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Wizards Questions Part 3: Which current players could be part of a strong defensive unit for the future?

Team defense was a weak point for the Wizards this season. It is essential that the team figure out which players are the best fits going forward.

Washington Wizards v Detroit Pistons
John Wall made the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in the 2014-15 season.
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

In part two of this series of major Wizards questions yesterday, we focused on the power forward position rotation for the Wizards.

For part three, we’ll focus more on the frontcourt as there are more glaring question marks there. But first, an area that was unacceptable in The District this season: defense.

Which current Wizards players can be part of a quality defense in the future?

Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal prepares to go on defense in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s dream that the Wizards add a couple of players this offseason who are excellent individual defenders. Without Isaiah Thomas around, there were improvements after he was traded. Though the results weren’t overly encouraging, there were at least glimmers of hope that defense wouldn’t be such a weak point as opposed to their play before the trade deadline.

So if the team actually prioritizes improving the defense this season, which they didn’t seem to do this year, how would they do it?

First, John Wall’s return looms large. If he dials in at the level that he did up until the 2016-2017 season, it’ll be a big boon. That’s likely not happening due to his age and injuries, but if there are improvements with him fighting through screens and giving consistent effort it’ll be far above what they got overall at the point last year.

Bradley Beal with presumably a slightly smaller offensive load and with playoffs on the mind can play much better defense. It is to be determined if that actually happens, but after not being selected as an All-Star this season, we saw a different player who was much more engaged on that end of the floor. Jerome Robinson represented an upgrade over McRae defensively and can guard either backcourt spot effectively.

We discussed the forward spot in the previous post, but the main defensive issues lie in the frontcourt. Rui Hachimura & Thomas Bryant appear to have the requisite strength and athleticism to improve, but awareness is sorely lacking.

Davis Bertans does seem to have better awareness but is too slight to defend down low and too limited athletically to guard the perimeter. Moritz Wagner fouls at an enormous rate and rates as a net-negative, really at a similar level to Bryant. It’s vital for Bryant, Hachimura, and Wagner to improve with awareness, timing and positioning on defense next season.

So will the defense improve? It’s hard to say without knowing what the offseason will bring, but there is a possibility of internal improvement in this area and if the right pieces are added around them, we could see a defense ranked at least closer to league average. It might end up requiring existing players to be moved if they cannot take a step forward on that end next season.

In Part 4, our final part of this series, we will take a deeper dive into the center rotation, where Wagner and Bryant may need to find more ways to play together. That post will be coming out tomorrow!