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Washington Wizards 2015-16 Preview

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The Wizards have made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals two years in a row. Do they have what it takes to make a deeper run in the playoffs?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
46-36
2nd in Southeast Division
5th in Eastern Conference

After finally making it back to the playoffs for the first time in six years last season, the Wizards decided it was time to add some veteran leadership to help elevate their young core to another level and make some more noise in the east. Who better to help show the young guns how to carry themselves than "The Truth," Paul Pierce?

Pierce served as a strong influence that everybody respected, instilling a new culture that the Wizards were not accustomed to, but needed in order to push themselves even harder. Newly added workhorse veterans Rasual Butler and Kris Humphries provided some healthy competition on the practice floor, as well as forcing younger guys like Otto Porter and Kevin Seraphin to beat them out for minutes.

The real story, however, was the play of John Wall. The 24-year-old star put together his second consecutive healthy regular season in a row, displaying a much improved pull-up jump shot and producing 17.6 points per game to complement a career high 10 assists, good for second in the NBA. Wall was not only named to his second straight Eastern Conference All-Star roster, he found his name on the NBA's All-Defensive 2nd Team as well.

Wall has always been an exceptional point guard, but he is really starting to take off now and bring his game to another level.

Nene put together his healthiest season since 2010-11, appearing in 67 games last season after missing 50 combined games in the previous two years. He's still dunking all over people's faces, too, and you're going to have a tough time bullying him and Marcin Gortat.

Washington finished the season 46-36, the best record the franchise has seen since Elvin Hayes helped the 1978-79 Bullets to 54 wins and a trip to the NBA Finals. As the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards drew a matchup with Toronto in the first round and while most four vs. five seed matchups are projected to be tight, this one was no contest.

Paul Pierce has traditionally had Toronto's number for years, and last year's first round series was no different. After setting the tone with a 20-point performance to help steal Game 1 on the road, the dynamic backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall absolutely dominated Game 2 to put Toronto's backs against the wall. Beal lead all scorers with 28 points, while Wall went berserk for one of the best games of his career with 26 points and 17 assists.

In Game 3, Pierce absolutely crushed Toronto's soul in vintage form. Back on their home floor, Washington had a 102-99 lead just seconds away from going up 3-0, and Pierce jabbed the dagger directly into the heart of the Raptors with a cold-blooded double-pump three with 16.3 seconds left. After burying the clutch triple, all he could do was walk up the court yelling "that's why they brought me here." I don't care what jersey he was wearing, that was fun.

Game 4 was a joke, as the Raptors played as though they were already defeated while the Wizards cruised to a convincing 125-94 blowout victory to secure a four-game sweep on their way to the second round.

In the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the second year in a row, Washington was set to square off with the Atlanta Hawks, who held the Eastern Conference's best record throughout the regular season at 60-22. Similar to how they jumped out to a hot start in the first round, Washington kept their undefeated postseason record alive by stealing Game 1 on the road in Atlanta, thanks to 28 points from Beal and double-doubles from John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter.

Atlanta took care of business to split the series at 1-1 heading back to Washington, and then our guy Paul Pierce came through once again to show what he is made of in high-pressure situations. With six seconds left in a tie game at 101-101, "The Truth" got the ball in his sweet spot at the elbow and the result was no different than it always has been. As the clock was winding down, Pierce maneuvered his way into some space and buried an unbelievable game-winner at the buzzer to give Washington a two-point victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.

When Chris Broussard asked Pierce what was going through his mind as he let the ball fly, he replied as perfectly as you could have drawn it up yourself, emphatically firing back with "I called game!"

After Atlanta evened the series at 2-2 in Game 4, Pierce came back with yet another clutch bucket with 8.3 seconds to go in Game 5, burying a baseline three that gave the Wizards an 81-80 lead. Unfortunately for Washington, Al Horford ruined the party with a game-winner of his own, putting the Hawks up 3-2 heading back to Washington for Game 6.

Game 6 came down to the final wire as well, and Pierce was almost like a video game with how he kept coming through in clutch situations. Washington was down by three with the ball on the final possession, and Pierce let another off-balance hay-maker fly in the face of multiple defenders from beyond the arc as he tried to force overtime and keep their season alive to force a Game 7.

