The Wizards have high hopes this season of entering the Eastern Conference elite. had career-highs in just about every offensive category last season, and his ability to create helped also helped him lead the League in total assists. His lightspeed pace also led to his leading the NBA in turnovers. Wall’s running mate, Beal, was electric in his second year guard, scoring 17 ppg and raising that to a team-best 19.2 in the playoffs. Rice, who has the length to play inside and has an improved midrange game, which he showed off during the summer league and preseason, will try to pick up the slack at the 2. Beal’s injury makes the acquisition of Pierce that much more important. “The Truth” saw a dip in production last season (13.5 ppg, down from his career 21.5) in 28 minutes but he was Rob Carr/NBAE/Getty Images as durable as ever, playing 75 games, making 68 starts. He once again hit 1,000 points, making him the only active player, and the sixth in NBA history, to score 1,000 points in 15 straight seasons. Pierce, who ranks fifth all-time in threepoint field goals (1,935), will fit right in with the Wizards, who were sixth in the East (16th in the League) in three-pointers made, making a franchise-record 648. They spread the wealth, as four different players hit at least 100, also a franchise record and the most of anyone in the division. However their top three, Ariza (a team-high 180), is now in Houston and Webster (146), who recovering from June back surgery—his third such operation—and Beal (138) start the season on injured list. That leaves Wall, whose 108 ranked fourth. Pierce, who had 112 three-pointers last season, will help pick up the slack. They’ll need others to as well, to allow Gortat (13.2 ppg, on .542 shooting, 15.4, .561 in the second half) and Nene (14.3 ppg, 50.0 field-goal percentage) to operate inside. Underrated veteran Andre Miller (.459, .523 from three, 3.46 assists-to-turnover ratio) gives Wall a breather. Outlook If Washington in known for anything, it’s broken promises, and while the Wizards enter the 2014-15 season with tremendous promise following last season’s strong finish, that promise could fall short. Wall is a bona fide superstar and has grown up as a floor- and a locker-room leader. But injuries to his supporting cast could short-circuit the offense and test his patience and trust in his teammates, especially early on. The Wizards are strong upfront and Pierce is, well, the Truth and is still capable of vintage nights. But he’ll be used sparingly to save him for April and the playoffs. The early going will test the Wizards’ depth, particularly at guard, and their resolve. If the Wizards can tread water over the first month, they still can win 50 games and be a force in the postseason. If not, the season could careen out of control and quickly. SPOTLIGHT: John Wall What’s the difference between being perceived as a selfish, rebellious kid and a selfless leader? Team wins, of course. That’s the change in point of view Wall is experiencing. The former first overall pick in 2010, who was poster boy for the an out-of-control, me-first brat when the Wizards were a lottery team is now the super-distributing sparkplug for a team predicted by many as the favorite to win the Southeast and by some to get to the Eastern Conference championship. Wall’s skill is unquestioned, as his averages of 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists, through his first 266 career games, put him in company with Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Chris Paul. Last season, when he made his first All-Star Game appearance, Wall was one of only three players to average 19 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds, joining Paul and Golden State’s Stephen Curry. The 6-4 blazer led the League in total assists (721) and tied for second in assists per game (8.8 apg) but his breakneck pace has been a double-edged sword, as he led the NBA in turnovers for the second time in three years. Veteran Andre Miller, brought in to mentor Wall last season, should have a calming influence on him and Miller already has raved over Wall’s leadership. The tandem of Wall and Bradley Beal makes Washington’s one of the top backcourts in the League. The biggest test of Wall’s maturity and leadership will be how he handles life without Beal, who is due back in December. If Wall can get the Wizards to the realm of 50 wins, expect that Wall will be an MVP candidate this season.
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