Could Wizards return to playoffs this season?
The Wizards are set to open training camp on September 28 with the 2013-14 season tipping off a month later. Over the next few days, J. Michael and Ben Standig will examine several notable topics heading into camp, including...
J. Michael: Based on the players they were last year, that'll be Okafor.
His presence is underrated because the offense isn't run through him in the post and he's a utility player who does all the dirty work that doesn't appear in the box score. He's unique simply because the Wizards don't have another center who can do what he does on the defensive end.
The Wizards became a top 10 defensive team in points allowed, and they were the only non-playoff team among that group. It's by no accident that Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza came in a trade before last season to spearhead that effort.
When Okafor is on the floor with Wall, his efficiency skyrockets on the offensive end.
The Wizards were tied for last in scoring and that's where Nene is more valuable. He's not only a 7-footer, but the Wizards' favorite play-call runs through him.
Still, points are easier to find in the NBA than defense. The Wizards have added Al Harrington, Eric Maynor, Glen Rice and Otto Porter to the roster. They can pick up the offensive slack if Nene has to miss time again. Identifying hired guns via trade or free-agent scorers isn't as difficult.
Ben Standig: Before September 18, the day Emeka Okafor's neck injury news, my cocksure answer would have been Nene. We saw how the offense struggled without the Brazilian big man orchestrating plays from the high post or punishing defenders inside. We've also seen how injuries have frequently taken Nene off the court since his arrival in Washington, to the point that anything above 65 games played this season would be gravy.
Now, my hemming and hawing response is Okafor. Whether it's the hopeful development of Kevin Seraphin, the addition of veteran stretch-four Al Harrington, more small ball lineups, there are potential more ways Randy Wittman can offset a Nene absence.
Not much the coach can do about replacing the rangy Okafor, Washington's top rebounder (8.8) last season. Both Nene's defensive ability and speed are underrated, but he's never averaged even eight rebounds a game during his 11-year career.
While not a major shot blocker at this point of his career (led the Wizards with 0.97), the 6-foot-10 center is the most active off the regular around the rim. No coincidence Washington ranked among the top-10 in defense all season with Okafor and Trevor Ariza around. He's also limited offensively to putbacks and passing setups by John Wall and others.
Based on pure talent, the answer is Nene. Based on the current roster composition - and assuming we're talking about replacing the second half of the season Okafor - filling in for the former UConn star is more challenging.
Question 2: Will John Wall make the All Star team?