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October Mailbag Part 1: How the Wizards can get past the treadmill of mediocrity, setting rotations, more

Here is the first part of our mailbag!

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks
Kyle Kuzma will be part of a crowded Wizards rotation this upcoming season.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Thanks for submitting your questions for this month’s mailbag! Here are the responses to selected questions which I have broken up into three parts, just so we don’t have one post of 10,000 words!

How do the Wizards expect to have consistent playing time for 11-13 players? At what point does a quality GM thin the roster by a couple of players for future assets? (CityOfOaks)

Matt Modderno: They don’t expect to have consistent playing time for that many players. They’ll get down to like ten but other players will probably end up in the mix as well at times. Between a possible minutes restriction for Dinwiddie and potential COVID-issues, having depth is more important than ever.

Osman Baig: I don’t think the plan is to have a 13 man rotation. There will be injuries, Covid issues, and competition along the way. It probably makes sense to see what they have in real time before making their next move to fill any potential weaknesses.

John Morrow: They can’t expect to have playing time for anything over 10 players and even that is pushing it. I see seven players who are pretty much guaranteed to be in the rotation: the starting five, Rui or Kuzma (whoever doesn’t start), and Harrell. Then, four players who likely will be getting minutes on a more-regular-than-not basis: Deni, Bertans, Neto, and Holiday. It’ll be matchup dependent with those four, and then it’ll get even muddier when Bryant returns.

What we should expect is that there will be injuries, whether major or minor, and some type of move to really go for it or to consolidate towards the trade deadline.

John Heiser: How quickly things change. We’ve fielded a talent shallow roster for two seasons and now the GM isn’t quality unless he gets rid of depth. We’re going to need 11-13 guys to make it through a full 82. One goal of a GM is to build a roster that can withstand some players being out for stretches. Just last season Brad missed 12 games. Rui missed 15. Bertans missed 15. Avdija missed 18. Now we can withstand those without a big drop off. The Wiz have setup a roster that requires competition and winning minutes. Thats a great thing.

Walk through it with me. Bryant isn’t going to play until December. Todd is penciled in for the Go Go as are Winston and Ayayi. Gill is an “in case of emergency” forward. Neto and Holiday are scrapping for the same reserve minutes. Rui is still in ramp up mode. Dinwiddie, Beal, Gafford, KCP, Kuzma, and Harrell will get the lion share of minutes. The other 3 expected rotation guys all have mitigating circumstances, Bertans (lingering calf), Deni (getting his wind) and Kispert (rookie). No doubt the reserves will want more minutes than they get early on but its a long grueling season with injuries and ailments that make a deep roster a necessity.

Renzo Salao: I’d anticipate us to be shuffling our lineup throughout the first handful of games to get a feel for what works. Expect some of the guys further down the rotation to get 15-20 minutes one game, then sit for most of another.

Unless things go horribly wrong to start the season, I’d be surprised if we made any significant moves until the trade deadline. Having more time to evaluate what we have with this roster feels more important than trading one of our bench guys for a 2nd rounder a month or two early.

The NBA G League has really innovated its format with a “Showcase Cup” and 36-game 2021-22 regular season. The first game is on November 5, only three weeks from today, but their site says “Roster Coming Soon” - Which players other than Cassius Winston (who is the only Wizard currently on a two-way contract) are going to be on the Go-Go roster? (CDKA)

Albert: Since this question was submitted to us, Joel Ayayi was also signed to a two-way contract.

Osman: I’m personally excited to see Isaiah Todd, Kyree Walker, and the newly acquired Joel Ayayi get playing time with the Go-Go. Kyree is especially interesting since he’s kind of fallen off the grid.

Modderno: Kyree Walker will be on the Go-Go for sure. I would expect to see Isaiah Todd get the majority of his minutes with the Go-Go as well. Beyond that, Jordan Goodwin, Jay Huff, and Jordan Schakel all seem like reasonable bets to end up on the roster. Maybe another team favorite like Jordan Bell makes a repeat appearance too.

