This is Part 1 of a three part series where we will evaluate all the players who played at least 2 full games in the pre-season. Today, we will be looking at the core (Kuzma, Porzingis, and Beal), and evaluating how they did in the pre-season. We will be looking at both the positives, and what they can work on going into the season. Without further ado, let’s get right into it:
Bradley Beal (G):
The franchise cornerstone didn’t really play like the franchise cornerstone in his two preseason games. I can’t entirely blame him though. The first game everyone was off (probably due to the fatigue from travel), including the Golden State Warriors, so I can’t blame him for being off then. For the game against the Knicks, he was just coming back from being sick and was likely just getting back into the flow of things. In the two games he played though, he still showed plenty of encouraging signs, and not surprisingly, plenty of things he could work on for the season too.
One thing Beal did great in the two pre-season games was playing great defense. He got 5 steals in two games! Even from just the eye test, it was clear that Beal was really trying on defense. He was getting low on defense, trying to disrupt the passing lanes, and was just really pesky on defense. If he can do that consistently, it would undoubtedly elevate the team’s defense as a whole. If they see the "leader" really try and dig in on the defensive end, there’s no doubt in my mind that the rest of the team will follow his path. This would be huge for a Wizards team that was terrible on defense last year. Another sign indicating improved defense from Beal was that he only fouled once in two games. This is a significant improvement from last year, when he averaged 2.4 fouls per game.
Another positive thing I saw from Beal was he was rebounding and assisting well, particularly in the second game. In the second game, he dished out 5 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. The Wizards are really going to need this sort of play from Beal. Sure, they have solid facilitators in Wright and Morris, but they aren’t used to being the primary playmaker for extended periods of time. It would definitely help them if Beal picked up some of the playmaking duty. The Wizards also struggled with rebounding during the pre-season, so Beal helping (even just a little) on this end of the floor would go a long way for the team as a whole.
In terms of something Beal needs to work on, it’s something we have been asking of him for 2 years now: working on his three point shooting. He shot 2/10 on three point shots in the two games he played in. A lot of these shots were self created, and not catch and shoot shots, which Beal thrives at. Hopefully, he gets more of these when the team is healthy, and is fully acclimated to each other. However, given that Beal has now struggled with shooting well from deep for a couple of years, maybe Beal needs to go back to the drawing board and see if there is something wrong with him. It certainly can’t hurt doing that, after having a significant three point percentage decline in the last couple of years.
Beal also struggled with keeping the ball. Beal averaged 2 turnovers per game. This was something Beal struggled with last year, particularly in the clutch. Seeing Beal turn the ball over in non-clutch time certainly isn’t a good sign. Let’s hope this is just a pre-season problem, and not an actual issue in the regular season. To his credit though, he is a pretty good ball handler, so I have faith this won’t be a lingering issue.
2. Kristaps Porzingis (F):
KP started slowly, but picked it up in the last two pre-season games he played in. He scored 18 and 20 points in his last two games respectively. There were a lot of positives offensively for KP. For one, his three point shot was really falling. He shot ¾ in one game and 2/4 in another game. This is a good sign, as he only shot 31% from three last year (this is the average of his stints in DAL and WAS). A lot of practice footage showed KP hard at work on his shot over the off-season, so it’s good to see actual results from all that training, even if it is an extremely small sample size. He really only shot poorly in the first preseason game, and I can’t blame him for that, because everyone was performing poorly in that game (probably because of the jet-lag and fatigue from travel). He also did a great job of getting to the line and knocking down his FTs. In the three games that he played, he got to the line 14 times, and only missed once. This is a great sign, because one of the tell-tale signs of whether a shooter is calibrated is if they are hitting their FTs, and KP was doing just that.
On the defensive end, he continued to be a force to be reckoned with. He didn’t quite perform up to his standards, as he only swatted one shot a game, but it’s good to see that he can still block shots at a high level. Another clear sign that he was a positive for the Wizards was the fact that he had a positive +/- in every game that he played in. He was the only Wizard who played significant minutes to have accomplished this feat in the pre-season. Even just from the eye test, it was clear that the Wizards were much better when KP was out on the floor. Even in the games against the Warriors where they lost, the Wizards performed much better offensively and defensively when KP was out there. When he was pulled and the reserves were put in, that’s where the games really went downhill for the Wizards.
