NBA / Jul 22, 2009 / 6:28 pm

Wizards: Crashing the 2010 postseason party

Antawn Jamison

Antawn Jamison

When I wrote yesterday that the Bucks would be one of the NBA’s teams to watch next season, a lot of readers got me wrong. I never said the Bucks would be good — only that they’d be (finally) worth watching in terms of entertainment value. Remember, I spent all of last season following the Pacers, a team that put points on the board, played an exciting brand of basketball, and found itself in a bunch of down-to-the-wire games. Indiana lost most of them and wound up in the Lottery, but they were still fun to watch. Milwaukee can be that team in ’09-10.

Besides, if I were gonna try to sell you on an Eastern Conference team that will make a resurgence and shoot its way into playoff contention, it’d be the Wizards.

First off, throw last year’s 19-63 record in the trash. That was a disaster from Day One, with too many injuries paving the way for too many inexperienced players asked to take on big roles, which paved the way for a mid-season coaching change that happened to coincide with the rest of the Southeast Division getting significantly stronger.

The Wizards will be better in ’09-10. A lot better. The injured guys are (allegedly) healthy, the young guys gained some experience, and there’s some sense of stability on the bench with new coach Flip Saunders in place. And say what you want about Flip, be he has guided his teams to the playoffs 11 times in his 13 seasons as a head coach.

It all starts with Gilbert Arenas. Everything I’ve read out of D.C. lately says Arenas is lighter, quicker, and more importantly than just the physical condition of his problematic knee, Arenas mentally trusts his knee on the court. For somebody in Gil’s situation, the psychological hurdle is often the toughest to clear. And when he came back for spot duty at the end of last season, Arenas showed flashes of a style that could take the Wizards into the postseason; he was more of a playmaker than a straight gunner. If he wants to, Arenas can be one of the better all-around point guards in the League. People forget because he’s been gone so long, but few players can match his ball-handling ability (Arenas wasn’t mentioned once in our big “Who has the best handle?” debate). He’s got the vision, and he has plenty of scorers around him. If Saunders can impress some of what he’s picked up from working with Sam Cassell and Chauncey Billups on Arenas, he could average 8-9 assists per game easy.

About those scorers: Caron Butler has become a go-to guy who just happens to be a second or sometimes third option on his team. He can average 20-plus points no problem, but with Arenas’ return alleviating the pressure to carry the offense, Butler can now focus on being the lock-down defender he’s capable of being. At his best, Butler is a younger Ron Artest defensively who has more offensive weapons and a more consistent jumper.

If nothing else, Antawn Jamison will get his 20 points and 9-10 boards. The key is if he remembers how to play like he knows the score and how much time is on the clock. Jamison is another player defenses have to account for, and again, Arenas’ return makes his job that much easier.

Then there’s combo guard Randy Foye, scoring specialist Nick Young and hired gun Mike Miller to bolster the offense, and if this is the year Andray Blatche finally figures it out, that’s just icing.

Second-year center JaVale McGee will battle Brendan Haywood (also coming back from a significant injury) for a starting spot, and win or lose, McGee gives the Wizards a much-needed defensive presence all over the court who can pick up weak-side blocks and challenge jump shooters. McGee shined in the summer league on both ends of the court, and could thrive if Saunders doesn’t yank around his playing time like interim coach Ed Tapscott did last year.

Aside from a tough Southeast Division, the other biggest thing working against Washington is their defense. They were maybe the worst team in the League last season at defending the paint, and with Butler and Jamison worn down from carrying the offense, they also slipped on defense. Saunders has to get this team re-committed to making stops, and he has enough athletes on the roster to make it work. They won’t become the Cavs or Celtics overnight, but if they can keep the opposition from going absolutely lights-out, the Wizards can score with anybody and at least give themselves a chance to win.

If the core guys stay healthy, a seventh or eighth seed isn’t just a lofty goal, it’s a likely scenario.

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  • dk

    Alot of what if but ill be watching. Go Foye.

  • DC_Chillin

    i agree with this wholeheartedly. I still think we need a backup 4 though

  • Gyle

    7 or 8 seed!? I’m legitimately thinking 4th or 5th seed. They’ll be competing on the same level as the Bulls or Hawks if not better

  • Spliff 2 My Lou

    Hell after Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando that fourth seed is looking pretty open. I could see Atlanta and Washington battling for it. That is, if like you said, everything works out for the Wizards.

  • George W Kush Sr

    Well there’s Chicago, Atlanta, Philly, Miami, Detroit, Toronto, Indiana, Washington and Charlotte fighting for 4th to 8th place, 5 slots and atleast 9 teams that can logically be there. The East is back baby

  • yentron

    The Wizards will lose in the conference finals to Boston.

    About the poll, “will yao ming return to all-star form?” The answer is it doesn’t matter, with 1.3 million in China, he’ll make the squad as long as he’s able to get onto the court.

