On Monday, the Washington Wizards will welcome reporters into their new practice facility in Ward 8 where players will make hopeful proclamations about the 2018-19 season. There is much to be optimistic about — over the summer the team upgraded at starting center (Dwight Howard) and added scoring depth (Austin Rivers and Jeff Green) — and yet there are just as many questions. Before media day, here are five hovering over the team.
After having knee surgery last season, does John Wall begin to adjust his game?
Wall spent the summer preparing for his ninth NBA season through vigorous weight-room and on-court workouts in Miami. Judging by his appearances at the Team USA basketball minicamp in July, Wall looks stronger than he did at the end of the last season, when he changed his diet through eight weeks of rehabilitation from left knee surgery.
Wall returned from rehab in time to appear in 10 games, including the team’s first-round playoff exit to the Toronto Raptors. Overall, his season was shipwrecked by injuries and he logged a career-low 41 games. Now, the 28-year-old Wall enters the final season before his ‘supermax’ contract kicks in. With the Wizards banking so much on his future health and success, is it time for the franchise point guard to evolve from his wear-and-tear style of play?
Though Wall played in only half of the regular season, he stayed true to his all-star character while focusing on pick-and-roll and transition plays. He remained highly efficient in driving and scoring in isolation. Wall ranked in the 84th percentile of the league in points per possession (1.117), according to statistics provided by Synergy Sports, better than point guard peers Chris Paul and Damian Lillard.
But does Washington need Wall to consistently try to the get to the rim, where defenders await and crashes to the hardwood inevitably follow?
That’s up to Wall to decide. He is still in his prime and might not be ready to cloak himself in bubble wrap. Besides, even with the various ailments that kept him on the sideline, Wall performed better at the rim than anywhere on the perimeter. Last season, he shot only 32.8 percent from between 16 feet and inside the three-point arc.
Who’s the No. 3 scorer in the starting lineup, Otto Porter Jr. or Dwight Howard?
Porter crawled to the finish last season, requiring minor surgery to relieve a buildup of blood around the contusion on his left leg. The procedure culminated a litany of aches and pains that Porter dealt with near the end of the 82-game grind. However while healthy, Porter stepped up as a sidekick to Bradley Beal when Wall was sidelined, finishing with a career-best 13 double-doubles and ranking third in the league in three-point percentage. Overall, Porter started 77 games and averaged 14.7 points per game (another career highlight).
But here comes eight-time all-star Dwight Howard with his career average of 17.4 points per game and motivation to rebuild his brand and remake his game in Washington. How does Howard’s presence in the starting lineup affect Porter’s progression as a player who is just beginning to come into his own?
Howard has averaged nearly 11 shots per game over his career. Last season, Porter reached a career-high 11.5 attempts — which seemed like a lot considering how often he faded to the background in the second halves of games due to not getting the ball. With Wall and Beal as the clear lead dogs, someone, either Porter or Howard, will need to take a step back.
That onus may fall on Howard. After all, the Wizards will need his defense and rebounding above everything else. Yet, Howard can’t be completely ruled out as an offensive threat — no player who collects 32 points and 30 rebounds in his 14th season should be considered a slouch.
So, who’s No. 3? By the start of the regular season, the Wizards' offense should solve this dilemma. The team wants to run more and either Howard and Porter, who both will work off Wall, can cement the third-scorer role by being the one who gets out for easy transition buckets.
Does Jodie Meeks’s suspension open the door for Troy Brown Jr.?
When the Wizards start the season on Oct. 18, the backup guard will not be in uniform. Meeks must serve out the remaining 19 games of his suspension due to violation of the NBA-NBPA anti-drug program. Although the Wizards aren’t concerned about his absence creating a hole in the rotation — Rivers was brought in to fill those minutes behind Beal — can Meeks’s misfortune present an opportunity for younger players, especially 19-year-old rookie Troy Brown Jr.?
Yes, Rivers is the obvious choice to star in a sixth-man scoring role and Tomas Satoransky can play both the point and the two-guard positions. However, Brown, who was taken 15th overall in the NBA draft, appears to be the one who could benefit the most if Washington employs a 10-man rotation heavy with wing players. At the NBA Summer League in his hometown of Las Vegas, Brown started slowly but built toward a solid resume in which he averaged 18.4 points (on 43 percent shooting) along with 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
Brown returned to Washington in late August, weeks before teammates began reporting back, to start working out with Wizards staffers. Meeks, too, has been working with the Wizards and is seeking a reduction in his suspension from the league. However, if the suspension holds, Meeks could miss nearly a quarter of the season — which could be valuable time to develop the youngest Wizards player.
Why are there so many players in the last year of their deals?
You can’t look at the Wizards' roster and not ponder the future. After this season, only the four highest-paid players (Wall, Beal, Porter and Ian Mahinmi) as well as Brown will remain under contract. With a cleared-out roster, that must mean the Wizards are setting themselves up to be major players in the 2019 free agency market, right?
This season isn’t the prelude to the summer of 2016, when the team had the money and the heart to chase after prime free agents. Instead, this is just the collision of coincidence. The Wizards happened to a) sign players to short-term deals; b) acquire players in the last year of their contracts; and c) in the case of key rotation players Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr., just have expiring contracts at the right (or wrong) time, depending on how you see it.
According to reports, the league has informed teams about the projected 2019-20 salary cap and luxury tax figures ($109 and $132 million, respectively). When Wall’s four-year extension kicks in he will make approximately $38 million starting that season; add in the surging salaries of Beal and Porter, and the Wizards may still not have significant cap room to lure an A-list free agent.
On that note . . . which player on an expiring deal is primed for a breakout season?
If we’re to believe everything on Instagram, Oubre has been in the gym around the clock, dunking on hapless defenders and draining every three-point shot he launches. Good thing, too, because soon Oubre will enter his fourth NBA season and will need to expand on his role as a key figure in the Wizards' small-ball game plan.
Also, because the fourth season can be a career-defining moment for a young player, Oubre will certainly want to show the depth of his game before he hits restricted free agency next summer.
Oubre plays with a fire that fuels his game. However, sometimes his boundless energy on the court usurps his mental approach and this leads to defensive gambles and Coach Scott Brooks’s ire. Besides mastering the balance between rage and reason, Oubre has to develop into a consistent spot-up shooter to be considered an attractive “three-and-D” player ahead of free agency.
It’s not hard to predict that Oubre will spend his fourth and potentially final season in Washington transforming himself into this kind of player.