2017-2018 Record: 43-39 (eighth in Eastern Conference)
Players added: Dwight Howard (Free Agency), Austin Rivers (trade), Thomas Bryant (waivers)
Players Lost: Marcin Gortat (trade), Ty Lawson (free agency)
Projected MVP: Bradley Beal
I probably could have (and should have) hedged and named both Beal and John Wall here, but being on the fence is not my strength, nor would that fence hold me up. It’s Beal and not Wall that makes this team go, as Beal had his best season to date last year while Wall was limited to 41 games due to injuries.
Beal is also one of the Wizards’ best floor spacers, along with Otto Porter Jr., which frees up room and allows Wall to attack the paint. However, it’s Beal’s growth as a playmaker last season in Wall’s absence that sets him apart and makes him the team MVP. Beal averaged nearly five assists per game in 2017-18, almost one and a half assists more a night than his career average. If Beal can continue to facilitate to this level while maintaining his sharpshooting ability, the Wizards will be in good shape.
Team X-Factor: Dwight Howard
The Wizards brought in Howard to anchor their defense and gobble up rebounds. Last season with the Hornets, it became a running joke that Dwight wouldn’t guard his man outside of the paint and that opponents would routinely torch him if they were decent enough shooters. To further those issues, Howard is less than ideal as a pick-and-roll defender at this point of his career. In the second half of the season, teams would actively seek Howard out in high screen-and-rolls and be fairly successful. If Howard can improve in these aspects on defense, it’ll be a big addition in the middle for Washington.
Offensively, it gets trickier, because Scott Brooks has to find Howard a role in the offense that doesn’t gum up the works for everyone else. The Wizards are led by a pair of guards, one of whom is an ace at getting by defenders and making his way to the rim, so finding a functional role for Howard where he can thrive is going to be vital. If Howard continues to fall in love with post-ups and slowing down the offense, it could lead to some more of his bad habits, like turnovers and frustrating possessions where Howard takes an ill-advised 15-foot jumper. If that happens, expect plenty of post-game sniping from the Wizards’ locker room.
Best Case Scenario:
The Wizards are entirely talented on paper, and have a roster that could end up comfortably in the postseason. The additions of Howard and Austin Rivers builds depth on a talented and versatile squad. If this all comes together, they could compete with almost any team in the league on a given night, especially because there aren’t many teams with a backcourt that can match what Beal and Wall are capable of doing when they’re clicking. At their best, this is a mid-seed in the East capable of swiping a series off one of the East’s top teams.
Worst Case Scenario:
Ernie Grunfeld put together a weird mix of personalities, and it’s eminently possible that this team will flame out in a spectacular way. The Wizards had a very public spat between John Wall and the now-traded Marcin Gortat, and adding Howard in the role Gortat filled the last few years has the potential to backfire in a big way. If everything goes wrong and finger pointing happens early and often, their talent runs the risk of going to waste, because it’s possible that Washington could miss the playoffs.