There might not be any teams in the NBA in as tough of a pickle as the Washington Wizards. They can claim the league’s leading scorer this season, along with another perennial All Star and former MVP. They boast one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league – although he’s been relatively cold from distance, compared to last season. And to top it off, they also have two young ex-top 10 picks and a couple additional recent lottery selections.
There’s star power and (at least theoretical) young assets. Yet, they sit outside of playoff contention, in danger of a third straight postseason-less finish.
What the heck is wrong with the Wizards, and why didn’t they do anything about it at the Trade Deadline?
No, trading Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner for Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison doesn’t count as “doing something” of significance. But it does reiterate some familiar questions in Washington.
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.
Rui Hachimura is a good player. He’s the third-best all-around scorer the Wizards have, and he will continue to grow as his career progresses.
He’s at a disadvantage based on the personnel the Wizards have, though.
It’s a Guard-Driven League
The nature of the NBA – and basketball, in general – is to feature guards. They’re quicker and more explosive than most front-court players, and they tend to be more natural ball-handlers. The league has evolved to the point that some bigger players are able to dribble the ball and be playmakers with more regularity. But even with that stated, check the league leaders in points per game. You’ll see primarily guards near the top.
Throughout this entire season, The Wizards have been a talented basketball team, yet their record didn’t reflect it. It was just a matter of time before the results of the whole caught up with the sum of the parts.
In their last five games, the Wizards have defeated the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Lakers. Not all of the margins of victory were close, none of those teams are truly bad (especially considering John Wall was motivated for obvious reasons), and four of those wins came against borderline Conference Finals contenders.
So what’s changed? We can all chalk it up to three things.
The state of the NBA is anything but normal right now. Even the postseason structure is muddier than usual, but the Washington Wizards are – in a way – part of it. They’re one of 22 soon-to-be “bubble teams” that will participate in the shortened restart of the regular season, and they’ll have a chance to compete for a top eight seed in the Eastern Conference. One player who won’t be participating in that battle, however, is sharp-shooter Davis Bertans.
On the surface, that’s bad news for the Wizards because it hurts their playoff chances. After all, he’s the team’s No. 2 scorer and only true threat aside from Bradley Beal that opposing defenses feel much of a need to respect.
On the other hand, what has the mantra been for the Wizards all season? Perhaps this is an opportunity to step back and remember the bigger picture.
Whereas point guard and shooting guard are crowded positions in some regard — although not as much anymore, with Justin Robinson waived, Chris Chiozza in Brooklyn on a two-way deal, and Garrison Mathews banged up — small forward has been the position where you ask yourself, “Do they really have to play someone?” For a variety of reasons, this group hasn’t lived up to its billing. However, there should be hope moving forward. Continue reading “Wizards Progress Report: Small Forwards”→
Whereas the point guard position is in a state of flux from top to bottom, there is some certainty at shooting guard. The starter isn’t a mystery, and the pecking order behind him is also relatively clear.
With that said, the Wizards need more from this group (from multiple perspectives) if they want to separate from the other teams near the bottom of the league standings — which no one outside the organization can definitively say they do want. That process starts at the top — in terms of both players and staff. Continue reading “Wizards Progress Report: Shooting Guards”→
In many respects, point guard was the Wizards’ most uncertain position entering the season. Aside from John Wall— who might not even play this year, due to his Achilles injury — Washington didn’t retain a single player at the position who ended last season on its roster.
Rather than making a splash, Tommy Sheppard opted to sign a former All-Star to a one-year “buy low” deal, a lifelong backup for two years, an undrafted rookie to a semi-guaranteed deal, and another youngster who has split time between the NBA and the G-League to a two-way contract. Continue reading “Wizards Progress Report: Point Guards”→
On Wednesday night, the Washington Wizards will take the court for the first time of the regular season. When they trot out for the opening tip-off, there will be a lot of new faces. With that in mind, the new roster deserves an introduction.