2013-2014 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

3 of 5

Oct 17, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) passes the ball during the game against the New York Knicks at Baltimore Arena. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Wizards (41-41) *Edited after Gortat/Okafor trade

In the time since our Pacific Division preview emerged, the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns executed a deal that brought Marcin Gortat to the Nation’s Capital in exchange for Emeka Okafor and a #1 pick (among others). I’ve adjusted 3 wins in each direction, and with that, we’ve landed on 41 wins (up from 38) for the Wizards.

Because of that, we’ll start with Gortat, who I thoroughly enjoy. He’s an expiring contract (which is probably why he was moved in search of a draft pick), but the 29-year-old big man has many skills. Gortat averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last year in under 31 minutes of court time, and he’s a very solid contributor in both categories. Defensively, he’s solid but unspectacular, but he’s real value is another offensive option (in the pick-and-roll especially) for John Wall and company. The upgrade from a banged-up Okafor to Gortat is marked, simply because of health, and this is a nice pickup for the Wiz.

Speaking of John Wall, the former #1 overall pick anchors what should be an improved Washington team. Wall exploded for a near-21 PER last season when he averaged 18.5 points, 7.6 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game, and now, he’ll be looking to put a full-year together after signing what is a massive contract extension. You won’t find anyone that is more athletic than Wall from end-to-end, and he’s shear speed is startling. He has all the tools to be a monster defensively, but he probably gambles too much at this stage (age 23) that can be addressed. If Wall could shoot, the entire league would be in trouble, but his career mark of 24.3% from beyond the arc is an issue (yikes) and it wasn’t much better (26.7%) last season. I think  he makes another step forward this season, but even if he’s “just” the player from 2012-2013, he’s very, very good.

He’ll be joined in the backcourt by another mega-high draft pick in Bradley Beal. The former Florida guard was very good as a rookie, averaging 13.9 points per game in 31 minutes, but that production grew to 16.5 points per contest after that All-Star break, and that’s what I’d expect for his year. If there’s a weakness for Beal, it’s that he isn’t great when attacking the rim, but he’s jump shot is beyond legitimate (as evidenced by his 38.6% clip from 3 last year), and he’s already a quality defender at age 20. I like Beal a lot, but if Washington is going to make the playoffs, he has to establish himself as a legitimate 2nd option.

The rest of the Washington roster is a bit of a mash-up. Otto Porter is this year’s lottery pick for the Wizards, but he’s missed the entirety of the preseason with a hip issue. Porter is a “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of player who does everything well, but not exceptional. With that, he’ll need to “find his lane” in the NBA, but at 6-foot-8 and athletic, I think he’ll eventually be an asset. Elsewhere on the wing, the Wizards will be deploying a lot of Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza. Webster finally arrived as a real NBA rotation guy last year when he shot 42% from 3 in averaging 12 points per game, but his defense is the underrated part about his game, and I like that aspect from him. Ariza is the more famous of the two guys, but he’s not a better player due to his shooting struggles. If he can shoot 36% from 3 again (like he did last year) and fix his shot selection issues, Ariza would be very valuable, but I’m skeptical.

Up front, the Wizards don’t have a shortage of bodies to pair with Gortat, but it’s an interesting group. Nene Hilario (or just Nene) is an exceptional player when healthy (17+ PER in 5 straight seasons), but he is seemingly always on the training table. There some red flags to indicate declining skills (48% from the floor last year, down from a career number in the high-50s), and between him and Gortat, I’m not sure who protects the rim, but either way, Nene is a helpful big when healthy. He’ll be flanked by Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, and Al Harrington (as a smallball 4), and none of the members of that trio scare you. I like Seraphin’s athleticism, Booker’s toughness, and Harrington’s shooting/experience combo, but unless they can mold all 3 together, I’m not sure how useful they will be.

Washington will go as far as Wall and Beal take them, but they’re going to need health and productivity from the Gortat/Nene/Otto Porter trio this season. I like them as a playoff prospect, but it’s far from a lock.