This is Part 3 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 other role players on the team, 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:
Rui Hachimura (F):
All things considered, Rui had a decent pre-season. He gave the Wizards faithful reason to be optimistic for him this season with his play in the pre-season. While he did a lot of great things, there is one big thing that Rui left to be desired: his three point shooting. After shooting nearly 45% from behind the arc last season, he shot just 14.3% from three during the pre-season! There are a couple of things puzzling about this large drop in accuracy. Firstly, someone who shoots 45% for a season doesn’t just drop to 14.3% out of the blue. It’s fair to assume that he won’t be shooting like this for a whole season, and he just had a bad stretch of games. Someone who showed that they can be that good from three for 40 games, doesn’t just forget how to shoot the ball. What’s a little concerning though, is that he’s taking much of the same shots that he did last season. He’s taking wide open shots and has time to take the shot, but he’s just missing. I don’t want to rush to conclusions yet, but it certainly is somewhat worrying to see such a large drop from someone who shot so well from deep last year. I do have faith though that he can work on his shot, and at least get to league average, given how well he shot last season from behind the long line.
That aside, Rui played really well in the preseason. I saw a lot of great things from Rui. One thing I really liked is that he was really utilizing his 6’8 frame to his advantage. Rui took the ball to the hoop every single time that he could. As a matter of fact, 45% of his shots came from this area of the floor. He didn’t just take a lot of his shots from here, he converted at a high level too. He shot above 75% from the paint! What I saw a lot from Rui this pre-season that I really liked is that he would get the ball in transition, and would be set on attacking the rim. He seemed determined to get there, and with his big frame, speed, and strength, it almost seemed a little Giannis-esque. I would love for Rui to continue to do this, because he is finishing these plays at a high level, and it would force the opposing team to have to worry about transition defense, which is something teams haven’t had to worry about with the Wizards as they are near the bottom of the league when it comes to pace.
Another good thing that I saw from Rui is that it seems his mid-range shot is back. He’s going back to taking the shots that he was so good at in his first 2 years in the league, and he’s knocking them down at a high level. If Rui can at least shoot average from three, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with, because then he would be really able to score at all three levels at a high level, and with his shredded 6’8 frame, he would be a nightmare for opposing defenders.
Daniel Gafford (C):
Daniel Gafford did not have a good pre-season. His raw production numbers took a huge hit. He only averaged 7.3 points a game in the pre-season. However, the blame can’t be put squarely on Gafford. Most of Gafford’s points were from dump offs in the paint and from clean up work. The Wizards weren’t actually running pick and rolls and two man actions with him. I think I saw the team lob to him maybe once or twice in all of pre-season. That is absolutely unacceptable. When a team has a lob threat like Gafford, they have to use him, because these guys are really a premium in today’s league, and are so effective if used right. It’s unfortunate that even though the Wizards have Gafford, they are deciding to underutilize him. I hope that in the regular season, the Wizards really start using him more, and featuring him more, especially since he’s coming off the bench. I’m not going to say there aren’t things Gafford couldn’t have done better though.
Gafford needs to work on being a better rebounder. This is something that goes back to when he first got here at the trade deadline in 2021. He has always been an average, if not below average, rebounder for someone his height. He only grabbed 5.3 rebounds this pre-season. The Wizards were one of the worst teams rebounding the ball this pre-season, so they certainly could have used Gafford being a better rebounder. The game against the Knicks comes to mind, where the Wizards were absolutely destroyed on the boards by the Knicks, and Robinson absolutely manhandled Gafford in that department. Gafford certainly needs to be better, and this is a facet of his game that has lagged behind for a while now. I hope that he can work on this and grab at least 7 rebounds a game. Kuzma, who is the same height, grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game last season, so I have hope that Gafford can at least grab 7 or 8 rebounds a game being the center and primary rebounder off the bench.
