What should we make of the Washington Wizards season?

As the Golden State Warriors made quick work of the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night winning the championship in five games, we can officially put a bow on the 2016-2017 season. Yes, the Wizards’ season ended weeks ago but rather spitting out a bunch of hot takes after their Game 7 loss to Boston, I decided to let the tide settle to take a clearer, more holistic approach.

Was the Wizards’ season a success?

The short answer to this question is no. Now before you line up at my apartment with pitchforks, let me explain. The entire offseason, Wizards’ players, mainly Wall, kept stating that the goal of this season was to make the Eastern Conference Finals. However, for the third time in four years, Washington was bounced by the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. So based solely off of Wall’s statements, I wouldn’t call this a failure but rather the Wizards did come up short of their goal of appearing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With that being said, although the season wasn’t a success by the team’s standards, there were many improvements that they can tip their cap on. Some of these improvements include a career-high 52-point scoring outburst by John Wall against the Magic on December 6th, Bradley Beal turning into a borderline All-Star AND staying healthy for an entire season, a 17-game winning streak at home, Otto Porter ranking in the top-5 of three-point shooting for the season, capped off by the team winning 49 games, the most since 1979.

What do we make of the current roster?

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the cornerstones of this franchise as they’ve proven that they can lead and carry a team. But what about everyone else? It took a while but patience paid off as Otto Porter made the fourth season of his young career the best and is now likely looking at a max deal this summer (more on that later). Markieff Morris showed that he can be a very nice role player when motivated and engaged the issue is, keeping his motor turned on. And lastly for the starters, Marcin Gortat’s production dropped this season but the numbers indicate that it was more so due to his lack of touches and offensive opportunities rather than his sheer production.

And that brings us to the bench. The bench unit wasn’t just bad this year, they were historically bad. In what looked like a move to finally find that ever coveted backup point guard that the Wizards have been missing for years, that flopped as Trey Burke quickly found himself out of the rotation before the new year. After whiffing on Al Horford and Kevin Durant this offseason, the front office overpaid Ian Mahinmi in hopes that he could be a rim protector for the second unit. Unfortunately for Mahinmi, he was riddled with injury and played in just 31 regular season games and five of 13 playoff games without having much of an impact.

Jason Smith had a very slow start to the season but had his moments midway through the year where he was nearly automatic from the midrange only to go AWOL in the playoffs. While Kelly Oubre showed signs of improvements but clearly has a long ways to go still in his development. After overpaying for the last guy on in the bench in Andrew Nicholson, the Wizards were able to unload his deal but had to give up their first round pick in the process. Lastly, Bojan Bogdanovic, who was the other player in the Nicholson trade, showed that he can score in bursts but isn’t the most consistent player nor does he enjoy playing defense all too much.

What should the Wizards do this offseason?

The Wizards enter one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s history with very little cap space to maneuver many deals. It’s possible that we might look back at the 2017 summer and say to ourselves “that was the offseason which kept the core players intact” or “that was the offseason which ultimately led to John Wall’s departure”.

With the cap expected to jump again to $102 Million, the Wizards already have $89 Million tied up in roster salaries. Assuming the Wizards cut Trey Burke, the Wizards would have roughly $85 Million tied up in roster salaries with Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic set to hit the restricted free agent market.

Washington needs to re-sign Porter and do so before another suitor offers him a max deal (which the Wizards can match) but will likely be much higher than the Wizards original deal (remember Brooklyn’s offer to Allen Crabbe in 2016?). Porter has proven to be a knockdown shooter as he connected on 43 percent of shots from distance this season, the fourth-best in the league. And ultimately, he’s proven to be the ultimate glue guy who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t need plays called for him, makes all of the hustle plays, and still manages to stuff the stat sheet.

It isn’t ideal that the Wizards give him a max deal as he doesn’t fit the mold of a typical max player, however, if the Wizards don’t re-sign him, they’ll have a huge hole to fill.

What’s the biggest question mark going into next season?

The bench, and more specifically, how do the Wizards upgrade their reserves without spending a ton of money? If Porter receives a contract for say $20 Million per year, that would put the Wizards roster at $98 Million, just 4 million under the cap. They’d still have to figure out what to do with Bogdanovic as well as what to do at the backup point guard position, as that position has been vacant for years.

