The new season begins for the Wizards on Thursdsay at the Atlanta Hawks (CSN, 6:30 p.m.). While coach Scott Brooks hasn't made his starters official, the likely five are John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat.
But what about the rest? Without a balanced bench, it won't matter how good those starters are if the Wizards are going to turn last year's .500 record into their third playoff berth in four seasons. No official declaration has been made by Brooks about how he'll use his reserves, but based on recent comments and how he used players to end the preseason, these are the primary candidates (Note: Ian Mahinmi isn't listed because he's out with left knee surgery.)
PG Trey Burke: The assumption is that he’ll be Wall’s primary backup, and given his three years NBA experience, that seems to be the short-term plan. But Burke will be pushed. He averages 12.1 points which is good for a backup, but that’s hardly the only thing that matters. 1.) Ball pressure to set up the defense. Brooks is putting a lot of responsibility on all of his backcourt players to be more engaged. Burke didn't do that consistently in the preseason. Allowing the other team to walk the ball up and get into their offensive sets is a sure way to spend more time on the bench under Brooks. 2.) Running half-court offense more efficiently. In the preseason, Burke was indecisive with the ball and the Wizards were disjointed when the pace slowed. They couldn’t get into their offense and took low-percentage shots late in the shot clock.
PG Tomas Satoransky: With four years under his belt as a pro in Europe, he’s not a typical rookie. At 6-7, he’s significantly bigger than Burke and has more of the edge that Brooks likes to see on defense. He has the chance to overtake Burke as the primary backup for Wall or give Brooks the option of a three-guard lineup. 1.) Develop a jumper. The Wizards realize he needs time but the easiest thing to improve is a stroke. If he puts in the work, it’ll come. Defenders will go under on pick-and-rolls when Satoransky has the ball and play the passing lanes. He can pick a team a part with his vision. 2.) Use length to slow down the ball. The downside of no Wall last season was Ramon Sessions was the fill-in, and he was a defensive liability. Satoransky has better size and there shouldn't be a major drop off whenever he comes in, especially against second-tier players for the opposing team.
SG Marcus Thornton: His primary job will be shooting and scoring. Is he Beal's primary backup or will he be used in spot minutes when the Wizards require an offensive spark? Some nights, Thornton can score in bunches. 1.) An instant-offense option, Thornton is more of a scorer than a pure shooter. Some nights he has it and he can score in bunches. Other times he doesn’t. 2.) Efficient shooting. Thornton has been in the low 30s from three-point range since shooting about 42 percent from there during a 39-game stretch with the Celtics a few years ago. 3.) Movement. Thornton will have better results and higher-percentage shots if he doesn't stand and wait for the ball to shoot.
SF Kelly Oubre: He pushed Porter for the starting job but is still a year away from having a real shot at being a starter. The effort already is there. He just needs to polish. When he was drafted, the projection from president Ernie Grunfeld was two to three years. 1.) Control. Whenever Oubre gets into trouble, he’s too hyper. On offense, he will try to force the ball to the basket when the driving lane has been closed off and will result in a turnover or an awkward-looking blocked attempt. He has to realize there’s nothing wrong with being calm, kicking the ball back out and resetting. Defensively, he gambles a lot. There’s nothing wrong with containment. Every play doesn’t have to result in a steal. 2.) Diversify his game off the bounce. Oubre has to come up with counter moves to get to the rim. He can't go in straight lines, exclusively to his preferred left hand to dunk on everybody at will.
PF/C Andrew Nicholson: At $26 million, he might prove to be a bargain acquisition considering the deals that were handed out this summer. Nicholson could end up like a lot of other players who step on the floor with Wall, who have their three-point accuracy skyrocket. He can play on the low block and doesn't shy from contact. 1.) Stretch four. He shot a career-high 36 percent from three-point range last season. His stroke looks better. When Nicholson was brought in, the question about whether he could be a legitimate three-point shooting, power forward was the first thing that came to mind. He only attempted 114 with the Magic. 2.) Spread five. The knee injury to Mahinmi means Brooks has to use Nicholson behind Gortat, too, and though he's just 6-foot-9, his 250-pound frame can handle it. When they go really small with Nicholson here, they can look like the Hawks did the last few years with Pero Antic and Al Horford spreading from the five spot. It can pose major matchup problems.
PF/C Jason Smith: Despite his jolly disposition, Smith can get nasty down low which is a quality the Wizards could use inside. How much he plays when Mahinmi comes back isn't clear. Though Smith isn't a three-point shooter, he has a solid face-up game that can draw his man from the rim. 1.) Focus on mid-range. Smith took his share of threes in the preseason, but that's still out of his comfort zone. He only attempted 16 threes in 76 appearances with the Magic. 2.) Hustle hard. The most surprising aspect of Smith's game is his ability to recover on defense and his help to close out runs at the rim. That kind of effort forces Brooks to find minutes for you.
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