Highlights from the 2017-2018 Wizards Schedule Release

After giving us a peek of what the opening day and Christmas Day games would be, the NBA released the rest of the schedule for the 2017-2018 season on Monday evening. For the first time since 2011, The Washington Wizards will open the season at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on ESPN. Here are some other highlights from the schedule release:

The Wizards will play 18 nationally televised games

John Wall and Bradley Beal have gone on the record stating that the Wizards don’t get enough national attention. Finally, they get their wish. The Wizards will play on National TV 18 times this season with marquee matchups against the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder, and Celtics. And for the first time since 2014, the Wizards will play on Christmas Day as they’ll take on the Celtics in Boston.

When will the Wizards go out West?

Unlike season’s past where Washington didn’t have their west coast road trip(s) til later in the season, that will be different as the Wizards have two west coast road trips in the first six weeks of the season this year. Washington will head out west to take on Denver, LA Lakers, Golden State, and Sacramento immediately after their first two home games to start the season.

Washington will then head out west again in the beginning of December to take on Utah, Portland, Phoenix, and the LA Clippers for their second road trip.

The front-end of the Wizards season is filled with many road games so if they can hold steady through the beginning portion of the season, that will help immensely when jockeying for playoff positioning as the month of March is stacked with home games.

When do the Wizards play the Celtics first?

Washington will head to Boston on Christmas Day for the first of four meetings this season against the hated Celtics. I don’t think there will be a bunch of holiday cheer that day between the two teams.

How many back-to-backs will the Wizards play this season?

Washington will play in 16 back-to-backs this season in addition to playing four games in five nights on just one occasion. The NBA prolonged the schedule this season in an attempt to limit back-to-backs as well as instances where teams played four games in five nights. This will benefit the Wizards as they were not very good last season in games on the second half of back-to-backs.

When do Kevin Durant and the Warriors come to town?

After playing Golden State in California early in the season, the Wizards will have to wait until February 28th to take on the Warriors at home. Ironically, that will be one year to the day that the Wizards beat the Warriors and when Kevin Durant injured his knee last season in Washington.

Beginning of April is no slouch

Assuming playoff seeds have not been secured by this point, the Wizards got no help from the schedule makers. Washington will play four of their final six games on the road to end this season including matchups in Houston, in Cleveland, and against Boston at home. The schedule makers hope that the teams will have something to play for down the stretch as most are predicting Cleveland, Boston, and Washington to finish in the top-3 of the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards’ struggles in Summer League are symptomatic of bigger issues with developing talent

Don’t blink, because if you did, you would have missed the Wizards’ Summer League play in Las Vegas just this past week. Washington went 0-3 in league play, got bounced in the first round of the Summer League Tournament, and then lost their consolidation game.

It’s important not to focus solely on the team’s uninspiring 0-5 record as Summer League rosters are a hodgepodge of rookies, younger talent, G-League players, and players playing professional ball overseas. And coaches aren’t running things in an effort to win games, they’re focused on putting players in positions to grow and develop, even if that means struggling during games.

However, when you get past the record, the lack of talent that the Wizards put on the floor is just as eye-opening and is a microcosm of team’s struggles to develop talent outside of the can’t-miss players the Wizards took with top-three draft picks.

This Wizards’ Summer League roster featured four players who spent time on the regular season roster last season: Sheldon Mac, Chris McCullough, Daniel Ochefu, and Danuel House. It also included two players – Michael Young and Devin Robinson – who will factor in the future as the team’s two-way players.

Of these six guys, Mac was the only one who looked like a legitimate NBA player. He was overpowering in attacking the hole and averaged 13.2 points per game over the tournament. His jump shot isn’t a thing of beauty yet, but he made up for it by overmatching defenders with his size.

Mac’s performance was very reminiscent of Kelly Oubre’s 2016 Summer League efforts, as Mac was the clear leader of this team. Sometimes he forced the issue, but that’s what you want to see, since he’s the player who has the best chance of being asked to create offense for the Wizards next season.