Rather than throwing a ton of money at Bogdanovic, the Wizards would be best suited in trying to sign a veteran point guard to back up John Wall. In Game 7 of the Boston series, Scott Brooks clearly didn’t trust Brandon Jennings enough to play him at all in the second half forcing Wall to play the entire second half. Wall looked gassed and we all know how that ended.

Therefore, outside of Porter, the Wizards main offseason agenda item needs to be getting a productive backup behind Wall so he’s not forced to play an exhausting amount of minutes.

Where do the Wizards rank in the Eastern Conference?

The Wizards have solidified their spot as the third or fourth best team in the Eastern Conference behind just Cleveland and Boston. Unfortunately for the Wizards, Boston holds the number 1 pick in this year’s draft and also has the cap space to sign a max player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. The Cavs on the other hand, will do whatever they need to, to try and compete with the Warriors. It’s likely that these two teams will get better this offseason while the Wizards will essentially stand pat at where they are.

If the Wizards can manage to re-sign Porter at a reasonable price and get a durable and productive backup point guard, that will solidify the Wizards as the third best team in the Eastern Conference heading into next season.

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Celtics vs. Wizards Game 4: Washington uses 26-0 run to blowout Boston, 121-102

After missing his first nine shots, John Wall connects on 8-16 the rest of the way en route to 27 points as the Wizards blow out the Celtics 121-102. Bradley Beal led the team with 29 points and Otto Porter added 18 as the Wizards use a 26-0 run in the third quarter to run away from Boston.

Boston looked locked in from the beginning, specifically, Thomas. After scoring just 13 points in Game 3, Thomas connected on his four three-point field goals to give the Celtics an early lead. Porter scored 10 in the quarter but Boston went 5-8 from three-point range and led for the first time after the first quarter in this series, 24-20.

After starting 0-9 from the field, John Wall connected on a long three-point field goal. That sparked an 11-2 run at a pivotal time as Washington found themselves down by as many as 12, 40-28 in the second quarter. Wall would score 14 points in the second period after a scoreless first quarter as we’d be tied at 48 at halftime.

Amir Johnson scored the first five points of the third quarter and that’s when everything changed for Washington. After two free throws, Morris would gobble an offensive rebound and kick it to Bradley Beal for three to spark a 26-0 run for the Wizards. During this run, Washington turned Boston over nine times resulting in 21 points. The Wizards clamped down on defense, specifically Otto Porter who got his hands in passing lanes that resulted in easy layups in transition. Wall had no issues getting to the hole as he easily beat Thomas off the dribble for layups and mean mugs to the crowd. The Wizards flipped the five point deficit into a 74-53 lead.

Washington connected on 13-17 field goals to start the quarter as they would enjoy a 90-68 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Scott Brooks opted to go with the starters for a tad longer than usual but probably for insurance purposes as the Celtics never cut the lead to closer than 17 after the 26-0 run. Jason Smith added a cherry on top to this one as the Wizards tie the series at two games a piece.

26-0 run sparks Wizards

Amir Johnson scored five quick points in the third quarter. It was all over for Boston after that. Washington amped up their defense turning the Celtics over nine times during the 26-0 run which was the deciding factor. Porter shot gaps for steals and easy layups on the other end.

Bradley Beal was knocking down three-pointers, and John Wall was doing Wallstar things as the Wizards turned this game upside down over a five minute stretch in the third period.

John Wall was an All-Star tonight

After starting 0-9 from the field, Wall connected on 8-15 field goals the rest of the way as he’d score 27 points to go along with 12 assists. Like Porter, Wall was also very active on the defensive end as he led the team with five steals and was able to get the team rolling in transition. Once Wall settled into the game, he really controlled the pace of this one and was able to knock down shots and find his teammates for easy baskets.

Bradley Beal turns in his best performance of the series

After a couple of underwhelming performances, Beal led the team in scoring tonight with 29 points including going 3-6 from three-point range in the most important game of the year. Thomas was matched on Beal to start this one and once again, Washington went straight to him in the post. Later, they ran Beal off of screens for wide open jumpers as the 5’9” Thomas had no chance of blocking him. Beal shot an impressive 69 percent (11-16) on a night when the Wizard needed him.