  • Jah

    I like this lineup -

    PG: Gilbert Arenas
    SG: Randy Foye
    SF: Caron Butler
    PF: Antawn Jamison
    C: Brendan Haywood

    I think they can make the playoffs…they can have Detroit’s old spot.

  • Mack Brownee

    If 100% healthy, the wiz will make the playoffs

  • TL

    Don’t forget about Stevenson, the defensive stopper, aka Souja Boy!

  • Leonard Wilson

    That is a lot of scoring power in the backcourt. Geez. Arenas, Young, Miller, and Foye….. That’s what I call a Live squad right there. Nice.

  • bola

    @YENTRON

    1.3 million in china? are you talking about china’s population? its 1.3 BILLION.

    I couldn’t agree more with your point, i think we should reverse the voting process.. players, coaches, media, GMs will pick the starters and fans could vote for the bench players.. what do you guys think?

    Being an All Star Starter is not that significant since it is mainly about popularity.. Although some of the best in L are the most popular (KB24,LBJ,Dwight,KG) but that does not in some cases like Mr. Yao.

  • http://deleted Luigi

    yeah my wiz got too much guards to handle. if we woulda gotten a backup 4. i wish we woulda gotten Blair in the draft. anyways i agree with ur statements. n Blatche should fill in as the backup 4. n we’d give Twan n Caron rest since we have guards off the bench who can make it rain…

    oh did i mention Agent Zero?.
    “Dont Call it a Comeback…ive been here 4 yrs”

  • Chaos

    Starters:
    Arenas
    Foye
    Butler
    Jamison
    Haywood

    Bench:
    Miller
    Young
    McGee
    Blatche
    McGuire
    Stevenson

    Plenty to like here as a number 4 or 5 seed

  • knock knock

    the east is not back. washington will get the fourth seed but with no where near the record o the west’s. i could see them upsetting the cavs-

  • “Tha Boddy” Bad Like Michael

    `Thanx Dime the Wizards are gonna be a force next season

  • JCarr

    Wizards def. In playoffs next year… Good analysis! Arenas will be an all star next year. And hopefully they bring back the Cavs vs. Wizards rivalry again!

  • Sheedfan87

    If the core guys stay healthy, a seventh or eighth seed isn’t just a lofty goal, it’s a likely scenario.

    Repeat that sentence in your head and figure out when the last time the Wizards core has been healthy. Certainly a playoff team on paper, but I’ve also heard speculation that part of the reason for that Foye trade is out of fear that Arenas isn’t ready or won’t stay healthy. If everyone is healthy there doesn’t seem to be much room for Young to get more then 12-15 minutes a night. Sure there’s lots of offensive talent but they still won’t play a lick of defense. They’ve got a good shot at the playoffs, but all that may take is winning 40 games. Don’t forget this franchise has won exactly ONE playoff series since 1982. Ouch. Sorry Wiz fans.

  • Sheedfan87

    And I don’t want to hear about a Cavs-Wizards rivalry. The Cavs don’t care about the Wizards, instead they’re focused on Boston and Orlando.

  • Hoya Saxa

    7th or 8th?!? All that run up and you pick them 7th or 8th?

    Boston, Cleveland, Orlando are the top three. Then Miami or Wizards round out the only solid contenders in the East.

    Even with a couple injuries they sneak into the playoffs like two seasons ago. Go ahead and sleep on the Zards. Some have forgotten, but Gilbert will remind them.

  • QQ

    Bulls will surprise teams. Gilbert is finished. The time has come for new blood pgs (drose, rondo, jameer) to dominate. Gilbert will NEVER be an all-star again. Hell, he might never play a full season again. Sorry Wizard fans.

    But if makes you feel better, it really doesn’t matter, cause the MAGIC will DOMINATE this year!!

  • wiz

    I dont think foye is starting at shooting gaurd

  • Diego

    Hey, folks. I picked the Hawks last preseason to make playoffs and was laughed at.

    Wiz should make the playoffs this season, but Hawks comfortably nailed 4th place last year, with its own share of injuries, and Hawks have the same core back next year–with everyone but Bibby, JJ and Crawford on the rise. (And JJ and Crawford are at their peak.)

    Hawks will have better record than last year, but still finish 4th. Cavs and Celts will have weaker records than last year. Orlando will be tops. Bank on it.

    Indiana is big sleeper in East. Chicago is serious threat. Miami still has nothing but Wade–they are no threat to Hawks.

  • Abe504

    Wizards have the 4th spot locked up no problem, i got them going to the 2nd round. People forget just a couple seasons ago, we were the only team to actually beat the good teams on a consistent basis, we just lose to all the teams we supposed to win against. Depends on how the playoff seeding works, we will easily handle the hawks, miami, chicago and put down on the record that we will be the only squad to push boston to the limit.