The late-game assassin buried it! He did it again! This one, however, didn't count as the ball was still on his fingertips as the red lights flashed around the backboard. Pierce didn't get it off in time, crushing the hearts of everybody in the arena and ending Washington's season in dramatic fashion while Atlanta moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Washington didn't advance beyond the second round, but they still put together one heck of a season and were as exciting to watch as they have been in a long, long time.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Jared Dudley, Kelly Oubre, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal
Key Losses - Paul Pierce, Rasual Butler, Kevin Seraphin

With Paul Pierce moving on as a free agent to rejoin Doc Rivers and finish his career out in Los Angeles, the Wizards needed to add some depth on the wing. On draft night, they took a chance on a project by involving themselves in a three-team deal with Atlanta and New York, swinging their 18th overall pick along with two future second rounders, in a trade that landed 15th overall pick Kelly Oubre in Washington. Oubre is not ready to make a big impact right away, as the 19-year-old will need some time to develop and come into his own, but this could end up as a win for the Wizards long-term. He's got the size, length, athleticism, shooting ability and potential to put it all together into a skill set that can affect the game in multiple ways. Only time will tell, but Oubre could turn out to be a 2015 draft night steal if things work out.

While Oubre is learning the game and honing his skills, the Wizards needed some veteran help on the perimeter and they got it both via trade and free agency. On July 9, Washington sent a future second round draft pick to Milwaukee in exchange for former Boston College star Jared Dudley, who has averaged 9.4 points per game while shooting 40% from beyond the arc over the course of the last six years. Dudley will provide a lift as an intelligent, team-first veteran who will act as a strong locker room presence and be able to adequately produce in a large role if needed.

To add depth, Washington signed swingman Alan Anderson to a one-year deal worth $4 million along with vet combo-guard Gary Neal for one year at $2.1 million. Anderson has spent the last two years playing approximately 23 minutes per game for Brooklyn, while Neal has bounced around a bit as Washington will be the fourth team he has played for since 2013.

After spending the first five years of his career with the Wizards, big man Kevin Seraphin decided to move on to New York this offseason, potentially opening up more playing time in Washington for DeJuan Blair, Drew Gooden and/or Kris Humphries this season.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Marcin Gortat / Drew Gooden
PF - Nene / Kris Humphries / DeJuan Blair
SF - Otto Porter / Jared Dudley / Kelly Oubre
SG - Bradley Beal / Martell Webster / Alan Anderson
PG - John Wall / Ramon Sessions / Gary Neal / Garrett Temple

X-FACTOR - Bradley Beal
Wrist and leg injuries slightly limited Bradley Beal during the regular season last year, as he sat out 19 games and took some time to find rhythm during certain points of the season. However, if you watched the Wizards in the playoffs, you saw a completely different player and a young star in the making.

Beal was incredible in the 2015 postseason, putting up 23.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game and really stepping up when John Wall was hobbled. If Beal can come into this season picking up where he left off, he could find himself in Eastern Conference All-Star discussions and help Washington become an even more dangerous offensive threat.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
As long as they stay healthy, the Wizards should come back as a heavy Eastern Conference competitor that has a chance to make some noise in the playoffs once again. They won't have the heroics of Paul Pierce to lean on in late-game situations, but they have some young studs on the rise and a quality mix of young talent and steady veterans in their rotation.

Look for the Wizards to finish the regular season in a similar position in the standings as they did last year, and they might have chance to make another exciting run. Atlanta and Miami will make it tough to compete for the top record in the Southeast Division, but Washington will be in the mix to make some things happen in 2016.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
3rd in Southeast Division
5th in Eastern Conference

Additional Wizards Previews

Washington Wizards preview (Part 1): Can they follow playoff blueprint with new additions? - Bullets Forever

With the Wizards, it all starts with their backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington's success hinges on the performance of their guards, just like it has the past two seasons as they've developed into a playoff contender. You can argue where exactly House of Guards deserves to land in the rankings of the NBA's best backcourts, but clearly they're near the top.

The Wizards better get this year right - SBNation.com

I don't mean to rag on Wittman so much, but when you asked if he could be as creative or flexible as Steve Kerr I began a 40-minute laughing episode. It's like asking if steamed cotton can ever be as appetizing as red velvet cake. We have all the evidence and intuition we need!