Jake Whitacre, editor for the Wizards’ SB Nation affiliate Bullets Forever, took some time to share some of his wisdom on the state of the Wizards and how their season is playing out.
The Grizzlies play the Wizards Friday night in Memphis. The Grizz will look to get back on track after losing a tight game to Clippers on Tuesday, while Washington comes to town looking to extend a three-game win streak.
- Bradley Beal has always been one of the two most important players on the Wizards and it seems that he has taken a big step this year in terms of his play. Does Washington’s success now depend on him, or do are their aspirations still reside with John Wall?
It’s tricky. I’d argue Beal is more indispensable because the Wizards don’t have much depth behind him at the moment. Jodie Meeks has gotten off to a rough start and Sheldon Mac is likely out for the season, so they need Beal to be good every night to have a shot. Wall is still the straw that stirs the drink.
Thankfully, Beal has evolved to the point where Wall doesn’t have to be great every night in order for the Wizards to win, but his ability to dictate tempo, be disruptive defensively (when he’s engaged), and the way the roster is constructed to accentuate his skills makes him a much more critical part of the team’s success.
- The Wizards currently sit in 5th in the Eastern Conference at 21-16. Do you think this is right around where they should be, or should they be closer to the top in a conference that appears more watered-down than it has in years past?
Washington should absolutely be higher up in the standings, considering how many winnable games they’ve let slip through their fingers this season. They’ve lost to several below .500 teams, including the Mavericks, Suns, Hawks, Hornets, Lakers, and a pair of losses to the Nets. If they just took care of business against the teams they should beat, they’d be right in the conversation with the other teams at the top of the East.
The good news is they’ve already shown they can win in Boston and Toronto this season, but a little more consistency would go a long way to showing whether or not they can win a series against them in the spring.
- Kelly Oubre Jr. has been one of the most improved players in the league this year. What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed in his play based on last year?
The biggest things that stand out are his ballhandling and shooting motion. He really struggled to create offense during his first two seasons because he wasn’t adept at handling when teams drove him off the three point line. Now, he’s much more confident at attacking closeouts and finding the open man when driving lanes are closed off. That’s made him a much more versatile offensive threat, and has allowed him to get a lot better looks outside, which he’s hitting with a lot more regularity this season. He’s shooting nearly 10 percent higher from deep while averaging increasing his number of attempts per game.
- While the Wizards no doubt will make the playoffs, what’s the biggest weakness of this team/where is there the greatest room for improvement?
The biggest weakness right now is avoiding complacency. Washington has a lot of experience with winning series where they’re the lower seed so they don’t have the same urgency that a lot of other teams do to play their best every night and get the best record possible, and we’ve seen how that’s played out in some of their embarrassing losses this season.
Washington has started to show signs that they’re perhaps getting out of that funk. They won 8 of their last 11 games. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last. It might take a move at the trade deadline to really shake things up and give the team the jolt they need to hit high gear, but at the same time, they have to be careful not to mess up the good things that they do when they’re hitting on all cylinders.
- What’s your official game prediction for Friday’s contest?
My guess is this one unfolds a lot like their first meeting, where Washington jumps out to a nice start, but then lets the Grizzlies back into the game, but the Wizards pull away late. But given the team’s track record this season, I wouldn’t be shocked if it went the other way. We all saw what happened the last time the Wizards had a late game lead in Memphis.
- Bonus Question: What are your thoughts on Washington’s City Edition jersey? I really like both Memphis’ and Washington’s designs.
I like the concept of the jersey, but I don’t love the execution. The good thing about the jersey is that it embraces the heart of the city, and it’s not just some bland red, white and blue design because it’s the nation’s capital (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, WASHINGTON NATIONALS). That said, if they had added just little more color, I think the jerseys would pop a little better.
Thanks again to Jake Whitacre for taking part and be sure to check out Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) on Twitter!