Daniel Ochefu raised some eyebrows with his play too. He wasn’t as flashy or nearly as athletic as Mac but was able to muster 7.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 21.2 minutes of action per night. Ochefu showed some bounce that we hadn’t seen before and some nifty post moves that generated easy baskets for himself and others, as he shot a very impressive 70 percent from the field in the tournament and averaged 1.6 assists per game out of the post.

However, when he was matched up against the up-and-rising talent in Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, Ochefu turned in his worst game of the tournament while Adebayo put up a rock solid 16 point, 7 rebound performance.

Even with Ochefu’s solid play, he’s in a poor situation as he’s currently the third or fourth center (if you consider Jason Smith a center) on the Wizards’ roster. So even though he showed some promising signs, he’s still low on the pecking order for this upcoming season.

Chris McCullough, the Wizards’ “first round draft pick” is far from a finished product entering his third NBA season. There’s no denying his athleticism is second to none, but that’s where the buck stops. He only shot 29.2 percent from the field and struggled on the defensive end, especially with more physical players.

His struggles were best exemplified when the Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in the third game of league play. McCullough was overmatched against Bulls’ rookie Lauri Markkanen. He knocked down some early threes which stretched McCullough out of his defensive comfort zone, and then used the spacing he gained to push the third year player around on the glass, as he grabbed four offensive rebounds in that game.

McCullough has the tools to become a solid NBA player, but this Summer League tournament was an indication that he still has a long ways to go. If he truly was a rookie, that would be understandable, but it’s harder to stay patient with a player going into their third year, especially as the team has to make a decision on whether or not to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his rookie deal for next season.

Michael Young averaged 9.4 points per game and showed that he can be a physical presence on the offensive end while finishing in traffic, but still has to work on his jumper before he can be a serious NBA threat. Devon Robinson has an even longer way to go. He is a very bouncy player with a jumper that might be even worse than Chris McCullough’s, but he still has time to grow.

So why does this all matter?

For starters, this shows that the Wizards have very little young talent to develop on their roster. As mentioned, Sheldon Mac was the leader and far and away the best talent on the roster but outside of Mac, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. The lack of draft picks from previous seasons looks to be catching up as not one player on the Summer League roster was drafted by Washington. Some of the other guys might be interesting if they can develop, but it’s harder to do that properly when you don’t have your own G-League affiliate where you can manage player development.

The Wizards have had their troubles drafting outside of the obvious, top-three picks they made and have failed to turn young talent taken later in the draft and develop them into productive players. Those struggles came full-circle this summer with the lack of talent on display in Las Vegas.

Yes, it’s just Summer League, but the team’s struggles and lack of talent that was evident on this team’s roster just reiterated three areas that the front office has struggled with for years: keeping draft picks, hitting on draft picks, and developing young talent.

Wizards vs. Bulls final score: Washington falls to 0-3 in Summer League after 82-73 loss to Chicago

Sheldon Mac scored 20 points but didn’t get a whole lot of help from his teammates as the Wizards fell to the Chicago Bulls, 82-73 on Tuesday night.

Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls prized first round pick scored 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds and Antonio Blakeney scored 23 points as Chicago was able to hold off a late run from the Wizards to secure the victory.

After going 4-35 in Summer League action on Monday, the Bulls started 4-5 from range en route to a quick 20-7 lead. The Wizards shot just 29 percent in the first quarter and were only able to muster 15 points as they trailed, 33-15 after one.

After a very passive start, Sheldon Mac got in attack mode. Mac finished in traffic and had a nice transition layup to spark a 7-0 run for the Wizards. Mac and Daniel Ochefu combined for 17 points in the first half but the team shot just 31 percent from the field and trailed, 52-36 at halftime.

Mac stayed in attack mode to start the second half with two quick baskets. Chris McCullough finished a tough putback at the rim and just like that, the Wizards had trimmed the lead to 10, 55-45 midway through the third quarter. Mac’s 12 third quarter points brought the Wizards within nine as they trailed 62-53 after three.

