Although many people in Washington are cursing that their Wizards couldn't take advantage of an up-and-down Indiana Pacers squad and make to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wiz still had a season they should be proud of.
The Wizards have quite the extensive history of botching first-round draft picks, so for John Wall and Bradley Beal to develop the way they did this season, that should be the biggest takeaway. Is a first-round victory the final destination? Of course not, but having perhaps the best young backcourt in the league is a pretty darn good place to start that journey.
Prior to the season, the Wiz traded a valuable first-round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Marcin Gortat. History shows that trading first-round picks is pretty much never a good idea, but this one has actually worked out quite well for them. Since they made the playoffs, it wouldn't have been a lottery pick anyway, and the success rate of finding good rotation players the caliber of Gortat is lower than Gortat's value.
Their starting five - the one with Nene healthy - was incredibly successful this season. Per 82games.com, that lineup scored 1.08 points per possession while only allowing 0.98 points per possession. In 486.6 minutes together this year, they posted an impressive plus/minus of +102. The only bad number there is the total minutes together - the Wizards' most used lineup was Trevor Booker in for Nene, which was still in the positive, but certainly not to the extent that the true starting five was.
So in thinking about next year, what will the Wizards look like?
Both Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat will be free agents this summer, and the Wizards will likely try to re-sign both. The question will be whether they can afford it.
Ariza was on the books this year for $7.7 million, and I'm sure the Wizards would pay him that same rate in a heartbeat. However, his play this year - his defense and three-point shooting were very good - will likely bloat that figure. There are many teams (like Detroit, who I wrote about yesterday) who would love to have a three-and-d guy on the perimeter.
Gortat was at the exact same number this year at $7.7 million, and I bet the Wizards will try to get him back - if anything, because they gave up such a valuable asset (the first round pick) to get him. That number isn't that outrageous, and with the increasing salary cap, the Wizards would be able to fit him in. It's not likely that he would fetch a better offer (you never know though, see Gilbert Arenas and Charlie Villanueva), and he had solid chemistry with Nene down low.
Outside of the starting five, there are also some contracts coming off the books - Drew Gooden, Garrett Temple, and Al Harrington to name a few - but their salaries are low and would be easy to re-sign if the Wizards wanted to. As written about yesterday, Gooden has been impressive and has earned a rotation spot somewhere. We'll see if the Wizards want it to be in Washington.
Production by Position
So where can the Wizards improve next year? On 82games.com, they have data on how each position is producing for each team, so we can see what areas need improvement. The following table is the net production of each position, meaning each value is positive or negative depending on how they do in direct comparison to their opponents at the same position.
As you would expect, the PG spot, led by All-Star John Wall and at the end of the season backed up by Andre Miller, was the Wizards best position. He struggled at times against the Pacers and his jump shot is still a work in progress, but he established himself as one of the best passers in the league and is truly great on the fast break. It's exciting to watch him play alongside Bradley Beal and watch them grow up together. You could tell this season that Wall learned Beal's tendencies and knew were to hit him - that payed off on the court.
The rest of the positions were all pretty solid. And that's exactly what the starting rotation for the Wizards was - solid all-around. There wasn't a big glaring weakness at any position. Well, at least until the bench players came into the game.
Andre Miller was definitely an upgrade at the backup PG position and they'll need to solidify that role in the offseason a bit quicker than they did this one. As said before, Gooden was good in minutes off the bench after being signed to a 10-day contract, but that might say more about his frontcourt competition on the Wizards bench than his actual skill set.
The Wizards eventually gave up on former first-round pick Jan Vesely, sending him to Denver in the deal for Miller. Their first-round pick this past season, Otto Porter, barely got playing time. With Trevor Ariza's contract expiring and him potentially going somewhere else, it will be interesting if the Wizards give Porter a bump up or if they pursue alternative small forward options.
Regardless, having two All-Star caliber guards under 25 years old manning your backcourt for the next 10 years is a position that many teams envy, and one that will keep the Wizards in the playoff hunt for the foreseeable future. With Lance Stephenson potentially leaving Indiana in the summer and other moving parts in the East, an Eastern Conference Finals spot might be the Wizards for the taking next year.