Overall, KP had a good preseason, but there are two things that he could work on. The first thing is rebounding. He averaged just over 4 rebounds per game in the 3 games that he played in. This is a significant step down from last season, where he grabbed nearly 9 boards as a Wizard. He definitely needs to go back to doing this, because he is the de facto "primary" rebounder on the defensive end of the floor for the Wizards. As a result of that, he needs to do better than 4 rebounds per game, because that’s just not going to be enough during the regular season, especially if he’s their primary rebounder. The Wizards struggled with rebounding over the course of the pre-season, particularly in the game against the Knicks, so the Wizards really need KP to go back to his rebounding ways. I have faith he can do it, because he consistently has averaged around 9 rebounds a game for the last couple of years. Seeing this, I am willing to call this decline in rebounding a fluke, and nothing worth losing sleep over.
Another thing that KP can work on is being more of a playmaker. This isn’t really a knack against him in preseason in particular, but is something he should really look to add to his game. He’s never averaged more than 3 assists a game in his career. If he can be a secondary facilitator on offense, that would really add a new dimension to this Wizards offense. It would greatly help the offense as a whole, because the entire starting 5 can theoretically shoot at a high level, and so if KP facilitates, the defense would be forced to defend the whole floor rather than just one or two zones. When KP is in the post (high or low) he often ends up getting doubled, or people cheat to help whoever is guarding KP. When that happens, instead of throwing up a shot, he should look to his teammates this season, because all his teammates can hit shots at a high clip, which is something KP didn’t have last year. This would take pressure off of KP, and just open the floor up more for everyone (KP included) to do their thing.
3. Kyle Kuzma (F)
Saying Kyle Kuzma didn’t have a good pre-season would be a massive understatement. For someone who averaged 17.1 points a game and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, he certainly took a huge step down in the pre-season, as he only averaged 9.3 points a game and only grabbed 4 rebounds a game. Part of the reason why his numbers fell off so sharply is because of his atrocious efficiency. He shot a putrid 20% from three, and shot a terrible 33.3% from the field. From all this, it’s clear he definitely needs to work on getting his shot right the next couple of days, because if this is how he performs in the regular season, I don’t think he should even be starting. I am fairly optimistic for Kuz though, because against Charlotte, he did shoot 3-6 from deep, so that streaky shot of his is still there. However, if he wants to do as well as he did last year (given that this is a contract year for him and he needs to show signs of consistency and improvement), he needs to be far more efficient than last year. Being efficient is especially important for Kuz this year, because he’s the third option behind KP and Beal, and so he won’t get as many touches as last year. His touches are going to take a hit, and so he needs to use his touches more effectively (be more efficient) if he wants to put up similar or better numbers to last year. What can help him is taking more efficient shots. Kuzma is 6’11, so he needs to use that to his advantage more. Every chance he has the opportunity to do so, he should look to attack the rim, rather than settling for jump shots.
There was something else that was puzzling for Kuzma: the decline in his rebounding numbers. KP didn’t play the last pre-season game, or the second half of the second to last preseason game, so Kuzma should have filled the void left by KP in that department. He showed us last year that he has the ability to grab rebounds at a high level. However, for some reason, he wasn’t even able to meet his average from last year in the pre-season. He really fell short in that department. I don’t want to hit the panic button, since it is only 2 games, but it’s definitely something I’m going to be monitoring in the early parts of the season.
Another area Kuz needs to work on is cutting down his turnovers. He averaged 2 turnovers per game in the pre-season. That is way too much for someone who isn’t even a primary ball handler. If Kuzma really wants to impact the game with the limited touches he is going to get on offense, for his own sake, he needs to cut down on turnovers. He is already going to get less touches on offense compared to last year, so if he keeps turning it over like this, his touches are going to go down even more. Kuz can’t afford that in a contract year.
Overall, it seemed like Kuz just wasn’t calibrated during the pre-season. He had an average +/- of -11.5, which is significantly worse than the -4.3 last year. However, it wasn’t like Kuz only did bad things during the pre-season. There were some encouraging signs too. He played some great defense during the pre-season. He was really hustling on defense, and got a couple of good quality stops. He even averaged 1 block per game, which is actually better than last year, and a career high for him. Being better on defense isn’t just good for Kuzma (who is showing he really is a two-way forward), but good for the Wizards as a whole, as the Wizards were one of the worst defensive teams in the Association last year. Having an improved Kuzma on defense can really help them become an elite defensive team.
Another good thing I saw from Kuz during the pre-season was that he was knocking down his free throws in the pre-season. He shot 83.3% from the charity stripe. This is a good sign for Kuzma, and gives me hope his shot can come back in the regular season. Usually, it seems that he struggles from the free throw line during the pre-season and the first few games of every season, so seeing him shoot at a high clip gives me hope that maybe that won’t be the case for him this season. Seeing good free throw shooting from Kuz also helps me gain confidence that he can get his shot back. As I said with KP, one of the tell tale signs of a shooter being calibrated is knocking down free throws at a high clip, and Kuz is doing just that, so not all hope is lost for him and his shot coming back.