The All Star break is upon us. In essence, the first semester of the regular season has ended. This stoppage is a great time to assess the performance and progress of each player on the Wizards’ roster.
Certainly, 14–20 isn’t where the team wants to be at this point. But significant progress has been made recently, highlighted by Washington winning eight of its last 11 games heading into the break. And that’s without mentioning Bradley Beal earning starting honors in the All Star game, as well as Rising Stars recognition for Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija.
With that said, let’s kick off the midseason reviews!
Note: These grades will be based on how players have performed relative to expectations. Grades should not be viewed as rankings of each player on the roster.
Nothing like starting with one of the most complex players to evaluate! Avdija opened the season as a starter, but he didn’t see immense success in a muddied role as a 3&D player. The rookie was subsequently moved to the second unit, where he’s actually seen more success.
All told, here is his line so far this season:
Many elements of his game – three-point shooting, scoring as a whole, and defense – have seemed to come and go throughout the season. In some respect, that’s reflected in his role reduction – although it’s fair to think Scott Brooks has gone too far, in that regard.
Two traits have remained throughout the first half, though: solid rebounding ability and clear comfort as a ball-handler. He’s a European player, and it shows on the court. There’s a lethargicism – yes, I made that word up, just for Deni – to him as a driver that sometimes hurts him, but it also displays his discipline and advanced savviness as a pure scorer. There’s a lot of Danilo Gallinari in his play.
It’s been a somewhat imbalanced campaign so far, but a lot of that isn’t Avdija’s fault – he’s a round block being squeezed into a square peg.
Whereas Avdija is stuck in no man’s land, Beal has been showcased regularly. He’s only scored fewer than 23 points in one game all season, and he leads the league in points per game.
Beal’s development in recent years has been remarkable. He was great last year, yet he’s found a way to improve off it.
If you really want to nitpick, his three-point percentage and assists per game are down. But everything else has improved, and he earned himself his first All Star game starting accolades.
It was only on a 10-day contract, but Bell did make an appearance with the Wizards earlier this season. He wasn’t asked to do much, but it was something.
Considering how well he rebounded and his shot-blocking presence, it’s a little surprising that the Wizards let Bell get away. But they did, leaving in him as only a minor contributor to their season.
The three-point specialist is tough to evaluate. His shooting from long range has been near its typical efficiency, but he’s continued to struggle in other areas – particularly on the defensive end.
There’s no denying that Bertans brings valuable floor spacing to Washington’s offense, but does that alone justify the five year, $80 million contract he signed this offseason?
In any event, it hasn’t necessarily been a subpar season. But he was expected to play a major role on a winning team. By both measures, he’s fallen somewhat short of expectations.
The third-year forward was a surprising staple for the Wizards last year. Almost equally surprisingly, his role has diminished to nearly nonexistent proportions this season.
Occasionally, Bonga makes a spot appearance as a defensive anchor when the team needs a boost. But for the most part, he’s been a benchwarmer, even in spite of Brooks’ commitment to him last season.
He’s somewhat usable, but no aspect of his game has improved.
Troy Brown Jr.
It’s a similar tune for Brown. The Wizards have boasted better guard play this season than they had last year. That – combined with the addition of Avdija – has eliminated the need for a third-year, developmental wing. The numbers reflect his substantially decreased usage.
Unlike Bonga, there is a clear path to play time for Brown. But it still requires an absence – and probably two – to rotational guards for him to draw meaningful minutes.
There’s no denying the fact that it’s been a disappointing season for Brown.
How fair even is it to grade Bryant’s season? He was arguably playing as well as he ever has as a professional, but then he suffered a torn ACL, ending his season.
Seriously, imagine this team if it had Bryant available instead of Alex Len! Would Bryant still be starting? Would Moe Wagner have ever emerged?
We’ll never know; all we know is he gave the team a short stretch of solid production this year.
Adding Gill to this roster never seemed incredibly necessary. What did he truly bring to the table that was better than 2019 second-round pick Admiral Schofield? Last year’s enigmatic rookie looked no worse in his final year at Tennessee than Gill did overseas last season.
Nonetheless, Gill is in Washington, playing a very small role as a deep-reserve forward.
He’s rebounded well in a small sample size, but he hasn’t had any sort of meaningful role otherwise.
There’s no need to rehash what I’ve already said recently about Hachimura, so I won’t.
There’s certainly still growth that could – and needs – to take place. But did we honestly expect it to happen once the team added Russell Westbrook?
