The 2019-20 Wizards have been a team in transition. They rid themselves of crotchety veterans and replaced them with a mix of enthusiastic youngsters, select veterans, and genuine good guys to reload the roster, reboot the atmosphere and position the team for success when John Wall comes back next season.
In honor of Rui Hachimura, the 9th pick in the 2019 NBA draft, and the Wizards’ most likely slot in this year’s draft, here are nine things you need to know or watch for to enjoy the Washington Wizards reboot:
- They’re really bad at defense. They’ve allowed 115.8 points per 100 possessions — second worst mark in NBA history — and that’s an improvement over where they were earlier in the season. A big chunk of that is because of the odd decision to give Isaiah Thomas, maybe the least effective defender in NBA history, 925 minutes. Without Thomas on the floor, the Wizards have a defensive rating of 113.8, still terrible but “normal” terrible not historically bad.
- Bradley Beal is very good. He emerged this season as a high-quality offensive weapon who arguably did enough to be third-team All-NBA. His defense was shoddy, especially early in the year, but being left off the All-Star team seemed to motivate him at both ends of the court. Washington’s front office is betting heavy on Beal as they shoot for a one-year reload and a return to the playoffs when Wall returns from his Achilles injury. Beal and Houston Rockets guard James Harden are the only players averaging more than 30 points per game this season. The team plans to be “very protective” of Beal in Orlando, so keeping that 30-points per game average might not be possible?
- Wall isn’t going to play in the restart. A month ago, he said he was 110% healthy. More recently, general manager Tommy Sheppard told the Washington Post, “He (Wall) had to go back — I’m not going to say to square one — but he definitely lost all the basketball gains that he had made.” The team’s top priority with Wall is continuing the rehab and getting him to drop weight to help him retain his pre-injury speed and quickness.
- Davis Bertans won’t play either. Bertans was the feel-good story of the season, capitalizing on career-high playing time to cement his reputation as one of the best shooters on the planet. He’s also a free agent this offseason and set up for the most lucrative contract of his career. It’s a smart decision for him to absent himself from the risk of injury or illness — so smart, he has the support of Sheppard and the Wizards. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with the kind of deal Bojan Bogdanovic got last offseason — four years, $73 million.
- Bertans being sidelined should give head coach Scott Brooks ample playing time to give both Jerome Robinson and Troy Brown a lot of minutes. When Washington acquired Robinson, Brooks got him on the floor by inexplicably reducing Brown’s court time. The team’s rotation for the restart will likely be — PG: Shabazz Napier and Ish Smith; SG: Beal and Robinson; SF: Brown and Garrison Mathews; PF: Rui Hachimura and Bonga; C: Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner.
- The Wizards have a theoretical chance to make the postseason. “We’re going there to try to make the playoffs. That’s 100 percent our goal,” Sheppard said. All they need do is gain two games in the standings on whichever team winds up 8th (either Orlando or Brooklyn). Can they do it? Probably not.
- The Wizards can’t improve their lottery odds. Since there’s no point in tanking, they might as well see if they can claw their way past Orlando. It’s unlikely they’ll accomplish it, but it’s worth the attempt.
- Rui Hachimura has reportedly used the quarantine to work on his shot trajectory and mechanics. He’s had a promising rookie year (other than a painful injury that sideline him for 23 games) and improving his shot could help him take a step forward in the future.
- Thomas Bryant is a quality offensive player with serious defensive deficiencies. He’s an elite finisher around the basket who can also step out and knock down threes at a high rate. While his defensive woes have been overblown, it’s definitely a weak spot in his game. The Wizards will want to see if Bryant has been able to use the quarantine to watch film and improve his knowledge and awareness.
Basketball fans are looking forward to what the NBA is calling “seeding games,” but there’s a very real possibility the games won’t happen. COVID-19 infections are soaring in Florida and around the country, and multiple players have already tested positive for the virus.
While NBA players are likely to have better COVID-19 outcomes than the general public, it’s a serious illness that could have long-term health effects. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, whose positive test shut down the league in March, says he still doesn’t have his normal sense of smell.
With national and state political leaders making poor decisions against the advice of pandemic experts, the NBA may have only a limited ability to keep players safe in the “bubble” environment they’d like to create. They’ve taken care to craft a thoughtful plan, but it’s silent on what happens if multiple players contract the virus.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and league leadership are making the try because of money and history. They want to fulfill obligations to their broadcast partners, and they want to crown a champion. Hopefully those things will happen and fans will get some entertaining basketball. And hopefully, it can happen safely — without needlessly exposing players to a serious illness.