2019 was a rollercoaster of a year for the Washington Wizards. There were a few ups, but many downs too. Here are the five key moments which shaped 2019 for the Wizards.
John Wall tears his Achillies
John Wall had been dealing with injuries in his foot and really his heel for most of his career. And during the 2018-2019 season, you could tell. There would be nights where Wall would just stand around on defense and on the offensive end too if he didn’t have the ball in his hands. Too often he would run to the corner and stand still if he wasn’t involved in the play. At the time, it was unclear if Wall was just disengaged or if something bigger was brewing.
On January 8th, 2019, Wall underwent surgery on his left heel. This surgery would end his 2018-2019 season but was not thought to be career threatening. Just one month later on February 5th, disaster would hit. Wall slipped and fell in his home and tore his Achilles in the process.
Wall, who was still thought to be in the prime of his career would be sidelined for at least 12 months due to this freak accident in his home. With Wall suffering such a damning injury, it made the Wizards rethink their entire strategy moving forward as guys rarely recover fully from such a serious injury.
Bradley Beal has a February to remember
After Wall’s two injuries, there was even more of a somber feeling hanging over the 2018-2019 Wizards in what already felt like a lost season. There were a few bright spots from last year’s campaign and it started with Bradley Beal.
Beal, who had already been named an All-Star for the second consecutive season was gunning for more - he wanted All-NBA honors. Beal took over as the head honcho with a monster month of February where he averaged 30.9 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.7 rebounds over a 10-game stretch. It was the first time since Gilbert Arenas that a Wizards player averaged north of 30 points for an entire month but more importantly, signified that Beal could carry the load as ‘the guy’ in what felt like a passing of the torch.
Ultimately, Beal did not end up receiving All-NBA honors last year but we can look back at the month of February which was the Beal’s best of his career to that point and say - “that’s when Beal catapulted himself to become centerpiece of the organization moving forward.”
Washington trades Otto Porter to the Bulls
The John Wall injury threw a monkey wrench in the prior regime’s long-term plans. Just days after the news broke about Wall’s Achillies, Otto Porter was shipped to Chicago in what was a haste move to save money.
The Wall-Beal-Porter trio was kept intact past its expiration date but it was the injury to Wall which broke the camel’s back and ultimately changed the future plans for this team. Trading Porter to Chicago marked the end of the Wizards’ iteration of their ‘Big 3’ and signified new beginnings in Washington.
The Washington Wizards remove ‘Interim” from Tommy Sheppard’s job title
On April 2nd, the Wizards were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. After years of rumblings from the fanbase, owner Ted Leonsis finally decided to go in a different direction by letting go of Ernie Grunfeld. At the time, the Wizards had a few dream candidates on their radar in Tim Connelly and Masai Ujiri, but ultimately both of those guys ended up stiff-arming the Wizards.
Meanwhile, Tommy Sheppard, who had been with the Wizards since 2003 under the tutelage of Ernie Grunfeld was promoted to Interim General Manager. He was forced to navigate the draft and free agency without knowing if he’d even be with the team long-term. After a going the safe route in the draft by drafting Rui Hachimura and hitting a home run in free agency, owner Ted Leonsis had seen enough to know that Sheppard was the guy and removed the interim tag promoting him to the full-time General Manager.
Even though Sheppard learned the ropes under his predecessor, he had a much different philosophy. Sheppard is all-in on analytics, something the previous regime was apprehensive about and he values draft picks as well as the development of younger players. Promoting Sheppard to the full-time GM signified a brand new chapter in D.C.
Even though the wins haven’t started accumulating and the Wizards are in for a cold winter, Sheppard has aced nearly every test thus far and is planting the seeds of a solid foundation for years to come.
The Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards combine for 317 points - in regulation
In Washington’s home opener, they lost to the Houston Rockets 159-158 in what felt like more of an All-Star type game than one early in the regular season. Even in the losing effort, this game would be a microcosm for things to come.
Coming into this year, we knew that the Wizards would struggle on the defensive end - the offensive end was the unknown. Washington currently boasts a top-5 offense but is the worst team in the league defensively - something that was on display during that Houston game. On that night against the Rockets, Bradley Beal scored a season-high 46 points while Davis Bertans poured in 21 points (6-9 from three-point range) on a night where the bench combined to score 64 points.
The game against the Houston Rockets wasn’t an anomaly, it was a sign of what the 2019-2020 season would look like.