Len was brought into Washington when there was a glaring need at center. But that was before Wagner showed that he was a viable option. As a result, Len has been much more sparingly used in recent weeks. He’s been quite productive when he’s played, though.
His usage has only come in relatively favorable matchups, so it’s understandable that his production would be fairly positive. Still, he’s been extremely dependable for a No. 3 center.
Lopez joined the Wizards before Len did, and he was also a larger financial investment. He’s definitely looked better than Len, though; hence the more consistent usage.
Lopez has formed an interesting chemistry with Westbrook, not too dissimilar from what the point guard had with Steven Adams in Oklahoma City. The veteran has also been Washington’s most reliable rim protector – he’d have more blocks if their team defense had been better throughout the first half.
$6 million seemed like somewhat of an overpay initially, but Lopez has played up to that contract.
Expectations were low for the second-year two-way wing entering this season. Everyone in the organization knew he could make open three-pointers, but his overall fit as an NBA player was otherwise unknown.
Mathews has undoubtedly proven his worth in the league this year.
The Wizards have been a substantially better team since Mathews was inserted into the starting lineup, and it’s not a coincidence. His shooting prowess has remained, and he’s often beat the heartbeat of the team’s defense. The energy he’s played with makes him look like a potential 3&D star going forward.
With Westbrook in town and Ish Smith back as the No. 2 point guard, Neto’s fit seemed very uncertain. He’d been a fringe-rotation player throughout his career, so it appeared that his greatest role would come in games that Westbrook was unable to play – specifically back-to-backs early in the season and in the event of an injury later in the season.
Neto has over-performed this season, but it looks sustainable.
When Smith returns from injury, Neto’s role might diminish; but it shouldn’t.
I’ll be honest; including “AP” in this exercise is goofy. He only lasted one game this season, but it was ugly.
There’s no analysis needed. His turnover total was almost as high as his minutes played, and he committed more fouls than field goal attempts.
Frankly, the third-year wing has essentially disappeared. He showed flashes of being rotation-worthy this season with his play last year. That opportunity quickly dissolved, due in part to him not standing out in the few games that injuries and COVID-19 absences got him onto the court.
Robinson has been a Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision in Washington’s last 10 games, the most on the team. At this point, it’s hard to see Robinson’s role growing in the second half.
The grizzled veteran’s role has understandably diminished a bit this year, but Smith was still firmly established as the No. 2 point guard. He may or may not still hold that spot.
Smith struggled early in the season, and then suffered a quad injury that has had him sidelined for the last few weeks. The result: a less spectacular stat line.
Again, it’s tough to say what his role will be in the second half, given how things have played out above him. However, it’s clear that his margin for error will be much more thin.
The third-year undersized center out of Michigan has grown as much as any Wizards’ player over the course of this season. Initially, he was outside of Brooks’ rotation, often not checking into games at all. But now he’s their starting center, and he’s become an invaluable role player when on the court.
Wagner isn’t always playing a ton of minutes, but he’s been efficient. He typically makes his presence felt defensively, and his growth offensively – particularly from three-point range – has helped offset the loss of Bryant.
Wagner’s value is difficult to quantify, but there’s a reason why Washington has been winning much more frequently since he was inserted into the starting lineup.
It hasn’t been a seamless transition, but the insertion of Westbrook into the Wizards’ starting lineup has been a net positive. He battled injuries and a lack of chemistry with teammates initially, but he has looked like the Russ of recent years lately.
He’s not the player he was in his prime, nor should that be the expectation. He’s older and somewhat beaten down, and his shooting volume inherently decreases a bit when playing alongside Beal.
There certainly have been flaws, though. He’s turned the ball over more than would be preferable, his dominance as a driving scorer has been less consistent, and his defense has been spotty. But even so, his presence is highly valuable, particularly as a leader and in easing Beal’s workload, especially as a ball-handler.
His play may endanger the Wizards at times, but it also raises their ceiling as much as anyone else on the team.
The rookie point guard out of Michigan State requires a different type of evaluation. As expected, he’s been used sparingly at the NBA level, appearing in only six games for a total of 44 minutes. Instead, most of his usage has come in the G League.
Winston is essentially doing everything you’d expect him to do, based on the type of player he was in college. He’s not scoring at a particularly high rate, but he’s shooting well, and he’s been a productive distributor.
Realistically, Winston won’t be a contributor for the Wizards this year. But with Westbrook, Neto and Smith above him – not to mention Beal as a very high-usage guard – he shouldn’t be needed until next year at the earliest, anyway.