With the Wizards regular season opener just over 24 hours away, no better time to hear from one of the leading voices on the NBA, ProBasketballTalk.com's Kurt Helin. I asked questions over email - John Wall's progress, Bradley Beal's rookie campaign, etc -, Kurt responded in kind...
1) You recently posted a list of “Seven players who need to answer doubters, have big years.” John Wall topped it. His lack of a perimeter shot received mention, as did his need to play in control. How do you see his season unfolding, especially with the knucklehead element on the team no more?
Kurt Helin: I have high hopes for him this season… once he gets back from injury. That, obviously, was a setback and let’s hopes it’s not something that lingers. But I think Wall has started to figure out what it takes both to be a true professional and a true leader, and what it’s going to take for him to get his game to the next level. He realizes the Wizards success is on him. He knows a steady jumper opponents respect is part of that.
He’s not like Rajon Rondo, dropped in an almost ideal situation with great veteran leaders around him. I’m hoping to see a Wall that comes back healthy, really pushes the tempo and distributes. Basically, he needs a little Steve Nash in his game with both a better outside shot and just a little patience within the offense. I think we will see that from him. If not, it forces the Wizards front office to really consider their long-term building plans.
2) Nene received tons of credit inside and outside the organization for his influence on the locker room after being acquired in a deal essentially for JaVale McGee. How do you project this move working out for the Wizards, this year and beyond?
KH: I’m a big Nene fan — inside the locker room and what he can bring on the court. Once he gets on the court. He’s a very good center when healthy and the Wizards just have to be patient and get him there. There is only one real cure for plantar fasciitis and that is rest. And it recurs if you don’t let it fully heal. But I still think the Wizards are much better off with him, when he gets on the court you are talking about one of the five best true centers in the game because he can defend, shoot and pass. He and Wall should develop chemistry.
3) Assuming Anthony Davis is the runaway Rookie of the year favorite, how does Bradley Beal stack up against all the other first-year players this campaign?
KH: Davis is special and his offense has looked more developed this preseason than I expected. And I’m a fan of Damian Lillard out in Portland (a great get for them, not a great pick for the Wizards as they have their point guard of the future). I like Beal a lot as a guy who you can pair with Wall for a long time to come and have a strong backcourt. What I saw of Beal this preseason looked pretty good… well, up until that Spurs game. Part of learning to be a professional is how to not let missing a couple shots throw your night off, and he still has that and other things to learn. He’s a rookie and will look like it at times, but I think you’ll like the Beal you have in a couple years a lot.
4) Other than three players already mentioned, which Wizard are you keeping an eye on, either as a breakout or disappointing player?
KH: Who isn’t rooting for Kevin Seraphin? I really would love to see both he and Jan Vesely take big steps forward for the Wizards this season. Even if one of them does, that’s a big boost for the team as it rebuilds.
5) Obviously Miami rules the Southeast division, but how do the Wizards fare compared with the other teams?
KH: I see the Wizards in third in the division, and likely just shy of a playoff spot (it depends on how they do with Wall and Nene out at the start of the season). Yes, Miami is Miami and is your runaway division winner. I still like Atlanta— they are not going to be as good as previous years but I don’t think they have taken a massive step back either. They still have a front line of Josh Smith and Al Horford and only the Lakers and Grizzlies could argue they have better. Plus, I think Jeff Teague could have a breakout year.
The Wizards are still a team that is growing with Wall and Beal, but they are light years ahead of where the Bobcats and Magic are this season. Those may be two of the three worst teams in the NBA.
Bonus round: This summer Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis said another lottery appearance would be “unacceptable”, though he’s toned down expectations following the run of injuries. What are the chances Washington tastes postseason for the first time in five seasons?
KH: I think the Wizards are lottery bound, but it will be close. The key to making the playoffs is how far Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and the rest can carry the squad while Wall and Nene are out at the start of the season. Hold the line until they come back and there is a real shot. The East has six teams I think are playoff locks — Heat, Celtics, Pacers, Knicks, Nets and Sixers — and that means Washington has to beat out teams like Atlanta, Milwaukee and Detroit to get that spot. They can, if they aren't in too big a hole when all their stars come back.
Double bonus: Who ya got in the NBA Finals and winning it all?
Not to take the easy path, but after the trades of the last couple days it's hard not to say Lakers vs. Heat in the finals. And if you made me choose between them, I'd say Heat. I think the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs in the West, the Celtics and the Pacers in the East are very good, but those teams need the Heat or Lakers to come back to them a little bit (via injury or whatever) to best them in the playoffs.