12. Washington Wizards
And so we come to the first team in the East that might not completely suck. I mean they probably will find a way to be bad, but it is possible they could be not terrible. In fact, if by some miracle John Wall is the first person ever to not lose a step after his injuries, then they could even be kinda good. There is a scenario where this team has 2 all stars, the rookie of the year and some decent talent around them. In the east, that might get you into the playoffs. But it is not the most likely scenario which is why they land here.
If the season started today, I would expect it to be:
The backcourt is the whole thing here. John Wall is coming off brutal lower leg injuries and for a guy whose main talent was that he was faster than you, that could be a problem. But he has maybe the worst contract in the NBA so trading him is tough (though the possible Wall for Westbrook idea is interesting). Wall was an all star in the east before the injuries and can provide enough scoring and playmaking to elevate a team even if his shooting and reckless play can sometimes sink them as well. If he’s truly back to form, this season suddenly looks much more promising. That said, that might also make him only more likely to be traded so they can get out from under his contract and really start over.
Bradley Beal was one of the best players in the NBA last year, but no one outside of hardcore fans knew about it because he played for the Wizards. As the lone high-priced vet on a team in obvious need of rebuilding (while Wall was hurt) everyone in need of a “put us over the edge” star started salivating over the assumption that Beal would be available. But no one offered the right price and he’s back with the Wiz. Beal and Wall were once in the conversation for best backcourt in the NBA and if that happens again, this team is dangerous. But the better money is on one or both being traded. Lots of teams would be interested, but do they have the goods to get a deal done? Should be interesting to watch.
If you’re a Wizards fan, though, I’m sorry. Also, you may be more interested in your new young talent. The team just invested a ton in Bertans who again only NBA people really know about and that expenditure seems a bit questionable. He is a lights out shooter from the forward position, but lacks other skills you want your players to have. I think they overpaid, but he’s the kind of player that fits with any other player and system and this isn’t a FA destination right now, so you can forgive them. Hachimura turned out to show signs that he could be a solid NBA player whose ceiling is likely around the good Morris brother. That’s promising. If there was someway for him to play the 5 this could get really interesting because of….
Hard name to pronounce and even harder player to guard. He’s sort of a second coming of Toni Kukoc. Passes something like Jokic, handles a little, great playmaker, super high basketball IQ. Been playing at a high level professionally but only 19. He may not pop this year but I suspect he’ll have a few games with 19 and 7 assists where every assist makes you see why he was in the discussion for the top pick this year. When I suggest he could be the rookie of the year, I don’t mean the award (that will undoubtedly go to Ball or Toppin…or maybe Haliburton), I just mean he may be the best rookie of the class. If Wall and Beal stay healthy and Avdija is more ready for NBA action than I suspect he is, then you put him at the 3 or 4 and move Mahinmi to the bench and you have a fun, talented team that can shoot and make plays and not defend anyone ever. Anyway, don’t sleep on this guy. I started watching some of his Euro games when I heard the name and he seems like a guy who can be a star.
So, the Wizards have some interesting pieces and a ton of questions. I think they can be sort of good, but highly doubt they make a playoff run unless Wall is really good again. If that’s the case, the 8th seed is definitely available.
Sneaker Note: Davis Bertans plays like the old dad at a pick up game that you underestimate because he shows no indication of athleticism and then he rules the floor by hitting 25 3s to everyone’s frustration. I think the ultimate Dad shoe company, New Balance, needs to get Bertans on their new basketball roster ASAP and just fully embrace it. They already have the socially awkward Kawhi, now let’s get the Bertans “grill master” or “lawn mower.” They market themselves. Also, unrelated, I always wanted to try those John Wall shoes with the weird zig zag soles. Just so odd looking I wanted to see how it felt. Just not enough to put those hideous things on my feet.
12. New Orleans Pelicans
This team definitely thinks they are making the playoffs. And with their level of talent, even after losing Holiday, it’s easy to understand why. Honestly, they could be ranked higher than this and I wouldn’t argue, but a combination of better rosters, more experience and better coaching keeps their closest rivals for the last playoff spot ahead of them. That said, if Zion’s training wheels finally come off and that guy is the force he seemed like he might be, this team is going to be a serious problem.
Right now, it looks like their starters will be:
I can’t believe that’s not a playoff team. Shooting, defense, rebounding, size, athleticism, scoring punch. That lineup is a handful. And then they have Nikeil Alexander-Walker, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, E’Twaun Moore and recent lottery pick Kira Lewis Jr. who may be another John Wall in the making. That’s some good depth, enough that figuring out the real starting lineup here is a challenge. Ball could start over Bledsoe or even Hart. Lots of options because there is a lot of talent here. But I don’t think they are a team yet.
Bledsoe is not a natural playmaker and is better when he can mostly be a scorer. Ball can’t shoot and isn’t consistent. Hart actually may be the best option at PG and he played more SF last year. The offense clearly centers around Ingram and Zion but someone has to get them the ball and set the table. They need a floor general. Not just a passer to get assists but someone to keep all the young talent working and flowing together. Otherwise, Ingram and Zion play a lot of iso ball and become easier to defend. Adams helps on D as should Bledsoe some, but I’m just not sure they can close good teams out.
If Ball takes a huge leap into his potential and Zion is actually a generational player, this group could become a playoff team or at least one in contention for a spot. But I don’t see it. Not this year. They will be must see TV on league pass just for Zion alone but also to see if this young core starts gelling. If they do, they will be a matchup problem even for good teams. But in a shortened season, I’m betting they don’t have enough time to fully come together.
Sneaker note: The most hyped player since Lebron, Zion, signed with Jordan brand and presents some interesting questions. Like, can you make a shoe for a big guy, who will need tons of ankle and foot support, that people will want to wear? Guards, or at least scoring wings, typically move sneakers not big guys. Zion is a beast and needs Iron Man’s boots just to keep from destroying his shoes when he lifts off. But I’m not sure people will want to buy them. Then there is the question of whether or when he will get a signature shoe or how long they use him to sell signature Jordan models. So far, he’s wearing those and while he seems to be inspiring some fun colorways, the shoes themselves (Jordan 34 and 35) look like something from a future we didn’t ask for. They are strictly basketball shoes as I don’t see how you wear them off the court and while they are not ugly, they have both been misses in my book. Zion will get his own shoe. Just a matter of when. But will anyone buy it?