The Washington Wizards had quite a successful 2016-17 campaign.
In Scott Brooks’ first year as head coach of the Wizards, the team made significant steps in their development. They made it back to the playoffs behind some great play by John Wall. Otto Porter became mega-efficient. Bradley Beal stayed healthy for the whole season and played great during it.
The Wizard's made significant strides, and there are a lot more to make. Washington with Wall has made the playoffs and won a series before, but this is the year to make themselves known as an Eastern Conference contender. With a weakened East and another year of an already successful core playing together, the Wizards should be able to pass even more milestones in 2017-18.
On a scale from 1-10, I rate how likely the Wizards are to reach those individual and team milestones. Some will be harder to achieve, some easier. But the point of a likelihood index is to differentiate between the two. Not as black and white in terms determining a future outcome because nothing would do. Predictions can be wrong, but saying something is likely to a certain extent covers you on both sides.
If I say something’s likely and it doesn’t happen, hey I said there was a chance it wouldn’t. If it does happen, I’m a genius. Please bookmark to look back on in June when it turns out, I am indeed a genius, or just right about probability. Win-win.
Without further ado, The Wiz Index:
The Washington Wizards win 50 games for the first time since 1979:
Washington had their best year in quite a while in 2016-17. They had 49 wins, so winning 50 with basically the same team isn’t exactly a bold prediction, but it’s a big milestone for a team that hasn’t reached it in decades.
This team was close to 50 wins despite a terrible start to the season. They started 2-8 with a completely lifeless defense. The team was still adjusting to Scott Brooks and vice versa, and the team began to hit their stride in the winter after they had better cohesiveness and finished 47-25. Over an 82 game season, that record would be 54-28. I believe with a year under their belt and a less physically taxing schedule for the NBA this season the Wizards could look more like that 54 win team. As an added bonus, bench additions like Mike Scott and Tim Frazier will lighten the load for the core players.
This team will play better than the year before, and the continuity is going to be extremely valuable against an Eastern Conference with plenty of turnovers and a lack of talent. The Wizards should have that edge against changing teams and bad teams.
Ian Mahinmi traded before the trade deadline:
Ian Mahinmi has a bad contract. Even if he’s at his previous peak for the remainder of this contract, it’s still unwise to have upwards of $15 million tied up in a fringe starter/backup center when Kelly Oubre Jr. and Markieff Morris are going to be looking for new deals in 2020. Teams have already dumped their 2016 signings to free up future space; the Brooklyn Nets have already taken on Timofey Mozgov and Allen Crabbe (who they wanted to sign last year anyway) and got D’Angelo Russell for their troubles.
The problem is, if the Wizards do want to get rid of Mahinmi, they have to attach a first-round pick or a young asset, both of which Washington has few. They’ve been willing to deal picks in the past to get role players, but it might be tougher to part with one for a salary dump. Still, I think if the Wizards do get to that point, they don’t need to do so this season. I’m sure Mahinmi will be given at least a full year to see if he can stay healthy and productive.
Bradley Beal is named All-Star for the first time:
Bradley Beal was definitely in contention to be an All-Star last year. He was scoring 22.2 points a night on 47/40/81 splits before the All-Star break and had even better numbers after the break (24.8 PPG, 50/41/85 splits). It was by far his most effective year and it’s hardly a coincidence that it was his healthiest. If he plays at that same level he will definitely still be considered for an All-Star spot, and he might be even more inclined to get it this year after the exodus of talent from the Eastern Conference. If Kyrie Irving goes west as well, that’s another backcourt spot open for Beal. If he can stay healthy, that spot should be his to keep.
The Washington Wizards make the Eastern Conference Finals:
This might be a weird take, but I like the Wizards against the Cavaliers more than I like them against the Celtics. Maybe that’s because we’ve already seen the Celtics series and the Cavaliers-Wizards matchup is more of an unknown, but Boston is still really good and they got better. Last year’s team swapped Avery Bradley and Amir Johnson for All-Star Gordon Hayward. The semifinals series this past year really showed Washington’s limits. John Wall was absolutely gassed. Washington’s bench was rail-thin, especially with playmakers. Brandon Jennings provided nothing and it was so much harder on John Wall to create the offense. The bench got marginally better with Jodie Meeks and Tim Frazier, but I’m still not sold this team will be able to beat a Boston team with three legitimate All-Stars.
Meanwhile, Cleveland is in disarray. The Kyrie Irving saga doesn’t have a clear conclusion yet and LeBron James is another year older. That means there’s slightly, possibly, MAYBE, hope for this to be the year to topple the Cavaliers in the playoffs. The thing is every year for the past seven years someone has said this about LeBron’s team. It might be best for the Wizards to hope Cleveland doesn’t trade Kyrie Irving and that the drama causes them to self-implode without any returning assets. But that team is still better than Washington. If the Wizards can get the Cavaliers in a situation that’s just right, they might make it to the conference finals, but that’s going to be quite a challenge.
John Wall finishes top-5 in MVP voting:
Last year was a weird MVP year. 2016-17 had four players with legitimate cases for MVP and it was absolutely loaded. It wasn’t necessarily close, Russell Westbrook ran away with the voting, but any of the four (Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron) could have won and the collective NBA audience would have been fine with it. But the fifth spot is where voters really diverted from main paths.
Outside of those core four, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, and Giannis Antetokounmpo claimed the most 5th-place votes. All incredible players, but John Wall should have gotten more consideration for this vote. John Wall arguably had a bigger impact on winning and losing than all but Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. John Wall also has a bigger impact on his teammates than the rest of the league. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter were the biggest benefactors of his high performance, slinging the ball across the court and hitting them for perfectly open shots.
There are a lot of good players in this league (hot take, I know) and so many have good MVP prospects, it would not be particularly insulting for John Wall to finish outside of the top-5. Russ’ numbers might drop with Paul George in tow, but he still leads that team. Kawhi is still the best perimeter defender in the world as well as an all-world. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are coming off an incredible Finals. James Harden is still leading an offensive juggernaut. LeBron James is LeBron James. But if the Wizards take a step up in record and John Wall continues his production while making his teammates better, he’ll have a much stronger case. It’ll be hard with the number of superstars in the league, but Wall is one in his own right and next year may be the year he gets MVP recognition.