Ideally, rookie guard Bradley Beal would have been eased in behind a productive veteran. The Wizards don’t have anyone to fill that type of role.
Most NBA observers are high on Beal. “He could be a poor man’s Ray Allen,” one Western Conference general manager told me, referring to the Miami Heat’s sharp-shooting future Hall of Famer.
At only 19, though, Beal is being put in a difficult position. He’ll have to grow up quickly without Wall and Nene in the lineup to share the scoring load. Wittman realizes he’s asking Beal to shoulder a lot. The last thing Wittman would want is for the kid’s confidence to be ruined, “but thus far, I don’t worry about that,” Wittman said. “He hasn’t given me any indication of being intimidated or being scared. Can that change? Absolutely.”
Okay. I know what you’re probably thinking: Won’t the return of Wall and Nene help Beal and the entire team?
The answer is yes. Just not enough to make a major difference in the Wizards’ record.
Although Wall has shown the ability to take command of games in stretches, he still has a lot to prove. Can Wall become an elite scorer after he averaged 16.3 points in his first two seasons? Will his bad three-point shooting — he has a 23.6-percent career mark — improve? Does Wall possess that take-charge trait (call it the Jordan gene) needed to lead the Wizards out of the basement?
The Wizards are counting on Wall to make the leap from good player to superstar leader this season. It’s hard to make that jump when you’re injured.
There are also questions about Nene. Undoubtedly, the Wizards benefited from his roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-dirty approach last season. Nene has credibility around the league because he has produced on winning teams (he played in 44 playoff games with the Denver Nuggets).
But Nene missed 14 of 25 games after the Wizards acquired him from the Nuggets last season and is injured again. The Nuggets were willing to trade Nene just a few months after signing him to a $67 million extension, of which the Wizards are on the hook for $52 million. Did Denver know something the Wizards didn’t? Let’s put it this way: That contract sure could become an albatross over the next four seasons.
Losing Nene for prolonged stretches would be easier for the Wizards to handle if second-year power forward Jan Vesely, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, emerged as a big-time player. Vesely is fast and athletic, but we don’t know whether he can actually play. Still, that’s better than what can be said about most of the Wizards’ players.
The Wizards want fans to believe they’re getting closer. And perhaps they are. But only as close as Charlie Brown comes to kicking Lucy’s football.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.