Finally the day is here! The Washington Wizards open the season tonight as they host a young, TALENTED, hungry Philadelphia 76ers team. Washington is coming off their most successful season since they won an NBA championship in 1978. Wizards finished last season with a 49-33 record before ultimately falling in the eastern conference semifinals in seven games to the Boston Celtics. Now the Wizards behind all star John Wall and all star in waiting Brad Beal look to build off last season with a deeper veteran laden roster and challenge the Cavaliers for conference supremacy. Sixers on the other hand showed flashes of their immense potential, however an injury plagued season resulted in a 28-54 record. A positive came from that as they were able to acquire the no.1 pick from the Boston Celtics selecting local standout Markelle Fultz, and signed veteran sniper JJ Redick. With talented center Joel Embiid, versatile point forward Ben Simmons and underrated forward Dario Saric all healthy and ready to go, Philadelphia has the young nucleus that if they can stay healthy, has the potential to make major noise for years to come. With all that being said, lets get to the match-ups.
Point Guard -
Washington - John Wall , Tim Frazier / Philadelphia - Ben Simmons, TJ McConnell -
Sixers pose a unique threat at point guard with the 6'10 230 pound Simmons. Honestly talent wise, he's in the Lebron James mold (no I'm not saying he's as good as Bron, relax, hear me out). Simmons is in that mold due to his forward size, guard skill set and wing athleticism. His vision and passing is his most lethal skill, which means he can potentially beat a team and not score. That's a problem to deal with. He will put a LOT of pressure on opposing guards, although the question remains can he hit enough jumpers to keep the defense from packing the lane and disrupting cutters. McConnell is a tough nosed, smart, floor general who will compete on BOTH ends at maximum level, which again could wear on guards. McConnell is coming off averaging 6.9 points (46% FG), 6.6 assist and nearly two steals a game in just 26 minutes of play. Quality back-up.
While the Sixers floor general spot has great potential, they will have fits dealing with John Wall. Wall is coming off his best season of his career where he averaged 23.1 points (45%), 10.7 assist, 4.2 rebounds and 2 steals a game. Wall is one of the most dangerous multi-dimensional players in the league. His ability to score in transition, on drives to the basket and now with a jumper you have to contest along with being one of the best players in the NBA at making players around him better, makes him a nightmare to deal with. Add in Tim Frazier who the Wizards acquired during the off season (7.1 points, 5.2 assist, 2.7 rebounds) from New Orleans, and Wall has a reliable back-up to make his job easier and keep him fresh throughout the game. Edge goes to Washington.
Shooting Guard -
Washington - Brad Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Jodie Meeks / Philadelphia - Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas
Brad Beal emerged last season as an almost certain future all star with career averages in scoring (23.1), assist (3.5), field goal percentage (.482) and games played 77 (all starts). His ability to score and shoot is the perfect compliment to Wall and makes him an ideal shooting guard. Add in his improved play making and defense and your'e looking at a star in the making. Depth at this position is strong with the versatile Satoranksy, who can literally play the 1,2 or 3 and sniper Jodie Meeks who is fully healthy and a career 37 percent three point shooter.
Philly brings explosive scorer Jerryd Bayless, another sniper in Nik Staukas and top pick Markelle Fultz who despite being banged up throughout preseason is as special a rookie there is in the league. While the talent is there, the experience outside Bayless is certainly not and that points to Washington winning this battle. Edge Washington
Small Forward -
Washington - Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr, Carrick Felix / Philadelphia - JJ Redick, Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Porter became one of two players to average 13 points, 6 rebounds and shoot 40 percent from three point range last season, finishing fourth in the NBA overall in three point shooting at 43 percent. His emergence gave the Wizards another reliable threat to spread the floor. Kelly Oubre Jr brings the defensive punch with an improved offensive game for Washington. He became the Wizards defensive stopper against the top offensive players on opposing teams night in and night out and flourished, add in his improved shooting and ball handling and you may be seeing the beginning of a dangerous two way player. Definitely an x-factor for the Wizards. Felix being the final player added to the roster is a high motor athletic wing who isn't afraid to mix it up on both ends.
Veteran guard JJ Redick is a pros pro. One of the top shooters in the NBA and a solid crafty defender, he is the type of player who can disrupt the Wizards if he gets going. Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot are both athletic scrappy wing players who despite doing the dirty work, actually possess skill and can hurt Washington if taken lightly offensively, especially in transition. This will be a physical battle tonight, however the shooting from Porter and play making from Oubre jr will prove to be too much. Edge Washington
Power Forward -
Washington - Jason Smith, Mike Scott, Chris McCullough, (Markieff Morris -Injured)/ Philadelphia - Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Amir Johnson
Ahhh this where it gets interesting. Washington has veteran Jason Smith who is a solid defender, rebounder and a shooter with three point range at seven feet, obviously looking to draw big front court players out of the paint. Mike Scott another x-factor off the bench can score at all three levels, defend and is tough as nails. Chris McCullough just might be the best athlete on the team at 6'9. He's a long agile forward who is a menace defensively and can knock down mid range jumpers consistently and finish with the best of them around the basket. With Morris out, the Wizards have the depth to get the job done by committee, a vastly different scenario from last season.
Covington and Saric will pose problems with their size (Covington 6'9/ Saric 6'10), athleticism and inside-outside skill set. Wizards will have to be on high alert whenever either is on the floor, especially with someone like Simmons who will make you pay by finding guys nonstop. Plug in veteran forward Amir Johnson who is as efficient a back-up you will find in the league coming off a season shooting 57 percent from the field and you realize power forward will be an issue for opponents facing the Sixers. Whichever team wins this match-up, will more than likely win the game. Even
Washington - Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi / Philadelphia - Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes
Gortat who is truly not appreciated enough for what he brings, was one of seven players in the NBA to average a point-rebound double-double (10.8 points, 10.4 rebounds) while shooting 55 percent from the field and starting all 82 games. He is truly a reliable anchor inside on both ends while lacking the elite athleticism you see in big's across the league. Mahinmi coming off a injury plagued season is in better shape, and a mobile center who looks to defend and rebound first and score second.
Sixers have a once in generation center in Joel Embiid who if he stays healthy, has a chance to be the best big in the NBA hands down. Embiid can post, drive to the basket, shoot from mid range, shoot from three point range, shoot free throws, pass, rebound, block shots, great size ( he looks bigger than his listed 7'0) and athleticism. He's the total package. Add the technician on the block in Jahlil Okafor and athletic stretch four Richaun Holmes and the Sixers have a young core of bigs at center that can win the paint battle night in and night out. Sky is the limit as long as they stay healthy. Edge Philadelphia.
Philly provides a nice season opening test for the Wizards who usually ran up against teams sitting most of their rotation during preseason. Questions remain regarding the Wizards, "do they have sufficient depth to battle the Bostons and Cleveland's of the world," "Will Beal make the all star leap?" "Will Porter and Oubre Jr raise their game to a higher level?" Time will tell. With what we've seen through preseason, them reaching the next level seems likely. Tonight is the perfect time to give not only DC but the entire NBA a preview of an improved hungrier Wizards team. The atmosphere will be electric with the Sixers bringing a number of local guys back home in Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick, Justin Anderson and James Michael McAdoo and Washington knocking on the door of being a team capable of making a trip to the finals for the first time since 1978. Philadelphia are well on their way to joining the contending group in the east if they can stay healthy, however, they're not quite ready YET to defat teams like the Wizards, at least consistently. Winner - Washington