Wall, Beal set lofty goals for Wizards team: 50 wins, finals.
John Wall is a perennial All-Star. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal might finally get that sort of recognition this season.
What both of the Washington Wizards’ starting guards in their 20s would really love to do is, at long last, really matter in the NBA playoffs — and stick around more than two rounds.
The goals, Wall explained, are simple: “Try to get over 50 wins, get to the Eastern Conference finals, give ourselves a chance to make it to the finals.”
How long has it been since this franchise won 50 games or reached the conference finals? Nearly 40 years: Washington last did either of those things when it did both way back in 1978-79.
A few moments later, Wall added: “It’s all going to start with me and Brad.” There’s no doubt about that.
Each guard averaged 23.1 points last season to help the Wizards go 49-33 and earn a No. 4 seed in the East before losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. It’s the third time in four years the team in the nation’s capital exited at that stage (the Wizards didn’t even make the playoffs in 2015-16).
As everyone around them, seemingly, made big moves in the offseason, the Wizards stayed with what they had, not making a single alteration to their starting lineup (Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat), while also holding onto top reserves Kelly Oubre Jr., Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith.
“We know that we can’t relax,” Porter said, “just because we’re back.”
Aside from giving Wall and Porter new deals, all President Ernie Grunfeld did to the roster was adjust the bench a bit, bringing in backups Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott.
“I don’t care what any other team does. They make change,
they make stuff to make their team better,” said Wall, who was second in the league with 10.7 assists per game and tied for first by averaging two steals. “We did what we had to do to make our team better.”
There was a popular story line not that long ago that surmised that Wall and Beal didn’t get along with each other, didn’t enjoy playing with each other, would have trouble sharing the basketball and figuring out how to win with each other. They scoff at that nowadays.
“I felt like it was funny then, because it kind of just came out of nowhere. I don’t know. I don’t really understand it. We’ve been together, this is six years for me, eight for him. That’s a long time in this league, especially . ... We still laugh at it today,” Beal said. “We realize that he wouldn’t be where he is without me and vice versa.”
And the Wizards wouldn’t be where they are without the two of them. Now they want go get somewhere they’ve never been.
One key is to get off to a better start than a year ago, when coach Scott Brooks was new to the team and the Wizards opened 2-8. Something that could make that tough, though: Morris is going to sit out the beginning of the regular season after having sports hernia surgery last month. Porter finished fifth in the NBA last season with a 43.4 shooting percentage on 3s, a rise of nearly 10 percent from just two seasons earlier. He also averaged career highs of 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 51.6 overall field-goal percentage and 83.2 free-throw percentage. The reward was a $106.5 million, four-year offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets that Washington matched.
“It made me want to work harder,” Porter said.
The Wizards have not always been as good at playing defense as they are to paying lip service to its importance. Last season, Washington ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring per game at 109.2 but only 21st in the 30-team league in scoring defense, allowing 107.4 points. Even worse: They were 24th in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 46.6.
The Wizards open at home on Oct. 18 against the Philadelphia 76ers.