How the Wizards slowed down Isaiah Thomas in Game 3

Isaiah Thomas burned the Wizards in Boston through the first two games of this series. After a very impressive Game 1 performance where Thomas scored 33 points, he scored 53 in Game 2 with 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. There were a lot of opinions on what the Wizards should do to stop the little giant and in Game 3 on Thursday night; the Wizards made all of the right adjustments.

First off, the Wizards made Thomas work on the defensive end. If Thomas was guarding Wall, the Wizards would run the pick-and-roll with Gortat as the 5’9 Thomas could not fight over that mountain of a screen.

Once Washington exploited that matchup, coach Brad Stevens moved Thomas onto Bradley Beal. Scott Brooks countered this by running Beal off of screens. Once again, Thomas was put in a position where he had to fight through a Gortat screen and Beal was able to cash in with easy jumpers.

Lastly, the Celtics tried hiding Thomas on Otto Porter. That didn’t work out too well either. In Game 2, Wall, Beal, and Kelly Oubre tried posting up Thomas with only Wall having any real success. Last night, Washington ran isolation plays for Porter to catch the ball at the elbow, clear out the strong side of the court, and let the taller Porter go to work. Porter capitalized with two post-up jumpers he was able to get up without much of a challenge:

Defensively, Washington made several adjustments that threw Thomas off of his game. He finished the night with just 13 points on 3-8 shooting and missed both of his three-point attempts.

The game plan in the first half was the same as Game 1 & 2. Wall and Beal went over screens as the Wizards did not want to relinquish any clean three-point attempts. And while that strategy worked in the first half, they added another adjustment to keep Boston from making a comeback in the second half.

Bradley Beal was the primary defender on Thomas in the third quarter and the Wizards played him differently as a result. Markieff Morris or Marcin Gortat would show, allowing the screener to roll and forcing Thomas to go around the screen as the defender recovered or try to split the defense. As you can see here, the show from Morris allows Beal to recover enabling him to catch up with Thomas.

This is something that Washington did not do in Games 1 and 2.

Lastly, the Wizards exerted a great amount of desperation and hustle plays that we weren’t seeing in prior games. Back in Boston, when a high screen-and-roll was set, Wall and Beal looked like they were blindfolded running through a forest as they ran right into screens and gave up on the play shortly thereafter. This allowed Thomas to shoot open threes and pull up in the midrange where he is very dangerous and effective. That was not the case Thursday evening as rotations were crisp and players were able to recover resulting contested shots around the rim.

The Wizards played with an edge and tenacity on defense that was absent in Games 1 and 2. In fact, this was the first time since January 27th that Washington held an opponent under 90 points.

Now the Wizards have a blueprint that they can use and continue to add new wrinkles to in order to keep Thomas boxed in. It’s no easy task, but it’s pretty clear that if you can shut down Thomas, you can shut down the Celtics’ offense. If the Wizards make Thomas work hard on the defensive end and throw a bunch of different looks at him on the offensive end, it’ll give the Wizards a much better chance to win Game 4.

Wizards vs. Nuggets final score: Washington sweeps back-to-back with 123-113 win in Denver

All five Wizards starters scored in double figures led by John Wall with 26 and Bradley Beal with 23 as the Wizards beat a short-handed Nuggets squad, 123-113 on Wednesday night. Otto Porter was able to knock off the rust, scoring 22 points and Marcin Gortat returned to his old ways, notching a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds to help the Wizards improve to 2-0 on their road trip.

The Wizards sure didn’t look like a team on the second half of a back-to-back from the start of this one. Washington started the game 6-10 from the field as Wall and Beal combined for 18 points in the first period. Wall got out in transition and had many opportunities in the first quarter thanks to long rebounds off Denver’s missed threes. Wall scored layups on back-to-back fast break possessions including this one as he put just the right English on the ball to finish with the foul.

Wall finished the quarter with 10 points and four assists as the Wizards led, 35-28 after one.

There was a lot to like from Washington in the second quarter, particularly from the recently, very effective bench. The reserves came in and combined for 18 points in the first half behind eight points from Bojan Bogdanovic and four assists from Brandon Jennings. The reserves did their job in maintaining the lead for when the starters checked back in.

When Wall and Beal were re-inserted, the Wizards kicked it up a gear. Washington went on a 12-2 run sparked by two three-pointers from Bradley Beal and some short shots in the lane from Gortat as the Wizards were able to go into halftime up 67-50.