Gafford also needs to work on fouling. This has been an old foe for Gafford, and it looks like it has continued to persist for him. He just fouls too much, and a lot of them are bad fouls too. The coaching staff should have been working with him on this the whole summer, because this might be the single most important thing for Gafford this year. However, I have seen virtually no improvement from Gafford in this department. I hope the coaching staff can work with him, so that this becomes less of a problem for him. If he can be available, he will also get a lot more touches, which consequently means his raw production numbers will also go up. Taking the next step for Gafford is consistently producing like 12-8 every single night. For him to do that, he needs to stay on the floor for at least 15-20 minutes, but he can’t do that if he keeps getting into foul trouble.
The last thing Gafford needs to work on is cutting down his turnovers. I saw Gafford start to force things this pre-season. Part of that could just be because he’s not getting enough touches, so when he is getting touches, he’s trying to score as much as possible, so I can’t blame him for that. Regardless of how many touches he is getting though, 2 turnovers a game is just far too much for someone who isn’t a ball handler. Gafford hasn’t had this problem in the past, so I don’t think this is something that will plague him, but it’s definitely something he should work on, whether that means working on passing out of pressure or working on going up stronger.
While Gaff showed a lot of things that he could work on, he also showed a couple of good things in pre-season. For one, he still showed that he was still one of the premier shot blockers in the league. He averaged 1.8 blocks per game, and even had a game where he had 5 blocks. A reinvigorated rim protecting Gafford is something the Wizards could definitely use, as they struggled on defense last year. He also showed that he is still one of the very best in finishing in the paint, as he converted 70.6% of his shots from this area of the floor.
Gaff didn’t have the best pre-season, but he did have his moments like in the game against the Knicks defensively, where he reminded the Wizards faithful why he was extended. If he can clean up his fouling, and he gets more touches (this is on the coaching staff), there is no question that his raw production go up, because he has all the tools to produce at a high level.
Johnny Davis (G):
Johnny Davis has probably been the most polarizing player on the roster in the pre-season. Half the fan base is already labeling him a bust, and the other half is willing to be patient for a little while, but doesn’t have high hopes for him. I don’t have a strong opinion about Davis, but his pre-season certainly didn’t do anything to help those who are optimistic in the kid.
For starters, it seems like the kid just can’t make a shot. He was 2/21 (0-6 from three) across 4 games in the pre-season! The problem here is that it’s not like he’s not taking bad shots. Most of the shots that he is taking are open shots in the mid range, which by the way, are shots that he also took in college and thrived at. These are good shots, but shots that he’s unable to make for some reason. I want to say part of it might just be nerves, and it might just take him time to adjust to the speed of the game at the NBA level, but shooting 2-21 is unusually bad. Even if someone is having trouble adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, you would expect to see something like scoring from cuts or clean up work or something, but there’s just no scoring from Johnny at all. He has a good shot too, because in pre-season he shot 6-6 from the charity stripe. While it’s a small sample size, shooting well from the free throw line is usually indicative of a decent shot. I don’t have an explanation for why he was 2-21, so this certainly is concerning, but I also do think that we need to wait and see him play his first 10 games in the NBA before jumping to conclusions. He might have just had a bad stretch of games offensively. With the travel to Japan and the quick turnaround time back in the US, that could have really taken a toll on the rookie. There could be a million explanations for why he is performing the way he is, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions just yet about his game, and I want to wait and see more from him.
It wasn’t all bad for Davis though. I want to give credit where credit is due, and his defense has been as advertised. He has been great at fighting over screens, chasing defenders, and contesting shots. He even had a game where he had 3 steals! This is certainly a welcome sign for a Wizards team that struggled with defense last year.
On top of playing excellent defense, Davis also seemed to be a decent rebounder. He got at least 5 rebounds in two out of the four pre-season games. It’s certainly a good sign to see that even if he can’t score, he’s trying to contribute in other ways to the ball game.
