The Washington Wizards drafted some key talent, re-signed their top free agents, and picked up some veteran security this offseason, but with just over a month to go before the regular season, that on-paper report is looking paper thin. Washington will try to battle through Saturday, as they begin training camp at George Mason University, but the injuries sustained by forward Chris Singleton and center Emeka Okafor will cloud Washington's future.
Wizards PR announced Tuesday that Wizards Team President Ernie Grunfeld and Head Coach Randy Wittman will set the table this afternoon, likely with an emphasis on the summer success of Jan Vesely, the re-signing of pure shooter Martell Webster, and the "process" of building around their newly reinstated centerpiece, John Wall. But while management will be thankful to see both Wall and Bradley Beal start, the lack of an anchor inside could spell trouble for this now Okafor-less squad.
Without Okafor, who could miss the start of 2013-14 due to a herniated disc in his neck--and, to a lesser extent, the loss of Singleton, who will be out roughly the same amount of time due to a fractured foot--the Wizards are in trouble. Okafor told the media last Wednesday that he still believed Washington was a Playoffs caliber team, regardless of his up in the air status. But assuming his injury will last at least six weeks--and given the location of his injury--it's hard to believe Okafor will be in mid-season form until late in the season.
The Wizards now have to utilize forward-center Kevin Seraphin, who has never adapted as a steadfast starting center, and forwards Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker, and Al Harrington, none of whom can replace what Okafor gave Washington last season. Seraphin, like Andray Blatche before him, crumbled last season due to double-teams. He has a soft touch around the basket but when he gets the ball it doesn't usually go anywhere. Nene might be able to help Seraphin early on, as he's a willing passer, but Washington might decide to go with a floor runner at center, instead. The benefit of using Vesely or Booker is the Wall-led offense can run-and-gun, and the disadvantage, of course, would be testing Vesely or Booker in halfcourt sets.
Of the two, Booker has clearly demonstrated a much better touch, and would provide the Wizards with somewhat of a stretch option. Vesely has struggled to find his touch, let alone a niche. Is he a small forward? A power forward? A center? So far, Vesely is best suited as a help defender who will, at times, seem competent as an alley-oop dunking machine. He has, however, proved he has the ability--and desire--to be more of a shooter. This summer, Vesely put up a Dirk Nowitzki-like step back jumper for an "And-1," something he has been practicing and practicing. Last season? Fans expected air balls from the stripe, as the Czech big shot a dismal 30.8% from behind the free throw line.
This season will likely be the last season for Vesely to prove his worth. After all, Jan was the 6th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Dirk was the 9th pick in 1998; something's got to give. This season will also be a test for Singleton, Booker, and Seraphin. As for Okafor, who is a free agent in 2014, Washington is staring at a future with no set prospect at center. Every day without Okafor will either be a grim reminder of the steps the franchise will need to take to get a quality big up front, or a welcome surprise, should Vesely--or someone else--step up to the challenge.
The Wizards will conduct Media Day Friday, followed by training camp at George Mason University from Saturday, September 28, to Wednesday, October 2.