The Wizards were coasting and it looked like Washington would cruise as they led by 24 at one point in the third quarter. But Denver had other plans. The Nuggets shot a red-hot 78 percent in the third quarter as they trimmed the Washington lead in half entering the fourth quarter.

Once again, the Wizards were able to stretch the lead out to 14 but the pesky Nuggets wouldn’t go away. Things got more complicated after Markieff Morris was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul on Mason Plumlee. The teams traded baskets for most of the fourth quarter and the Nuggets were able to cut the lead to single digits with just under a minute to play. But on the next possession with the shot clock winding down, Gortat found Bogdanovic who swung it around the horn for a wide open Porter who’d knock down the dagger three to put the game out of reach.

Gortat breaks out of his slump

After struggling over the past couple of games, Gortat turned his best performance since the All-Star break. Gortat got back to his double-double ways with 11 points and 15 rebounds and nearly accomplished that feat by halftime (eight points, 11 rebounds).

It looked like the game plan was to feed Gortat early and often on the block to try and get the big man going as the Nuggets were short-handed in the frontcourt with Nikola Jokic missing this one. Gortat also chipped in with three offensive rebounds that resulted in second chance points for the Wizards.

Otto Porter re-emerges

Like Gortat, Porter has also been struggling a bit since the All-Star break. Porter was able to break out of his funk with 22 points on 10-15 shooting to go along with four steals. Porter hasn’t been taking threes at a rate we saw prior to the All-Star break but tonight, did most of his damage around the rim. Otto had two key buckets late in the game, a long two and a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down as Denver was making a last effort run.

Jennings has his best game as a Wizard

After his early exit from last night’s game, a well rested Jennings turned in his best performance as a Wizard with four points, six assists, and two steals in just over 17 minutes of play. Like Wall, Jennings was looking to get out in transition to set his teammates up. Jennings’ highlight of the night was capped off when he went behind the back to Mahinmi for an easy finish at the rim.

Porter, Wall lead Wizards past Pacers, 111-98.

This had all the makings of a potential letdown game for the Wizards but silly me for doubting them. Washington beats Indiana 111-98 in their final game before the All-Star break for their 34th win of the season. Otto Porter led the Wizards in scoring with 25 points on 6-10 shooting from three-point range while Markieff Morris continued his tear with 21 points and seven rebounds.

Otto Porter was on fire to start the game. The NBA’s leading three-point shooter knocked down his first three three-pointers of the game. Things were going so well for Otto that the bank stayed open late as he heaved this shot off the glass for his fifth three-pointer of the first period as the Wizards led 34-27.

Like we’ve become accustomed to, the starters built up a lead up to 10; but the bench came right in and blew it. The Pacers started the quarter on an 8-3 run forcing Brooks to reinsert his starters back in earlier than he probably would have liked to.

Everything started clicking again once the starters came back in.

The Wizards led by 19 at one point, 62-43 but once again, Indiana was able to counter with a 9-0 run but the Wizards still led by 10 at halftime.

Things got a little uneasy during the third quarter as Paul George started to get hot. George, who made just two baskets in the first half hit his first two shots of the third quarter to get started. But this time, it was the Wizards turn to counter with a run. Threes from Morris, Beal and Burke helped the Wizards regain control as they enjoyed a 90-77 lead entering the fourth quarter.

And in methodical fashion, the Wizards answered every single punch thrown their way in the fourth quarter to close this one out 111-98.

After a horrific 2-8 start to the season, the Wizards find themselves in the 3-seed out east with a record of 34-21 at the All-Star break. Not too shabby.

A first quarter to remember for Otto Porter

Porter, the league’s best three-point shooter, put on a show in the first quarter. Wall found Otto in the corner as he hit his first three to start the game. The basket looked like an ocean for Porter as he continued to let it fly and the shots kept falling. Otto connected on his first three three-pointers in the period and was 5-6 overall in the first quarter.

The Markieff Morris tear continues

After a somewhat quiet first half, Morris came out firing in the second half as he hit his first three-pointer as well as several fadeaways near the basket when matched up against smaller players. Morris ended the night with 21 points on 8-12 shooting and snatched seven rebounds. Morris was a key contributor for the Wizards in the second half as he provided them with timely buckets as the Wizards started to pull away.

Waal, Beal, and Porter combine for 74 as the Wiz top the Nets in overtime, 114-110.

