The Wizards finished their first week of basketball. We got to see them play 4 games thus far, and they have gone 3-1 so far. Not a bad start! There have been some encouraging and some not-so encouraging signs from the Wizards in their first 4 games. Let’s take a look at these signs:
They seem to be a decent defensive team
In 4 games, the Wizards have had one of the best defenses in the league. They sported the 6th best defensive rating in the league. A large part of that improvement has been because they have been great at contesting shots. They were top 7 in FG% allowed in the restricted area, led the league in FG% allowed between 5-9 feet, and were top 5 in FG% allowed between 20-24 feet. They seem to have no problem defending in the paint. That’s not a surprise given their big frontcourt of Avdija, Kuzma, and Porzingis, and having Gafford off the bench to protect the rim. As a matter of fact, the Wizards were top 4 in blocks 4 games into the season. Another bright spot is that Wizards have had very active hands and have done a great job disrupting passing lanes. The Wizards were top 15 in steals per game, and were top 8 in total deflections. A lot of this can be attributed to Delon Wright though. Delon has totally transformed this Wizards defense, and is a big reason why the Wizards have been able to do what they have done defensively. He has the 3rd highest defensive rating in the league at 98.5, and is 3rd in the league in steals per game! The Wizards are certainly going to miss him, as he was without a doubt their best defender, and a big reason behind this defensive transformation. It will be interesting to see how the Wizards do without Delon for an extended period of time on the defensive end of the floor.
They seem to be better three point shooters compared to last year
The Wizards made some moves to get some three point shooters on their team, but obviously, we can’t say that a team got better for sure without looking at tangible results. Well, 4 games in, it’s clear that the Wizards seem to be better shooters from deep compared to last year. They are shooting about 37% from deep, which puts them in the top half of the league. This is much better than last year, where they shot 34.2%, and were 26th in three point shooting percentage. This increase in percentage isn’t just because of one or two people. Five out of eight (excluding Gafford since he doesn’t shoot) rotation players are shooting at least 37.5% from deep (Barton, Avdija, Porzingis, Morris, and Hachimura). It is so important to have multiple people out there that can hit shots at a high level, so that the opposing defense really has to cover everyone, and can’t just sag off of someone and pressure only the stars. While the Wizards have gotten better in this category, it’s not a big feature of their offense. They only average about 30 attempts a game from deep, which puts them at 26th in the league. The vast majority of their points will come from inside the paint. Only about a third of their points will come from behind the long line. This is okay, as long as they are able to convert at a high level from inside the paint, which they have been able to do so far thanks to their exceptional paint scorers (Beal, Porzingis, and Kuzma).
They seem to have trouble executing late game
Enough of the good things, let’s talk about something they can improve on. They have had issues executing late game. That is peculiar, as the Wizards were one of the best clutch teams last year. In all but one of their first four games, they have had trouble executing offensive sets. In the game against Indiana to open up the season, they had a double digit lead with just four or so minutes left on the clock. They let Indiana storm back into the game, and Indiana even had a chance to tie it with a Haliburton three, but the Wizards dodged a bullet as that three rimmed out. Against Chicago, they had a 15 point lead in the third quarter, but they let Chicago come all the way back, and DeMar could have won it again at the buzzer, but that three rimmed out this time. Against Cleveland, they actually did the storming back, and forced overtime, but their offense totally faltered in OT, and Donovan Mitchell willed the Cavs to an OT victory. What’s been abundantly clear though, is that this team has problems holding onto leads, and has had trouble executing on offense in particular during the clutch. The Wizards seem to be trying to get into their sets and run a complicated play, and then because of the pressure during clutch-time, and because of the lack of familiarity between the players, bad passes and bad shots are being taken. There is a formula for the Wizards though, that worked: isolation plays. Usually isolation plays are bad, and the Wizards have done a good job distributing the ball and playing selflessly. However, when an offense is faltering for whatever reason, it’s not a bad idea to put the ball in the hands of the star, and let the star settle things down for a bit and put some points on the board. The Wizards did just that against Chicago, and that worked splendidly for them, as Beal put the team on his back and scored the last couple of buckets (including the go-ahead shot) to pull the Wizards to victory. The Wizards could look to do this more, especially since they have the stars who are capable of delivering in Beal, Kuzma, and Porzingis. After all, it is the responsibility of the stars to deliver in clutch time. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.