He also was tasked with being the primary ball handler for extended periods of time off the bench (primarily in Japan), and he did well in this role. He only committed three turnovers in 4 games. He seemed to be making the right passes, and seemed fairly serviceable in a position that he has never been in before.
The biggest thing that Davis impressed me with was his overall composure. Things didn’t go his way this pre-season, and the coach was throwing all sorts of things at him, but he didn’t seem to flinch. He seemed very composed, and even when he was subbed out, he didn’t show any negative emotion. He just sat down and just seemed to be taking everything in. It’s a very mature thing to do, and it’s very impressive, given how not according to plan his pre-season went. Usually, players would be irate or frustrated, and it would show on their faces and in their body language. Davis seemed very composed, and that’s a good thing. Staying composed when things aren’t going your way is a great trait to have and can take people a long way in this league.
Taj Gibson (C):
The 13 year old veteran was brought in primarily to be a locker room presence and be a mentor to some of the younger players, but in the pre-season, he showed that he still had some game in him. He seemed to have a decent three point shot, as he shot 3-8 from three in the 3 games that he played in the pre-season. His shot looks really natural and fluid for a big man, so it’s clear that this is something he works on. It certainly makes sense for Taj to want to take more threes at this age, as I’m sure at 37 years of age, he would prefer to not go to war in the paint with other centers.
On top of stroking it from deep, Gibson also showed that he could set great screens. Hopefully, Taj can provide some guidance to Gafford on how to set good legal screens, because this is something that Gafford has been struggling with for quite some time now.
The best thing I saw from Taj was that he was hustling out there. When he was out on the floor, he was really hustling, and giving it his best effort. As a 13 year old veteran, he could have just taken it easy, but he wasn’t giving up on plays, he was sacrificing his body, and was making great plays. It’s something that the whole team can hopefully take from Taj.
I know Taj isn’t going to be an integral part of the rotation, but there are two things that he could improve on. He did only grab 5 rebounds in nearly 45 minutes of play, which is quite low for a center. I’m not asking him to grab 10 rebounds a game, but doing what he did in New York the last couple of seasons could go a long way for this Wizards team that struggled with rebounding last year, and in the preseason this year.
Taj also did not finish inside the three point line at a high level. He only finished 42.9% of his shots in this area, which is astonishingly low for a center. I know that he is 37, and is probably past the age where he will be going to war with other centers in the paint, and he probably won’t be uber-effective in the paint anymore, but he’s got to be at least at average efficiency from the paint. Especially, since he’s going to be setting a lot of screens, and it’s likely he will find the ball either through PnR sets or through cleaning up off of misses. While him not improving his efficiency won’t make or break the Wizards, they could certainly use a more efficient Taj Gibson.
Anthony Gill (F):
Gill had a decent pre-season. Unlike most of his teammates, he actually shot well from three during the pre-season, even if it was on limited attempts.
Also in classic Gill fashion, he was out there hustling and giving it his all every second he was out on the floor. It was for that reason, he was one of the few players on the roster that had a positive +/- for all of pre-season. His defense was fairly decent too, as he didn’t foul that much, and was doing a great job contesting shots.
In terms of things he can work on, he can certainly work on grabbing more rebounds. This seems to be a theme with all the Wizards bigs for some reason. He only grabbed 2.5 rebounds during the preseason, and since he’s primarily deployed in the 4-5 position (people who are usually tasked with getting rebounds for the team), he needs to grab more rebounds. Especially since this team is struggling in the rebounding department.
Another thing I want to see more of from Gill, is that he needs to attack the rim more. He is built a little like Rui, and is fairly quick and muscular. He needs to use that to his advantage more and get to the hoop as much as possible. By doing that, it can unlock a new dimension to his game, and open the floor up more for everyone else (when he drives, the defense collapses and creates space).
Overall, not a terrible pre-season for Gill. Hopefully, he can make the improvements listed here, because the Wizards are going to need him to take on a much larger role with the injury to Kispert in the first couple of weeks of the season.