Can Deni Avdija be a playmaker off the bench and get back to his roots? (BeautifulLakes)

Yanir Rubinstein: YES. Besides, it’s not a bad idea to have several playmakers on the floor.

Morrow: I think he can be a playmaker, as a secondary option. I don’t see him as a primary creator initiating offense from the top of the key. If he’s catching the ball on the move and/or in the mid-post, I see him making the right plays consistently and providing value. But, he isn’t going to be beating average perimeter defenders off of the dribble in the NBA without assistance. The early signs are encouraging as he isn’t as confined to catch and shoot touches.

Marcus Atkinson: I think that is something we would all like to see. I think the biggest issues holding Deni back has been playing next to ball dominant guards and needing to develop his skills. The latter is more problematic in my opinion. He has playmaking ability but he has too poor of ball handling skills to be a primary playmaker. I think he needs to continue to get stronger at going to his left and he needs to develop a better offensive skill set attacking off the dribble.

Until this happens ,I believe the team can leverage his skills by having run the offense through him in the half court at times, where he doesn’t have to deal with ball pressure and his lack of handles isn’t exposed as much. I think having him come off the bench is a great start for him, but he must keep working at his game and I have no doubt that he will.

Renzo: The prospect of Deni developing pick and roll chemistry with Montrezl Harrell for our bench lineup has me salivating. He’d have to establish himself more as a threat to score, but count me in the camp that wants to see ball-handler Deni Avdija get some more run.

Heiser: He’s more likely to make the next best pass than take the shot. He’d still rather be the swing passer or hockey assist guy than the shot maker. The rubber will meet the road when teams takeaway those passing lanes and force him to be a scorer. He has to do both to be the guy Tommy drafted him to be.

Albert: It is nice to see Avdija get back to playing toward his strengths. But we can’t have too much hot potato either. Case in point? The Washington Mystics from 2014-16 when they had multiple playmakers but players were playing too much hot potato instead of a single player taking it upon herself to make buckets. Yeah, we’re looking at you Emma Meesseman

This isn’t to say that multiple playmakers on a lineup are bad. It’s just that players also need to take the shot willingly when they’re open. The Mystics, and Meesseman specifically didn’t do that enough in her early years. The Wizards’ younger players shouldn’t be as hesitant either. (This is the last WNBA-related comment I’ll make on a Wizards question and I rest my case.)

Modderno: Makes more sense than shoving him in the corner and asking him to play like a 3&D wing.

Osman: I think he can be but there are some glaring flaws he’ll need to address to do so. He has to be able to use both hands dribbling, shoot the ball more efficiently, and be a threat going to the basket (and getting to the FT line) if he’s going to playmake, otherwise why would the defense play up on him? I think he’s a better prospect than Troy Brown but similarly to Troy, you have to give the defense a reason to defend you to really be a playmaker imo.

The Wizards are not bad enough to get a Top-5 pick in the draft but also aren’t good enough to attract top free agents. Are they going to be good enough, short term, to keep Bradley Beal? Given all this, what is the path, thinking a few years down the road, of attracting the top talent to contend? (EdDC)

Renzo: I used to firmly be in the camp of blowing things up unless the team really has a chance to contend. Staying on the treadmill of mediocrity felt like a march to nowhere in particular. However, we’ve seen some savvy retooling from middling clubs garner success as of late.

The Phoenix Suns went from the 10th seed in 2019-20 to adding Chris Paul and being up 2-0 in the NBA Finals a year later. Before that, the Los Angeles Clippers turned an 8th seed into a team that now looks like a perennial contender in the West. This season, the Chicago Bulls are already being talked about as a dark horse threat in the East despite the fact that they seemed to be in an identical situation as us in years past, complete with All-Star shooting guard rumored to be on the way out.

With Beal under contract and a handful of tradeable assets and young pieces, an opportunity that we may not be expecting could very well present itself in the future. If we play well, our viability as a destination goes up and so does the trade value of our players.

