This is Part 2 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 some of the key role players, 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:
Monte Morris (G):
Monte Morris was tasked with being the starting PG for the Wizards during the pre-season. He didn’t have the best pre-season, but he did show some good signs. In terms of something he can work on, the biggest thing is probably working on getting his shot back. He shot a putrid 13.3% from three! This is after shooting 39.5% from three last year. His mid range shooting numbers also plummeted to a feverish 34.2%. Why have his percentages plummeted so much? I have a theory.
Morris was fortunate to play alongside one of the best playmakers in the league, Nikola Jokic. As a result of that, a lot of the shots he took were catch and shoot shots, opposed to self-created shots (as Jokic created for him), which are what he is taking now in the pre-season. Morris should go back to primarily taking catch and shoot shots, when he can. The Wizards might not have Jokic, but they have a decent playmaker in Bradley Beal. Beal has the tendency to drive into the paint and look for shooters once he’s there. If Morris can get open, he can go back to taking the shots that he thrives at.
Aside from bad shooting, I didn’t really have a problem with how Monte played in preseason. Sure, he didn’t put up big numbers, but he wasn’t brought here to do that. He was brought here to play good defense, provide stability at the point guard position, and be a good playmaker for a team that hasn’t had one since Russell Westbrook was traded in 2021. In the pre-season, he certainly showed that he could do just that. He averaged 4.8 assists per game, and averaged 1.5 steals a game. This was in limited minutes too, so this is certainly an encouraging sign. If he can keep playing like this, and he is able to at least hit his average shooting numbers for his career, he will be huge for this Wizards team. Beal could surely use someone like Monte who can help shoulder some of the playmaking responsibility on offense. Additionally, Beal really needs someone who can playmake for him and find him open on catch and shoot three point opportunities, because those are the shots that he thrives at, and he had no one who did that for him last year, which is part of the reason why his scoring and shooting numbers fell off so drastically last season. He had to create for himself, which is not ideal. Hopefully, Monte can find Beal open on the three point line a couple of times a game, and that gets Beal back to being at least a decent shooter. The Wizards can also obviously use Monte’s defense (if he plays like he did in the preseason), as they were one of the worst defensive teams last year. Overall, Monte showed some great things this pre-season, and if he’s able to continue doing those things in the regular season, and fix his shooting, he will be a much needed addition for this Wizards team.
Will Barton (F):
Will "The Thrill" Barton came over from Denver with the reputation of being a three point sniper. After all, he holds the Nuggets record for most three point field goals made in franchise history. While he wasn’t shooting particularly well from three in the pre-season, he did have one game where he showed the Wizards faithful that he can get hot really quickly, and light it up from deep. This is certainly an encouraging sign, as nearly every player struggled shooting from deep during the preseason. If he can be more consistent and do what he did last season from the three point line, that would be huge for the Wizards, who ranked at the bottom of the league in three pointers made per game.
As the main scorer of the bench unit, he is going to have a pretty heavy workload on him, but it’s nothing he can’t take as he had a similar workload on him as a starter on the Nuggets. However, because he’s the main scorer off the bench, I don’t want him to start taking all these isolation shots. He, like a lot of the other shooters on this roster, thrives at catch and shoot three point opportunities, and he should look to take those as much as possible rather than looking to iso and score in the mid range. I’m not saying he shouldn’t do this at all, but he has a good playmaker in Delon Wright who will find him, so I’m saying he should be patient and really pick and choose his spots rather than chucking shots up because he knows he’s "the guy" off the bench.
I saw two good things from Barton during the pre-season. The first thing was that he seems to have the potential of being a secondary playmaker, primarily for Gafford. I saw Will find Gaff under the basket on a beautiful dime in the game against the Knicks. I can’t say I’m surprised by this, because Will did say in the off-season that he was really excited to play alongside an athletic big like Gafford, and was excited to have the opportunity to throw lobs up to him. If Will keeps this mentality of trying to find and feed Gafford, it will be huge for the bench offense, because right now, no one is looking at Gafford. Gafford is getting points mostly off of dump offs in the paint, and off of the dirty work. If he actually starts finding Gaff more often, and they get a bit of a two-man game going, it will add an entirely new dimension to the bench offense and open the floor up so much for everyone else. He showed us a bit of this in pre-season, so I am definitely encouraged and excited to see more of this, and hope that this is something he looks for and works on.
He has had a bad reputation on defense in the last couple of seasons, but in the pre-season, he played decent defense. It wasn’t stellar defense, but he showed he was definitely serviceable on that end of the floor. Again, something a Wizards team that struggled with defense last year could certainly use.
Overall, it was a decent pre-season for Will. Again, the biggest thing I want to see from him is more consistency, particularly when it comes to his shooting. The Wizards cannot have him be "on" and "off" whenever. They need him "on'' every single night, because he is their sixth man, and will be tasked with putting up the most points off the bench. If he can consistently be "on", and do the good things he did in the pre-season (playmake and play defense), he won’t just meet the expectations that the team has for him, he’ll exceed them.
Without a doubt, Delon Wright impressed me the most out of everyone this pre-season. I am surprised the Wizards got him, given how key he would be on a championship contending team. I have heard about Delon’s defense, but I had no clue he was this good. He averaged 1.8 blocks per game in the, and averaged 1.3 steals per game this pre-season! If sustained over a whole season, this would without a doubt, put him on one of the all-defensive teams. Wright’s impact can be seen clearly in the team’s improvement in the defensive rankings. Last year, the Wizards were bottom 6 in defensive rankings. In the pre-season, they ranked 13th, and Delon Wright played a pivotal role in that improvement. On top of being a total pest on the defensive end, Wright also showed that he has a nice stroke from deep. He shot 44% from three and took 4 attempts a game! Again, this is something the Wizards could certainly use, as they struggled mightily from behind the arc last year. If he continues playing like this, there may be a legitimate argument for Delon Wright starting. There is another stat that will likely help his candidacy for the starting role. In the pre-season, he had the highest average +/- out of everyone on the team, which goes to show just how well he performed.
While Delon had an amazing pre-season, there is one thing that I want to see more of from him: connecting with Gafford. Gafford was really underutilized in the pre-season and really struggled. I can’t really blame him though, because no one was feeding Gafford at all. It just seemed like he would set screens, and people would just forget about him rolling. Wright in particular, barely found Gafford at all in the preseason. Those two should constantly be running pick and rolls, and getting into two man actions, but that didn’t happen at all in the preseason. Wright shouldn’t look for Gafford just for the purpose of feeding Gafford, but because running this two man action more will help him get easier shots, but more importantly, it will also open the floor up (due to the defense collapsing, which is common during PnRs) for everyone else on the floor. I have hope that Wright can establish this connection with Gafford. He played alongside a similar big in Onyeka Okongwu, and was put in a similar role as I am describing, so it shouldn’t be too hard for him to continue to do that. Aside from this one thing, which is a personal knack more than anything, if he keeps playing like he did in the pre-season, he will be a total steal for the Wizards.