SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
|Marc Stein ESPN.com
|| Perhaps the Wiz won't be as exciting to watch, but they've replaced Larry Hughes with depth and thus will retain their top-six status . . . in spite of their size issues.
|Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
||The loss of Hughes will hurt, but the addition of Caron Butler should be adequate. Gilbert Arenas is as entertaining to watch as anyone in the East with the exception of Allen Iverson, and Antawn Jamison is way underrated.|
|Will Perdue ESPN Insider
||They'll get points from the perimeter. Brendan Haywood must produce for this team if they want to improve on last year's record. Keep an eye on Etan Thomas, who showed flashes of brilliance during the playoffs last year.|
|Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
||Eddie Jordan got them into the second round of the playoffs last spring. They added perimeter depth and have great offensive weapons, but are still too thin up-front to seriously challenge the likes of Miami, Detroit and Indiana.|
|Eric Neel ESPN
If they can defend, they'll win another first-round series, because they can score from all over the joint.
|Tim Legler ESPN Insider
See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Washington Wizards.
|Scoop Jackson ESPN
| Larry Hughes not there huge, but Gilbert and Antawn will be more unstoppable nightly.
|John Hollinger ESPN Insider
||Still should squeeze into playoffs despite loss of Hughes. Arenas could be league's best point man this year and Haywood is vastly underrated defensive force. |
|Chad Ford ESPN Insider
||The loss of Larry Hughes will sting. Kwame Brown? Not so much. If Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels can pick up the slack, the Wizards should be back in the playoffs, but they're a ways behind the top five teams in the conference.|
|John Carroll Scouts Inc.
||Will be hard to repeat a 45-win season and advance to the second round of the playoffs again. If they do, it will be because of their perimeter players. Fearless Gilbert Arenas is one of the toughest one-on-one players in the NBA.|
|Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
||They're tougher and deeper but how far they go all depends on the mercurial Gilbert Arenas. He alone has the talent to make his teammates better; it's not always clear whether he wants or understands that.|
|Chris Broussard ESPN Insider
Didn't improve, but probably didn't get worse either.
|Starters: Jamison and Arenas are key to team's ball-movement offense.|
|Is he healthy after offseason knee surgery? We'll see.||
|15.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 2004-05 will jump with more PT.||
|Improved scoring (9.4 ppg) in every season.||
|Not quite the stopper Hughes is, but not bad.||
|The first-time All-Star was also third-team All-NBA.||
|Bench: Chucky Atkins relieves the point, Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries are quality reserves at the wings and banger Etan Thomas makes his presence known.||
ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hit newsstands Wednesday.
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: +1.52
Ernie Grunfeld signed Haywood to a five-year, $25 million extension before last season started, and right now that's looking like a whale of a deal for Washington. Jordan finally permitted Haywood to stay on the court for more than a few minutes at a time, and he responded with another strong campaign in the middle. Haywood has always been a high-percentage shooter but he took it another step forward last season, shooting 56.0 percent on a series of short hook shots and dunks. Although the Wizards don't call many plays for him in the post, his footwork has improved considerably and Jordan might consider running more plays for him next season (if he can pry the ball away from Arenas and Jamison, that is). Haywood also has developed a more reliable way to get the ball -- he's an excellent offensive rebounder who grabbed 12.2 percent of his teammates' misses.
Offensively, the next step is to work on his free-throw shooting. Haywood takes more than one free throw for every two field-goal attempts because most of his attempts are around the basket. If he improved to 70 percent or so from the line, it would add half a point per game to his average.
Also, Haywood is hugely important at the defensive end. He was Washington's best shot-blocker, averaging nearly two a game and altering many more. Plus, his size was a major asset in the middle -- he is three inches taller than Ruffin or Thomas, the primary backups, so Washington deeply felt his absence when he checked out. Defensively, the Wizards gave up 9.9 points less per 48 minutes when Haywood played.
Another area for improvement is Haywood's work on the defensive glass. He sometimes takes himself out of position by going for blocks and doesn't have the lateral movement of some of the game's top-notch rebounders. Nonetheless, it's mystifying that such a good offensive rebounder can be so innocuous at the defensive end. Haywood's 15.8 percent defensive rebound rate barely exceeded his offensive rebounding output -- for most players, the rate nearly doubles. His inability to clean the glass resulted in the Wizards ranking among the league's worst teams overall on the defensive boards.
New Wizard with the best season?
66.4% Caron Butler
28.9% Antonio Daniels
4.7% Chucky Atkins
Legs on Wizards: I know Gilbert Arenas was an All-Star last year. I know that Antawn Jamison put up 20 a night. I know the Wiz made it to the second round of the playoffs before being dismantled by Dwyane Wade.
But new additions Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins and Antonio Daniels don't add up to one Larry Hughes and that will be the reason the Wizards will not be able to put together back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since Wes Unseld roamed the paint.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider
Experience: 4 years
Reg. season record: 103-158
Playoff record: 4-6
Getting the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs showed Eddie Jordan's coaching abilities. When they ran into the Heat, their vulnerability up-front was exposed.
Jordan's Wizards, with added depth on the perimeter, will still be dangerous but must improve on their No. 24 ranked field goal defense to go anywhere.
Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider
The one defining characteristic of the Wizards under Eddie Jordan is that the guards monopolize the ball and often take terrible shots. Arenas, Hughes, Juan Dixon and Hayes seemingly spent much of last season locked in a race to see who could launch the most unreasonable shot; Hughes finally outlasted the competition with a breathtaking display of poor shot selection in the playoff series against Chicago.
All of which means the big people see the ball only if they get an offensive rebound or steal the ball from Arenas at half court.
Thus, the one possible benefit of Hughes' departure is that it could allow Washington to diversify the offense more. Daniels and Butler don't require as many touches as Hughes did and are much less likely to chuck 20-footers off the dribble. Plus, having less competition for shots could allow Arenas to tone down his act as well.
As a result, Jordan has an opportunity to run more post plays for Haywood and Thomas to keep them involved in the game. With each being high-percentage short-range shooters who have the size to establish deep post position, one hopes Jordan won't bypass this opportunity.
Sleeper: Caron Butler now heads to his third team, through no fault of his own. The Wizards had the top trio in the league last season. Can Butler take the place of Larry Hughes? Although he is not the ballhandler or thief Hughes is, Butler should see an increase in his scoring and rebounding, making him a decent third forward in fantasy.
Bust: Chucky Atkins also came over the trade from the Lakers, but his statistical future doesn't look as bright. With Gilbert Arenas the starter at point guard, Atkins is relegated to sixth man duty. It will be hard for him to match his 13.6 points and top 10 total of 176 threes on a team with so much firepower.
Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index