The new “Big-3” of Wall, Beal, and Porter combine for 74 points as the Wizards hang on to beat the Nets in overtime, 114-110. Marcin Gortat notched another double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds while Jason Smith was a spark off the bench with 15 points as the Wizards are again, 10 games over .500 at 31-21.

In what was thought to be a potential letdown game after the disastrous loss against the Cavs, the Wizards came out hungry and took an early 10 point lead. Bradley Beal scored 14 points in the period while Wall added seven assists as the Wizards led 31-22 after one.

The Wizards were able to stretch the lead to 13 at one point during the second quarter but the Nets would counter with a 9-0 run. Washington was able to regain control late in the period as they led 59-49 at halftime on 55 percent shooting.

The dead legs kicked in in the second half for the Wizards. Washington missed five of their first six shots to start the half and went 5-17 to start the quarter as the Nets were able to trim the lead to two.

Whenever it looked like Washington would pull away, Brooklyn had an answer. Former Wizard, Trevor Booker, was a monster on the offensive end with several athletic finishes around Wizard defenders. The hangover from the game before kicked in as the Wizards started throwing errant passes and kept missing open field goals. This game would be tied up at 100 at the end of regulation as we’d head to overtime.

In the overtime period, the Wizards relinquished their lead. However, three key offensive rebounds and putbacks from Porter helped Washington take the lead while their free throw shooting secured the victory.

It wasn’t pretty, but Washington survives a potential letdown game, 114-110.

Washington survives

After the game against Cleveland just two days ago, one would wonder how much tenacity Washington would have going up against the worst team in the NBA. To start the game, the Wizards looked focused and energized. However, as the game went on, the Wizards started missing open shots that they usually make and began committing silly turnovers. It didn’t bite the Wizards this time but against a better team, they would have lost.

Can’t blame ’em though, cause a win is a win.

Ian Mahinmi returns

Mahinmi returned for the Wizards for the first time since December and played how you think a guy recovering from a knee surgery would play. He was active on the defensive end but was a step slow on defense evidenced by his three fouls in 12 minutes. Mahinmi shows promise as he’s another 7-footer that can come in and protect the rim. He still has a long ways to go offensively however, he did grab five rebounds in his limited action.

Washington rolls past Atlanta in a dominating 112-86 win.

Washington turns in a dominant performance from start to finish as they blowout the Hawks, 112-86 on Friday night. All five Wizards starters scored at least 15 points led by Otto Porter with 21 as he went 5-7 from three-point range. The win pulls the Wizards within a half a game of the four seed.

A main reason for the Wizards turnaround is because they’ve been able to get out of the gate fast. That was on display tonight as the Wizards took an 8-1 lead early forcing Atlanta to call two early timeouts. The Wizards knocked down their first four three-pointers en route to a 37-25 lead after one quarter.

The bench came in and grew that lead in the second quarter. Some nice hustle plays from Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jason Smith resulted in easy buckets on the other end for Washington. Washington shot 53 percent from the field and four of the five starters scored in double figures as the Wizards led, 67-45 at halftime.

The Wizards won the first five minutes of the second half and stretched the lead to 30, 91-61 at one point. The starters sat for the entire fourth quarter as the Wizards roll to an 112-86 win.

Wizards crash the glass

Washington crushed Atlanta on the glass tonight outrebounding them 52-41. The trio of Gortat, Morris, and Porter combined for 32 rebounds led by Gortat with 12. Gortat won the battle against Dwight Howard and kept many possessions alive with his patented slap back. Markieff Morris wasn’t far behind as he snatched five offensive rebounds. The team combined for 13 offensive rebounds resulting in 12 second chance points.

Otto Porter stays hot from three

Otto Porter, the best three-point shooter in the NBA, did nothing to hurt his stats tonight as he was 5-7 from three-point range. Porter connected on three of his first four and early on to build up the Wizards’ lead. Otto stayed hot to start the second half as Wall zipped a pass to him only to knock down a wide-open three in the corner.

Too many turnovers

It didn’t burn the Wizards tonight but their turnover issue still remains a head scratcher. Washington coughed the ball up 20 times with many coming on lackadaisical passes or passes that just weren’t there. The game was out of hand early so it didn’t come back to haunt them. However, 20 turnovers in a game isn’t going to cut it on most nights.