Will the Wizards be a playoff team in 2013?

“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien

We are going to talk about the Wizards and Hornets trade but before we get to that I need to give everyone some background.

Ah,my old friends the Wizards. I’ve written about them before and gotten in some real trouble by question just what in the world they were doing. The articles in question where:

What where the takeaways from both?

  • The League was top heavy in 2011. Some great teams at the top of the food chain that were heavily stocked with talent. That also meant there were some teams that where, shall we say, bereft of talent. The NBA needed jobbers. The wizards were a train wreck at the time and a prime candidate for the position.
  • I liked (and still like) the management team that came in for the Wiz. The owner (Ted Leonsis) has a good track record. I disliked  the Wall pick (and so did my model) but I liked what they did with rest of the draft. I’d have gone with the high upside big and possible franchise center (Cousins see here for the full model) if I was going for a project or Turner If I wanted a ready now guy.
  • I disliked the Wall pick because he was a project pick. Wall was too young, not polished enough to contribute enough in the first four years of his rookie contract and not enough of a ball handler. He wasn’t getting you a lot of wins in his first four years and was more likely to be good for his next team. So far?  The numbers bear this out although Wall has exceeded my expectations somewhat (more on this later).
  • I did two projections for the team at the time. One, sunny day, had me using Russell Westbrook’s rookie season to project John Wall. The Not Cool scenario had me using Jonny Flynn’s rookie season to project John Wall. The result? 10 Wins worst case, 22 best case.  What actually happened? Wall looked more like Westbrook and they won 23 games. In fact, Westbrook is a very good comp for Wall in both his first and second year. It also helped that there where six teams at less than 25 wins that year.

All in all I thought I was fair (and close to the actual truth). When I wrote the first piece, I also thought no one would care.

I got a hell of a surprise at the time. Imagine the scene:

I got up made some cream of wheat. I was listening to the football pre-game show and messing around with my fantasy league lineup and I saw a a web-address I didn’t recognize redirecting traffic to my blog. So I went there and I burnt the hell out of my lap. After I stopped choking on my breakfast, I realize I’m reading the blog of the owner of the Wizards (Ted Leonsis).

“Wow” I think while cleaning my cream of wheat from my laptop monitor, “People in the NBA are reading my stuff”

It was my first direct response from someone in the league. Now, I loved the idea of someone reading my stuff even if the reaction wasn’t very complementary and a little dismissive.

I was however right at the time.

Now,  time has gone on and I’ve gotten more used to the idea that my work isn’t quite as silly as I first thought.  I am not surprised when the response happens. Not even when the response is negative.

You always remember that first time though. The Wizards have a soft spot in my heart and they always get my attention. Don’t worry wizards fans. I think this time you will like what I have to say.

After the jump of course

Let’s talk about the trade in question.The trade is:

The Wizards send Rashard Lewis (and his ridiculous expiring contract) and the 46th pick in the draft to the Hornets.

The Hornets send Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to the Wizards.

Let’s start with the numbers first (courtesy of NBA Geek) for all the principals.

The Hornets did this trade to clear cap space, reduce cost and get playing time for incoming franchise player Anthony Davis.They intend to cut Rashard Lewis immediately to allow cap room to resign Eric Gordon. To do that, they are sacrificing their best wing player in Ariza and a center in Okafor who’s paid rightly but wildly undervalued perception wise.

The logic from the Hornets side is as follows. Given that they expect to roll with a frontcourt of Davis and Gustavo Ayon moving Okafor’s contract makes sense. They get cheaper and younger in the Frontcourt and can allow those players room to develop. Ariza is a straight salary dump to allow for them to keep Eric Gordon. Gordon’s numbers are interesting:

He is an above average scorer who is 23 years old. He has lacked in other areas (rebounds and turnovers) but efficient Shooting Guards are supremely rare. I can see room for continued growth.  He is also a fantastically attractive trade piece (GM/Owners dig the points). I would pay him, say 10-12 a year but not a max deal. He either blossom into a real star and I keep him or a perceived star and I fleece somebody in a trade. Win Win.

The Hornets are not trying to win now with this trade. They are trying to build a young effective core around Davis and let it develop. It a reasonable plan.

Let’s get to what we come for though. Let’s talk washington.

The Wizards though come out as the big winners here. Remember that Rashard Lewis came to Washington via a trade for Gilbert Arenas.  The wizards than have finally managed to cash in that ridiculous contract into some effective players.

They get a wing player in Ariza who’s been extremely effective in structured offenses (Lakers and Magic) and has tapered off his scoring in his last few years. He is above average overall and has real potential to get back to form on a good team. They also get a center in Okafor who is an underrated and effective player. Okafor does everything a big man should. He’s slightly below average in taking shots but this can be corrected and wont really be a problem for the wizards. Why? Let’s look at the projected rosters for both teams showing only players under contract for the 2012-3 season (numbers here from NerdNumbers).

The Wizards now have a much better looking squad than before. This trade gives them above average options at PG (Wall), SF (Ariza), PF (Nene,Vesely) and C (Okafor). Nene in particular is interesting.

After injury woes early in the season, Nene reverted to form with his new team playing at star level. Throw in the fact that he will be better at the 4 than the 5 and this is good news for Wizards fans.

The final piece of the puzzle for me is John Wall. As I said his progression has matched Russell Westbrook well.

Even more interesting is his progression in season:

Wall is playing like a young player coming into his own. His play shows flashes of brilliance but also is inconsistent. Next year is where I would expect him to make the leap that young players do and he seems on the cusp of it. I also do not believe it was an accident that his level of play jumped when the roster around him got better.

Wall is entering the final two years of his contract and the Wizards really do need to find out what they have. The time then for the Wizards is now.  They needed to build a winning team around their potential franchise player.

I believe they have. An emerging point guard, an effective swingman with experience in big games, size with talent.

So yes, Washington is a playoff team in the East next season. I think 45 wins is a reasonable target with the roster assembled. If Wall jumps a level they’ll beat that easily. Now I won’t do a full projection as of yet because they have an incomplete roster. In particular the shooting guard position is open and there are some very interesting names out there.

Ray Allen or James Harden anyone?



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