NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #13 Washington Wizards

Is this the year Bradley Beal makes his rise to stardom?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 13th-ranked Washington Wizards!

Last season we saw the Wizards finish above .500 for the first time since 2008 and make their way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals only to be ousted by the Indiana Pacers in six games. The Wizards weren’t necessarily overmatched in the postseason and could’ve played better, but the playoffs showed us that their young stars still have a ways to go. Even in a lesser Eastern Conference, the Wizards showed they have what it takes to hang with some of the top teams in the league. We can expect John Wall to elevate his play this year after a disappointing individual playoff performance, but is this the year that Bradley Beal makes his rise to stardom?

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 42-40
Eastern Conference Rank: 6th
NBA Rank: 13th
nERD: 52.0
Playoff Chances: 70.51%
Championship Chances: 1.75%

The numbers say that the Wizards are poised for a season similar to last year – falling a little bit short of last year’s 44-38 finish. It was the Wizards’ most successful season in nearly 10 years, and while this team will likely keep improving, several teams in the East made roster improvements and had their injured stars return, such as Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago. As listed above, we have the Wizards ranked at 13th overall, and 6th in the Eastern Conference, behind teams like the Pacers and Hornets. The Pacers could falter a bit after losing Paul George and division foe Miami lost some guy named LeBron James, so there's a little bit of room for the Wizards to exceed our expectations in 2014-15. The whole city of Washington is excited for Wizards basketball and there are even ambitious whispers of a possible Eastern Conference Finals appearance. We’ll have to wait and see.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Paul Pierce (via free agency)
DeJuan Blair (via trade)
Kris Humphries (via trade)

Notable Losses
Trevor Ariza (via trade)
Trevor Booker (via free agency)
Al Harrington (via free agency)
Chris Singleton (via free agency)

While the Wizards didn’t make a massive splash in free agency, they did a good job of not getting worse. I would argue that the team moved laterally, as Paul Pierce may not be as big of a downgrade on Trevor Ariza as some people think. I talk about Pierce replacing Ariza’s production a little bit later.

The move that really made the offseason for the Wizards was re-signing Marcin Gortat to an extension. Gortat was critical to this team all of last year and is a durable, solid defender and vital pick and roll component with this offense. DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries are quality, inexpensive bench depth, so that area was certainly upgraded and proof that this Wizards management is growing with their team.

One year after leading the league in Trevors, the Wizards now only lead the league in free agents who can't jump high. Trevor Ariza was a massive part of last year’s squad after hitting a career high 180 three-pointers, but has since moved on to the Rockets via sign and trade. Trevor Booker was an integral cog in the Wizards’ playoff series against the Bulls with his offensive rebounding extending a slew of possessions, but was signed by the Jazz this offseason. Al Harrington and Chris Singleton made minor contributions throughout the season, but were expendable bench depth and probably won’t be missed – although Harrington quickly became a fan favorite in DC.

Three Burning Questions

Can Paul Pierce replace the void left by Trevor Ariza?
Simply put, Trevor Ariza overachieved last year in classic contract-year-Ariza fashion. The defense will be missed, there is no doubting that. Last season, the Wizards often put Ariza on the other team's best wing player, and he performed quite admirably. Ariza posted a defensive rating of 104 to Pierce's 109, which is pretty darn good for a wing player matching up against the league's top wing scorers.

While there will inevitably be a drop off on the defensive side at the small forward, I think we can expect to see an even or slight bump in production from Pierce this season. All season long, John Wall was finding Ariza in the corner or trailing for an open three-pointer – Paul Pierce will make those open looks, perhaps at a higher rate than Ariza. Yes, Ariza made 40% of his three-point attempts last year and Pierce a respectable 37%, but there is plenty of reason to believe that Wall can find Pierce in similar spots and that Pierce can knock the shot down. To be successful, Ariza typically needed to be found open in spot-up opportunities, as 96% of his threes were assisted. However, Pierce is a markedly better offensive player , as indicated by offensive rating (113 to Ariza's 109), with the primary difference between their games being Pierce's ability to create his own shot, something the Wizards will need from him down the stretch of close games.

What should we expect from Nene?
The answer is pretty simple – DNPs. Nene is going to miss games, be it due to rest or injury. We've become accustomed to it dating back to his time with the Nuggets, and his injury history has followed him to DC. What can expect aside from the DNPS? That remains to be seen. He looked great in spurts during the Bulls series, but was generally inconsistent throughout the playoffs and regular season.

When healthy, Nene is a beast, but it seems he has trouble stringing together truly productive games that we know he is capable of. He is getting up their in age, but one constant we can expect from Nene – as Nuggets fans know – is a professional and a leader in the locker room. I think we can expect Nene to become more of a glue guy than a go-to scorer in the latter stages of his career.

Is this the year Bradley Beal rises to stardom?
The answer to this is an emphatic yes. Last year, Bradley Beal - affectionately referred to by Wizards fans as Bao Bao - finished the season as a top 10 shooting guard. This year, I expect Beal to leapfrog some of the old heads like Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant into the top five at his position. Beal has all the skills and opportunity necessary to vault him into top-five shooting guard status, but he has to improve his efficiency. Last year he averaged about 17 points on 42% shooting – both of which I expect to increase, especially the efficiency. A 14.3 PER is a pretty average number for a player of Beal's caliber. Bradley also has had a tough time staying healthy in his brief career, so with better health leading to the increase in efficiency, we can count on his PER to rise significantly.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

PG John Wall (Yahoo O-Rank: 12 )
Last year John Wall finished as the 23rd overall player in Yahoo! nine-category leagues, and is essentially the same ranking this year as last. What's the difference and how can we expect Wall to improve on last year's numbers? This Wizards team is learning how to win and what exactly that takes. Wall had a rough stretch in the playoffs and has been working hard, using that as motivation. It's not very often that a guard is averaging 0.8 blocks per game – see Dwyane Wade – but Wall has done it twice in his young career and I think we can expect an increase in efficiency and a few more highly valuable blocks from the point guard position.

C Marcin Gortat (Yahoo O-Rank: 68)
You know what you're getting from Marcin Gortat - a double-double almost every night with solid blocks and percentages. Last season, Gortat finished the season the 55th-ranked player, the 23rd-ranked center in fantasy basketball. This season, we may see his minutes dip, but I expect Gortat to maintain the status quo of what he's done for fantasy owners the last three seasons. His stock is starting to rise, but he's going to be even, consistent and you're going to love having him on your team.