The Grizzlies will face off against the Wizards tonight. To get you ready for the game, I got together with Jake Whitacre, Site Manager over at Bullets Forever and one of the best pun makers on twitter dot com. He provided some great insight into the Wizards and what’s changed since the last time these two teams played.
1. The Wizards are paying Scott Brooks a lot of money to coach this team. What has he done differently than Randy Wittman and what are your early opinions on how he's doing?
The two biggest things that have gotten better since Scott Brooks has taken over are player development and star maximization. The Wizards made a shift to bring in more young players when Brooks took over and the benefits are slowly starting to pay off. Kelly Oubre has taken a big step forward this season, and guys like Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, and Sheldon McClellan are starting to find their roles after shaky starts to the season.
More importantly, Brooks has finally figured out how to get the best out of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. He simplified the offense to allow the three of them to do more of what they do best, and in turn, the Wizards are putting up their best offensive numbers since they drafted Wall back in 2010.
Some of the day-to-day rotation choices can be confusing at times, but all in all, things are in a much healthier place from a coaching perspective than they've been in some time.
2. One of the biggest issues the Wizards have had this season has been their bench. Have you seen any improvement as the season has gone on? Is there any way for them to make a move to improve their depth via trade or do you think they'll have to wait to find upgrades in free agency?
There's been some improvement on the fringes. Kelly Oubre has developed into someone who can play well, as long as he isn't asked to create too much of the offense. Jason Smith finally started making midrange jumpers after clanking them for most of November. Also, it looks like Tomas Satoransky and Sheldon McClellan have combined to finally wrestle away Marcus Thornton's spot in the rotation, so that's a plus.
The problem is, the two highest-paid players coming off the bench are still not producing. Ian Mahinmi won't be back on the floor until the end of the month at the earliest, and Andrew Nicholson hasn't been useful on either end so far this season. There's only so much the bench can do to get better until they can get something out of those two.
3. There's been some talk about trading one of Washington's big names (Wall/Beal), but do you think those discussions are reasonable, or do you think the Wizards are still better off building around these two guys? If you had to trade one, who would it be?
As things stand, the Wizards are much better off building with Wall and Beal. For all the talk over the summer about how they may not mesh on the court, they've done a really good job together this season. The Wizards shouldn't be in a rush to break that up unless there's a clear way to get better through a deal.
There are only two scenarios where it would make sense to trade Wall or Beal. If Wall demands a trade, Washington should probably just honor that request and get something for him before his value dwindles as he approaches his free agency. And of course, if a star ever hits the trading block that's better than Beal, the Wizards should absolutely explore it, but things like fit and their ability to retain whoever they'd be acquiring in such a deal would have to factor into the equation.
4. These two teams went into overtime the last time they played. What are your expectations for this match-up, and where do you think Washington has an advantage?
The first time these two played was a confusing game. The Wizards had a major rest advantage going into the game, yet they were the ones who faded late instead of the Grizzlies. A big part of it was how ISO-heavy they went late in the game, which ruined the offensive flow. They've gotten a lot better at that since then, so that should help if it's another nail-biter, but the Grizzlies are also healthier than they were in that first game, so it's going to be more challenging for Washington this time around.
The biggest thing the Wizards have going for them in this game is momentum. They've won 12 straight at home and 8 of their last 11 overall. After this game on Wednesday, they play 5 of their next 6 on the road, so I'm guessing they will want to try to close this home stand on a high note.
5. Do you think the Wizards will make the playoffs, and, if so, what is this team's ceiling in the East?
Things have certainly been more encouraging as of late, but the hardest part of the schedule is still to come. 24 of their last 41 games are on the road, including a pair of West Coast trips after the All-Star break. There are some schedule losses on the way that will balance out some of the success they've had at home recently. Washington is also only one injury away from being in a really bad spot. If one of the starters had to miss a month with an injury, it would most likely be a death sentence for the team's playoff hopes.
That said, I think the Wizards will make the playoffs if for no other reason than the field in the East is starting to thin out. The Bulls, Pistons, and Knicks have been struggling as of late, and the Hawks could be tanking by the end of the season. Even if the Wizards don't make an upgrade at the deadline, they might be able to get a playoff spot just by standing pat and staying healthy. If everything breaks right they could maybe get to the 4-seed, but the 6-7 seed sounds a little more realistic.
Bonus: Which player’s name lends itself to making the best puns?
Bradley's name is really a-Beal-ing when it comes to puns.
Thanks again to Jake Whitacre of Bullets Forever for taking part in our Five Questions series!