Marcus Keene, no stranger to letting shots fly, got hot in the fourth quarter as he sliced his way into the lane for a tough layup only to follow it up with a three-pointer. The Wizards were able to cut the lead to one, 67-66 midway through the fourth quarter but the Bulls would get hot from three-point range to secure the victory, 82-73.

With the loss, the Wizards fell to 0-3 in league play. They will play again on Wednesday against someone in the opening round of Las Vegas Summer League tournament.

Outside of Sheldon Mac, the Wizards’ regular season players were underwhelming

Mac had a team-high 20 points tonight with 12 of those coming in the third quarter. Outside of Mac, the rest of the Wizards’ regular season players didn’t produce a whole lot. It looked like Ochefu might be in for a big game as he scored nine points in the first half and was active on the glass. However, Ochefu was a non-factor in the second half.

McCullough was overmatched as he was guarding Markkanen for most of the evening. The third-year player was no match for the rookie as he hit shots from deep and was active in the painted area. Danuel House scored just one point tonight and missed all seven of his shots.

The Wizards acquire Tim Frazier in hopes of boosting their bench

The Washington Wizards acquired point guard Time Frazier from the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday evening in exchange for their second round pick, the 52nd overall. Although Frazier has only been in the league for three seasons, he’s bounced around but has made his mark as a reliable backup point guard.

If you watched the Wizards this year, you know that they desperately need a backup point guard as Trey Burke was a flop, Brandon Jennings didn’t provide much, and Tomas Satoransky has yet to come into his own in the NBA. As a result, John Wall was forced to play heavy minutes during the regular season and in the playoffs.

Frazier comes in hoping to take some of the burdens off of Wall. He isn’t the best shooter but can attack the rim and keeps his teammates involved evidenced by his 5.2 assists in just 23.5 minutes this past season with the Pelicans. He probably won’t leapfrog Satoranksy right away in the pecking order, but will have plenty of opportunities to do so as the season rolls along.

Trade Grade: A-

This trade was a huge win for the Wizards as they acquired a pretty reliable backup point guard for next to nothing. Most second round players never make it to an NBA roster let alone provide a spark for a team. So the fact that the Wizards were able to give up a low-level pick for a reliable player making just $2 million per year makes this trade a big win for the Wizards.

Yes, they won’t have a pick in this upcoming draft, but hopefully, they’ve filled a void that they’ve been searching for, for a very long time.

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.

Marcin Gortat had an underappreciated, but uneven season with the Wizards

As the NBA evolves into a shooter’s league, traditional centers are quickly becoming extinct and Marcin Gortat is no exception. Once the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris during the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that the Wizards were shifting their focus away from muscle to spacing. And just this offseason, the Wizards made a run at Al Horford in hopes of putting four shooters around John Wall.

Even though traditional centers are fading away, Marcin Gortat managed to turn in his best season as a Wizard averaging a double-double for the year with 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. On top of that, the 33-year-old was the only Wizards player who played and started all 82 games this season.

Gortat was rock solid for a majority of the season. However, he went through a bit of a slump in late February and March as his numbers dipped to 7.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. This happened to coincide with the Wizards’ team struggles so like years past, Gortat became the punching bag for Wizards faithful.

Things didn’t get easier for Gortat when the Wizards entered the playoffs as he had arguably the hardest individual matchups in both rounds. First, he had to guard the bruising Dwight Howard and then he had to try to lock down the rangy Al Horford.

Gortat struggled to score in the Atlanta series but managed double-digit rebounding numbers in four of the six games (including 18 rebounds in Game 4). In the second round against theCeltics, he was able to move more freely on the offensive end. He notched three double-doubles in the series with double-digit rebounding efforts in six of the seven games.

There’s no denying it, Gortat is getting older, but he’s adjusted to the evolving NBA. He’s not a stat stuffer anymore but performs many little things that don’t show up in the box score. This season, Gortat led the NBA in screens leading to baskets. So although he doesn’t get an assist per se, he’s accounting for a minimum of 12 additional points on a nightly basis.

