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2015-16 NBA Preview: The Wizards And The Wasteland Of .500

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.


For two years running, the Washington Wizards have epitomized a “solid team,” averaging 45 wins with a pair of second-round playoff exits. It used to be argued — including by yours truly — that such status was undesirable, since those kinds of teams seldom find a springboard to greater things. In fact, teams stuck around .500 get doubly punished in the NBA: They have little chance of winning a title, yet are also unlikely to acquire a franchise player in the draft.

But the unexpected rise of clubs such as the Atlanta Hawks, who last season won 60 games after years spent posting near-.500 records, gives hope to others trying to build from the middle. And for what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO thinks the middle is exactly where the Wizards will be again. (I do mean “exactly,” too — our projections call for them to finish 41-41 in 2015-16.)

carmelo_depth_chart_WIZARDS

Washington certainly has the top-end young talent to someday move beyond .500 land. Our long-term forecast1 ranks three Wizards among the top 100 NBA players in projected future value: John Wall (10th), Bradley Beal (20th) and Otto Porter Jr. (77th). But for now, the Wiz are biding their time in the middle of the NBA pack — and that may not be as bad a strategy as it once seemed, particularly in the perennially weak Eastern Conference.

You can find projections for all the Wizards (and the rest of the NBA) in our interactive, but here’s what CARMELO thinks about Washington’s key players in 2015-16:

john-wall

Having moved past the knee injury that cost him half the 2012-13 season, John Wall keeps getting better and better. Three years ago, the improvement was on offense; seemingly all at once, Wall boosted his assist rate, slashed his turnovers and started shooting more efficiently, all despite carrying a bigger offensive burden. Then, last season, Wall transformed into one of the league’s best defensive point guards, without sacrificing his offensive output. As a result, CARMELO thinks Wall will be a top 10 NBA player over the next six seasons — though it also bears mentioning that his top comps tended to produce only a few more great seasons before entering long and steady declines.


bradley-beal

After a breakout 2014-15 campaign, what can Bradley Beal do for an encore? Quite a bit, if you ask CARMELO. Our projections see Beal continuing to develop his offensive game, cranking out a steady stream of 5-WAR seasons2 for the foreseeable future. What might keep Beal from reaching the truly elite class of wings, though, is his defense — as was the case with many of his top comparables, Beal hasn’t convinced CARMELO that he can ever be much more than an average contributor at that end of the court.


marcin-gortat

Somewhat quietly, Marcin Gortat has ranked among the NBA’s top 10 or so centers over the past five seasons. What’s driving his value? Mainly it’s an unusual combination of durability, rebounding, defense and efficient finishing around the basket. But it’s no coincidence that many of his comps are relics of a bygone age of big men — Gortat plays the way most centers did a generation ago. And at age 31, he’s reached the stage of his career at which those players started to deteriorate. Don’t be surprised if Washington needs to search for Gortat’s successor soon.


otto-porter-jr

After a completely dreadful rookie season in 2013-14, Otto Porter Jr. was one of the NBA’s most-improved players last season. CARMELO thinks he can build on those gains and maintain an above-average level of play for many years to come, even if he never really provides much in the way of scoring punch. Porter’s a great argument for why versatility is so important in a wing prospect: When the ability to create shots doesn’t translate to the pros, a well-rounded game can provide a nice fallback. In Porter’s case, he does enough positive things on defense and the glass to compensate for a microscopic assist percentage and comparatively small usage rate.


nene

It wasn’t long ago that Nene was one of the game’s premier big men. That time is over. He never could stay healthy, even in his prime, so the relatively low number of minutes CARMELO projects for Nene isn’t a surprise. But his lack of per-minute offensive effectiveness is a recent development, fueled in part by drastic downgrades in shooting efficiency and foul-drawing, to go with worsening rates of offensive rebounding and turnovers. What started as a slightly negative trend upon his arrival in Washington has become a legitimate concern, and CARMELO thinks 2015-16 will be the final season in which Nene’s defensive skills outweigh his disintegrating offense.


jared-dudley

The 3-and-D wing is an underrated species of NBA player — or at least it was until very recently. But even among that group, Jared Dudley is often overlooked. Sure, Dudley seldom scores, shoots almost nothing but jumpers, doesn’t rebound and wasn’t obviously good on defense until last season (his only campaign spent with the defensive-minded Bucks). But CARMELO thinks those solid defensive metrics were mostly legit, which gives Dudley real 3-and-D value when combined with his tendency to let fly from downtown on offense. Then again, CARMELO also links Dudley to a bunch of guys whose offensive skills eroded not long after they turned 30. CARMELO giveth, and CARMELO taketh away.


kris-humphries

It’s to Kris Humphries’s credit that he turned around what had been a sub-replacement-level career through six NBA seasons and has become a functional NBA player in the five years since. He has plenty of limitations — particularly on offense — and his presence as one of Washington’s key bench players speaks volumes about the Wizards’ overall lack of depth, but he can be counted on to grab rebounds, play decent defense and stretch the floor a little with the threat of mid-range jumpers.


ramon-sessions

There was a time when Ramon Sessions could shoot, pass and score well enough to offset some of his incompetence on defense. Sadly, those days are long gone. CARMELO calls for Sessions to not only play ruinous defense, but also to significantly hurt his team on offense when in the game. The result is a negative wins above replacement projection, drifting toward zero (presumably when teams realize how awful Sessions is).


Read more:
All our NBA player projections
All our 2015-16 NBA Previews

Footnotes

  1. Judging from CARMELO-projected wins above replacement over the next six seasons.

  2. For reference’s sake, think of a player roughly as valuable as Greg Monroe, Ty Lawson or Luol Deng was last season.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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