shake it up. Ariza is the more likely of the two to leave, and if he does it would do the Wizards well trying to bring in a veteran such as Luol Deng to replace him.
2014-2015 Season Outlook:
|Maddie Meyer/Getty Images|
The future is bright for the Wizards, as they have arguably the best young backcourt in the NBA. There are not many teams that can go toe-to-toe with the combination of Wall and Beal in terms of youth and talent. They will be the best backcourt in the NBA before Beal’s rookie contract expires.
The veterans they had put up career stats in some instances, so it is unsure if they will be able to repeat those performances, but as Wall and Beal continue to grow, they will be able to carry this team more and more.
They also have Otto Porter Jr. waiting in the wings, as the third overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft failed to crack the Wizards rotation last season. He originally was thought to be filling a big hole on the Wizards roster, one that Ariza seemed to take offense to as he put up career numbers. Having Porter gain his footing in the NBA would help the Wizards immensely as they do not have much in the former of wings behind their starters.
The Wizards did not have a pick in the draft this season, as it was sent to the Suns for Gortat. While this was a loaded draft, the Wizards have to be happy with their decision to obtain Gortat. He was a big piece of their success this season, and will continue to be if they can lock him up.
The Wizards had an outstanding 2013-2014 and are trending in the right direction. As long as they can bring back Gortat and Ariza, this team should be just as good as last season. What pieces they can bring in to compliment the pieces they already have will be the deciding factor in if they can take yet another step. At the end of the day though, as long as Wall and Beal are in the fold, the outlook for this team will be bright.