Can the Wizards defy expectations and contend?

Ben Krimmel
October 18, 2018 - 4:26 pm
Washington_Wizards_Bench

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is back and with LeBron James out west in Los Angeles, a new team to could represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals for the first time in four seasons.

Entering his third season in Washington, head coach Scott Brooks is hoping to break through the trap of mediocrity and get the Wizards in position to contend for that spot. But with the Celtics fully healthy and the Raptors adding former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, making that leap is easier said than done.

Predictions site FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Wizards a 92 percent chance at making the playoffs and projected a 48-34 record, but slotted them as the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Celtics, Raptors, and 76ers.

Here are three key questions that will help determine if the Wizards can exceed expectations. 

Can Otto Porter be more aggressive?

Entering his sixth season with the team, Otto Porter is just a year removed from signing a max deal that will pay him $81.75 million over the next three seasons. And yet, Wizards fans are still waiting for the 25-year-old to leave his mark on this team offensively. 

Porter is Washington's highest-paid player this season, but he is clearly the third option on offense and struggles at times with getting his shot. Despite averaging a career-high 11.5 field goal attempts per game last season, the knock on Porter is he spends too much time in the corner waiting for the ball to come to him.

"I love what he does. He's about team, so he's doing the right thing, always looking for the best play," Brooks said earlier this offseason. "But sometimes, the right thing is your best shooter making sure he shoots shots."

With Brooks urging his team to take more three-pointers this year, the Wizards need Porter, their best three-point shooter, to shake-off some of his offensive passivity and take charge more often. This will help lessen the three-point load on Bradley Beal, who shot a poor 37.5 percent from behind the arc last season.

Will Dwight Howard wreck the team?

Signing a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer to a cheap, team-friendly deal always sounds like a good idea. Except when that sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer has a history of being at the center of locker room dysfunction so much that he is playing for his fourth team in as many years.

The hope for the Wizards is that playing on a "show-me" contract will keep Howard from tearing the team apart and he can build on a solid season in Charlotte where he averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in 81 games. And if Howard's re-invented game works and he gives Washington the "best version" of his 32-year-old self, the risky acquisition may work out. Or it might fall apart in spectacular fashion, the sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Fame Dwight Howard way.

Can John Wall be great?

Once again: The Wizards will go as far as John Wall will carry them.

In the star-driven NBA, in which the team with the best player usually wins, Washington's success will come down to how well, and how often, their star player can play. Wall, who missed 41 games last season due to a knee injury, averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game on 42 percent shooting, numbers he would like to improve upon.

A big part of whether the Wizards can over perform will be if Wall can return to his pre-injury self and keep himself fresh by handing off some of the ball handling duties to Beal. If not, the bickering of Wall and Beal and the combustible personality of Howard could spell disaster for the Wizards.

As John Wall goes, so goes the Wizards.

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