Marcus: The team seems to be gambling with the idea that they can keep Beal and he along with the rest of their roster will attract someone, but just as you stated, what if Beal doesn’t want to stay. The best case scenario for the path they want to go would be to get Beal to sign an extension (more than likely that would take place after this season where he is eligible for a super max extension) and then they can acquire another star player to play with him and presumably deep roster. That is likely what they are banking on.

I think the only way this path would yield contention is if this team would somehow be able to get another player who is slightly above Beal, perhaps a top-15 type of player. That is easier said than done though.

Osman: This has been a question for years. I’m not sure what the answer is to get a start if its not through the draft. Hypothetically I’d guess they’d have to overachieve (50 wins?), gain national attention, and Beal would have to recruit. That’s a tall task.

Modderno: Larry Hughes and I had Jared Jeffries on the Bleav in Wizards podcast last year and they were both unable to really peg why Washington isn’t more of a free agent destination. The more socially conscious we become as a society and players specifically become, I thought that might make being the Nation’s Capital an advantage. I think just sustainability as a reasonably competitive franchise is a good starting point. Which is partly why I think they’re willing to kick the tires on a Beal-led team and limp into the playoffs multiple years in a row.

The Wizards’ preseason lineups are inconsistent. When the regular season starts, who do you predict will start and be the primary reserves? (SkullDog)

Modderno: Glad to see that they’re tinkering and experimenting. I would expect the lineup to start the season to be Dinwiddie, Beal, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, and Gafford. Once Hachimura gets his sea legs he probably ends up taking Kuzma’s place in the lineup.

Albert: That sounds good on the surface Matt, but they didn’t win a single game in the preseason, regardless of the circumstances or lineup tinkering. Sure, these games don’t count, but I’m bracing for another slow start by Washington.

Renzo: The only real contention appears to be at the power forward spot. I honestly don’t expect Rui Hachimura to simply return as the starting 4 over Kyle Kuzma once he’s up to speed. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. has had Kuz for the entire duration of training camp and preseason. This role will be Kuzma’s to lose, IMO.

What are the changes you notice, subtle and glaring, between the prior offensive and defensive schemes? Who do you think might emerge or be exposed under Wes Unseld, Jr. and these new schemes? (OK Now)

Morrow: Offensively, I agree there seems to be more ball movement and a move toward an egalitarian approach. It also seems like Bertans is not being schemed nearly to the extent he was under Brooks; I’m not sure his volume will be as high as it was in prior years. Defensively, the biggest change is how ball screens are defended. Throughout Brooks’ entire run, there was an acceptance and seemingly a push to switch ball screens. It seems now that Unseld has prioritized stopping penetration and fighting through picks while pushing accountability on defending your own man first and foremost.

I am quite happy to see these changes and am optimistic that it’ll help the team win more games. But, as you say, some players are going to be exposed. Caldwell-Pope will likely guard the primary creator if it’s a guard or wing. I’m concerned about the next best player on the perimeter. I’m skeptical that Dinwiddie can fight through screens and keep up with the quickest point guards and while I see this scheme change helping Beal, he hasn’t given the attention necessary to being a good defender since 2017.

I’m also a little concerned about the biggest centers and post options. Gafford is a sensational rim protector from the backside but how is his post defense and strength? He is slightly undersized for a center and has a propensity to foul. Harrell is even smaller and we’ve seen Bryant struggle against size too.

Renzo: I wouldn’t put too much stock in how we’ve been using Beal thus far. The preseason is often about trying to test out if certain schemes, plays, or lineups work. One thing we no longer needed to test was how well Bradley Beal can put the ball in the basket. I’m still taking the over on 30 points and 20 shots per night for Big Panda.

Osman: The biggest change I’ve noticed is movement and less early shot clock no pass possessions. That said, until we see this happen in the regular season when Wins and Losses matter, we won’t know if its going to stick. That’s the test – will players revert to bad habits when things get tough?

In the second part of our mailbag which will be out this afternoon, we will focus just on questions primarily on Bradley Beal.