Winners of seven of their last 12 games including going 5-2 in the seven games leading up to the All-Star Break, the Wizards are on a bit of a hot streak. Yes, most of those wins came over bottom feeders in the Eastern Conference like Chicago, New York, and Charlotte but for this Wizards team, winning the games they’re supposed to win is progress.
So here we are at the All-Star break. The Wizards currently sit at 20-33, good enough for 9th place in the Eastern Conference. Washington is three games behind the Orlando Magic and with 28 games to go, the team has a decision to make. Should they make a run at the playoffs or pull back the reins and try and increase their odds for a better lottery pick?
Just one year ago, the Wizards were in a similar spot. After a short-sighted trade for Trevor Ariza, the front office felt he was the missing piece that would get Washington into the postseason. It seemed like management waved the white flag on the postseason when Otto Porter was shipped out of D.C. but the coaching staff never got the memo. Night after night, coach Scott Brooks played Bradley Beal 40+ minutes in hopes that he’d be able to drag this team to the 8-seed for what would have been an inevitable sweep by Milwaukee.
Fast forward a year and things are somewhat similar but oh so different at the same time. There’s a significant drop off the Eastern Conference after the top six teams. Things are so bad that it’s likely that one and maybe even two teams will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with a sub .500 record which opens the door for the Wizards - and they should take advantage and try to sneak into the playoffs this year.
It’s important to take a step back and remember that when Tommy Sheppard took over, the plan was to rebuild on the fly and contend during the 2020-21 season when John Wall was back to full health. It was never about this season. At the same time, I don’t think many people thought that the Wizards would be in the position that they are currently in.
Not including Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi, this current roster only has four other guys in Davis Bertans, Shabazz Napier, Ish Smith, and Jerome Robinson who have playoff minutes to their resumés. That’s it. On top of that, those four guys have a total of 536 playoff minutes to their names - combined.
Getting the young guys like Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, and Mo Wagner playoff minutes would be valuable as this Washington team continues to build towards the future, not to mention the veterans on this team who haven’t seen much postseason action. Yes, next year was the year that the Wizards were supposed to catapult themselves back into the playoff discussion by why wait a year to get the young guys meaningful playoff minutes?
If the season ended today, the Wizards’ first round pick would be around the ninth position. There’s been chatter that this draft is not that deep to begin with and that a significant drop off occurs after the top three or four picks. Washington already has 20 wins and is 6.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks who currently have the league’s third worst record. It’s going to be hard for Washington to catch these bottom feeders like Atlanta, Cleveland, and Golden State considering they all are in a race to the bottom.
The combination of this being a weak draft and the Wizards current positioning in the standings puts Washington in a no-lose situation. They can and should play the rest of the season out gunning for the eighth and final playoff spot. And is there really that much of a difference between a pick at the bottom of the lottery versus just outside the lottery?
If they’re able to sneak in, and even if they get swept in the first round, that’ll pay dividends for the young guys who have yet to taste playoff basketball as well as some of the vets who don’t have much playoff experience. And what if they play the season out but fall just short of the postseason? Then, the Wizards will find themselves back in the lottery and can hopefully snatch up another young piece for years to come.
One thing is for sure, the Wizards have a better shot at making the playoffs than they do in getting a lottery pick of significant value. The Eastern Conference won’t always be this bad so they may as well strike while the iron is hot. Let’s just not run Bradley Beal into the ground in the process.