He continues to make the most of his touches around the rim, making 68.9 percent of his attempts there this season. The issue here is that his touches and shot attempts went down from previous years. He only attempted 8.2 shots per game, the fewest of his career since arriving in Washington.

As the Wizards switched their offensive scheme, Gortat received fewer and fewer touches in the post as most of his points either came on pick-and-rolls or putbacks. In the rare instance that Gortat would get the ball in the post, it often felt like he needed to take the shot as he wasn’t sure when he’d touch the ball next. He struggled on those opportunities, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint and 40.9 percent in the midrange area.

Gortat isn’t in an ideal situation as he’s on the wrong side of 30 playing a position that is slowly dissolving. He mentioned in his exit interviews that he’ll talk with his agent this offseason to see if Washington is the best place for him as it’s clear that the Wizards are looking to get younger and more athletic at the center position.

His season didn’t end on a high note as he became less and less involved in the offense as the season wore on. However, his durability, rebounding, and ability to do the dirty work can’t be questioned.

Kelly Oubre made some improvements, but still has a ways to go

Kelly Oubre Jr. played just six seconds in Game 7 as the Wizards lost to theBoston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And just like that, his season ended the same way it began; with one big question mark.

Coming into the 2016-2017 campaign, the expectation was that Oubre would step into the backup role left vacant as the Wizards opted not to re-sign guys likeGarrett Temple and Jared Dudley. The hope was that the second-year player would slowly morph into a 3 & D player that the Wizards have sought out sinceTrevor Ariza’s departure. And although Oubre did improve from his rookie season, he still has a ways to go.

Even though Oubre struggled to score at times, Scott Brooks often opted to play him over Markieff Morris with the starters to close out games during stretches in December and January. However, when he spent time playing alongside the second unit, he struggled to score.

Although Oubre’s minutes essentially doubled from last season to this season (10.7 to 20.3), his scoring never came around. The second-year player worked with Drew Hanlen this offseason to try and improve his offensive game but it never came to fruition. He averaged more points this season (6.3) but that was due to his increased usage and shot volume.

In what looked like it would be another ho-hum season with just minor improvements, Oubre turned in the best stretch of his career starting with a 16 point and 7 rebound game as the Wizards beat the Cavs, 127-115 on March 25th. That kicked off a stretch where Oubre would average 11.4 points per game over the next 10 games, the best stretch of his career.

Unfortunately, that hot stretch didn’t fully carry over to the playoffs as Oubre’s numbers reverted back to the mean as he averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds; very similar to his shaky and inconsistent regular season numbers.

Now, Oubre enters a very pivotal offseason. Unlike Porter, he will not be forced into a starting role in his third season. That means Oubre will need to continue to make strides in his game keeping in mind that his minutes will probably hover around the 20-minute mark again next season.

In a recent interview, Oubre stated that he’ll be working out with Bradley Beal this summer to work on creating his own shot and setting up others. This seems like a big mistake. Oubre still has not become a knockdown shooter or a lockdown defender. To flourish as a key bench player next season, he’ll have to raise his three-point shooting percentage. His jump shot did look much cleaner this season than when he entered the NBA but the only issue was, it still never went in at a high rate. Shooting 28.7 percent from distance isn’t going to cut it.

Like his rookie campaign, Oubre would either shoot a three-point shot or would try to drive all the way to the hole and finish in traffic. There was an improvement here as Oubre connected on 57 percent of his field goals within eight feet from the hoop, but keep in mind that includes plenty of easy, uncontested dunks off of turnovers. When he tried finishing over seven-footers in halfcourt situations, it often led to poor shot attempts or turnovers before he even got a chance to get a shot up.

In addition, Oubre should focus on improving his perimeter defense. Wizards fans salivate over Oubre’s physical tools as he stands at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, but he hasn’t become a great on-ball defender, yet. He still gambles too often on defense, is overzealous, and commits far too many fouls.

As Oubre enters one of the most important offseasons of his career, he’ll be best suited in trying to hone in his shooting and defense rather than worrying about creating his own shot. Because when it boils down to it, his evolution and ceiling as an NBA player most likely mimics that of Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter more than it does Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.