The Washington Wizards are less than a month away from reporting to training camp. Amid a roster full of turnover, youth, and players on the mend, the outlook for this Wizards’ team has not been very positive. The oddsmakers largely have the Wizards in the sub-30 win range. NBA2k for what it’s worth has the Wizards as their lowest rated team in the NBA — worse than tanking teams like the Kemba’less Hornets!
If you read the blogs, listen to the podcasts, or pay attention to any of the prognosticators, the Wizards, in-spite of their changes to the front office and roster overhaul, are heading toward a very bad and irrelevant season. While that sentiment isn’t surprising, it’s still somewhat startling just how bleak the outlook is.
It’s easy to understand the argument however. John Wall, a five time all-star is expected to miss most, if not all of the season and his primary backup the last two seasons, Tomas Satoransky, is now in Chicago.
Satoransky has been able to fill in admirably in Wall’s absence, displaying a competent brand of mistake free point guard play which has allowed the offense at times to look better with Satoransky behind the wheels rather than a hobbled Wall. They’ve replaced Tomas Satoransky with Ish Smith who had a .485 true shooting percentage last season and Isaiah Thomas, who hasn’t been right or often available since his dynamic 2016-2017 season.
The roster is missing experience and points in the frontcourt. Otto Porter was traded at the deadline last season. The two players he was traded for, Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, along with Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green — combined for 55.7 points per game, which is now missing from the rotation.
The players who are potentially replacing them all have their own question marks. CJ Miles has been a “Wizards Killer” for what seems like his entire career, but he’s also been on a downward trajectory the past two seasons, posting a 53.1 true shooting percentage since leaving Indiana for Toronto. He’s also recovering from surgery, limiting his prep time and perhaps his ability to contribute early in the season.
Troy Brown is a 20-year old with a grand total of 730 NBA minutes played in his career. Davis Bertans is an excellent shooter but has only started 28 games in his three year career and in that time, has displayed other limitations to his game. Lastly, Rui Hachimura is a rookie, and expectations should be tempered accordingly.
You can understand the national perspective. For years, the Wizards have been a team that wears their emotions on their sleeves and isn’t afraid to talk the talk. Unfortunately they haven’t been able to match the bravado often enough and when that occurred, the narrative shifted against them. They had evolved from the team with the young exciting backcourt to a stale team people grew tired of and weren’t fun to watch.
The problem with that point of view is that it no longer applies. Wall and Beal are both under contract but with Wall having missed large portions of the past two seasons and likely the majority of this upcoming season, this is now Beal’s team. That’s a new dynamic for this team, one we saw a glimpse of last season. After Wall was ruled out for the season, the Beal-led Wizards went 19-28, while in essence tanking their last four games of the season. Nothing to stick your chest out over but a 33-win pace nonetheless.
Bradley Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game on 47.6 percent shooting over the course of that 47-game stretch. Coming into his age-26 season and entering his prime, have we seen peak Beal? Under his leadership starting Day One in training camp and as the unquestioned leading option on offense, we will get to see how much further he can take his game and how far can he elevate the parts around him.
In a conference missing star power beyond Milwaukee and Philadelphia, in a league dominated by stars, the Wizards have one of the stars of the Eastern Conference, and maybe, just maybe his impact is being understated
The Wizards have a few other things working for them. Thomas Bryant, claimed off of waivers last summer was a find for the Wizards and their number one priority this summer as they entered free agency.
In the 13 games where he played 30 or more minutes last season, Bryant averaged 20.5 points and 12 rebounds on 68.9 percent shooting (35.7 percent from the three-point line). In the 19 games he played 25 or more minutes he averaged 17.7 points and 11.3 rebounds on 65.2 percent shooting overall.
While Bryant does have work to do on the defensive side of the floor, his minutes fluctuated as a result of the revolving door of big man who played minutes at the five last season while Bryant was in the midst of earning the coaching staff’s trust.
If Scott Brooks commits to playing Bryant 30 minutes a night, how much can the Wizards get from their 22-year-old high-energy center who was a bucket when he got close to the hoop (77.9 percent from less than 5 ft.) and showed the ability to stretch the floor (33.3 percent from the three-point line). After the trade deadline in 28 games, the Beal-Bryant duo had a +2.8 net rating per NBA.com in 468 minutes.
There’s also Troy Brown Jr., last year’s 15th overall selection who had a limited role as the Wizards pushed for what turned out to be an unachievable 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Brown is still an unknown as an NBA player but the player he’s replacing who closed the season as the primary small forward, Trevor Ariza, had a -1.9 net rating and shot a brutal 40.9 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from the three-point line in D.C. after arriving via trade with the Phoenix Suns. The Wizards were 18-25 in games Ariza played last season, a 34 win pace over an 82 game season.
Brown didn’t have much of an opportunity in his rookie season but did get into the rotation the last 22 games of season averaging 23.5 minutes per game. In that stretch, the then 19-year old Brown averaged 8.1 points on 42.3 percent from the field and 34 percent from the three-point line. In 10 starts, he averaged 10.4 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, including a 24-point outing in the Wizards’ upset win at Denver late in the season.
The sample size for Brown is small, but his ability to handle the basketball and hit the glass will provide a different element to this team at the small forward position, where they’ve typically leaned on players with a 3 & D skill set. In addition, for what it’s worth, in the 265 minutes that Beal-Brown-Bryant trio played together during this 22 game stretch, the team had a +1.8 net rating.
Add to that dynamic Bertans, a 42.9 percent three-point in San Antonio and Rui Hachimura, coming in to his rookie season off a productive summer league and FIBA World Cup campaign and they might have something that at minimum has the potential to be fun to watch.
None of this is to say that the Wizards are on their way to a playoff push or even suggest a certain win total as the bench mark for success this season. The Wizards can match or near last year’s win total and have a far more successful season than last year’s 32-win team. The roster has been turned over and if not in a full rebuild, it’s in a serious retool. That retool is impacted by having approximately $55 million in payroll (allocated to John Wall and Ian Mahinmi) in essence unavailable.
As previously mentioned, Wall is likely to miss the majority, if not all of the 2019-20 season. Mahinmi is on the roster mainly because there’s no choice but to have him there in the last year of the four-year deal he signed in the summer of 2016. He may play some minutes, but if he does that likely means something went wrong with the players ahead of him.
The team is younger now, having draft Rui Hachimura and Admiral Schofield, and then trading for Mortiz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga. That doesn’t include the addition of Justin Robinson as an undrafted free agent and Garrison Matthews on a two-way contract.
Those seven players — all new to the roster have an average age of 21.6 years. That’s before you factor in the aforementioned Thomas Bryant who is entering his age 22 season and Troy Brown Jr., who just turned 20. They have turned to a younger core of players looking to make their mark in the league.
This should spell the end of the “too cool for school” Wizards Ted Leonsis has often decried. This isn’t a roster with a bloated payroll and a sense of entitlement in how the approach the game.
There’s a stark difference between a veteran team which had regressed in spectacularly embarrassing fashion amid constant drama versus a young, energetic team who might be a better fit for the modern NBA. Davis Bertans is limited in some areas, but he’s also an elite three-point shooter who should spread the floor well for Beal-Bryant as they play a two-man game.
Not every single player will hit, in fact most likely won’t but if over the course of this season, a handful do and play a brand of basketball that fits the vision for this team going forward, that’s a reason for excitement and optimism and if they win some games along the way, that’s even better.
That’s the big picture, the important one. How much of the young core will develop and become long-term pieces to this puzzle and how will this team look under the leadership of Beal from the jump.