They are a deep team
Unlike the Wizards of yesteryear, this team is very deep. They have 9 quality players who would get playing time on other "competitive" teams. It’s not just that they have good quality players, who fulfill all the different requirements that a competitive team needs. Their talent isn’t focused in just one area. They have good shooters in Barton, KP, Rui, and Morris. They have athletic lob threats in Kuzma, KP, and Gafford. They have exceptional paint scorers in Beal, Kuzma, KP, and Gafford. They have playmakers in Morris, Beal, Wright, and Barton. They have defenders in Deni, Delon and Beal. They have at least three or four players in each category, and that has really helped them. They haven't had to put all the offensive or defensive responsibility on one or two players, which is what they have had to do in the past. There are two big surprises for me from the categories above. On the offensive side, it’s Barton being a distributor. Barton has shown that he can score with the best of them off the bench (which is expected), but he has also shown that he is a good playmaker. He has been particularly good at finding Gafford and throwing him lobs or dumping off to him in the paint. The two man game they are running is working, and is terrorizing opposing bench defenses. Many teams just don’t have the talent off the bench to stop a Barton and Gafford Pick and Roll. They should without a doubt go to it more, and I think Wes Unseld Jr has recognized that and is calling that two man action more and more. Hopefully, they make it a staple of their bench offense. On the defensive end, the biggest surprise for me has been Beal. Beal has been labeled a terrible defender on the defensive end in the last couple of years. This year, he has flipped the script. He is getting steals, he is getting chasedown blocks, but most importantly, he is giving effort on this end of the floor. He is getting low, has active hands, is trying to disrupt the passing lanes, and is overall just being a pest on defense. I did not expect him to put this much effort and be this good on the defensive end of the floor.
Their core seems like a formidable one
On any given night so far, at least one of their big three (Kuzma, KP, and Beal) has played at an all-star level. Most nights, it has been Kuzma. He is actually the team’s leading scorer through 4 games. That does come somewhat as a surprise to me, as I didn’t expect that he could carry over his scoring from last year, as he went from being a first option to a third option. Kuzma has been able to do this as not only is he being a more efficient shooter, he’s taking better shots, as he’s getting to the paint whenever he can and is using his big frame to his advantage once he’s there and converting at a high level. There are not many small forwards who can guard a 6 '11 player like Kuzma once he’s in the paint, which could explain why Kuzma has been able to score so easily. The core has done a good job scoring the ball. Kuz is averaging 21 points a game, Beal is averaging 20.5 points, and KP is averaging 17 points a game. If they can put up 70 points, they’re going to give themselves a good shot at winning every night. As the season progresses, we will get a better idea of what the scoring output actually is, but the early returns have been encouraging. The starting lineup of the Wizards ranks 9th in points scored among lineups that have played at least 4 games. That shows how effective this lineup has been at putting the ball in the hoop. Let’s hope it continues as the season goes on. Even just from the eye test, it’s clear that teams are having a hard time guarding all the two man actions that are being run between the "big three". In particular, it seems that the KP and Beal action is giving team fits. I think it should be a staple of their offense, and something the Wizards go to really often. The Wizards seem to have this tendency to not keep doing what is working for some reason. I’m not sure why they do that, but it is what it is.
It is only four games, so I can’t say that this team is a contender or a lottery team yet. However, the early returns on this team have been promising, and have given fans a reason to be optimistic. I will say though, that the same thing happened last year, as they started off really well, and then totally cratered. As a result of that being fresh in every Wizards’ fan mind, I won’t judge you if you are hesitant to say something at this point in time about the team. They do have a good test coming up, as their next 5 games will be tough. They will be up against a Pacers team who will be seeking revenge, and will have a healthy Myles Turner. After that, the going gets tougher as they play Boston, Philly (twice for some reason), and Brooklyn. If they can get out of this stretch with a winning record, it certainly would be an encouraging sign, as it would show that this team can hang with the best of them.