Last night, the Washington Wizards lost to the Brooklyn Nets, 112-100. The Wizards kept it close at the beginning, but once the Nets began pulling away at the end of the second quarter, they never looked back.
Grim as things may seem, it is important to focus on the positives as well as the negatives; sports are meant to be enjoyed, after all. In this article, I’ll look at some of the takeaways — positive and negative — from last night about the team as a whole before going into some takeaways about specific players.
The team as a whole
Negative: Who is the fourth best player on the Wizards?
The Wizards quietly have one of the better groups of top-three players in the NBA. Even though Bradley Beal (who, say what you will, is a recent All Star) was out last night, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma have proven night in and night out that they can step up to the moment. Each had 20 points last night. The problems are with the rest of the roster, as after Beal, Kuzma and Porzingis, the depth chart starts to look a little bit shaky.
The Wizards’ fourth-best player is likely one of Monte Morris or Deni Avdija, but that is not a great place to be for a team trying to compete. Morris is a fine starter, but he is a defensive liability and would be much better as a backup point guard for a contending team, similar to how the Memphis Grizzlies utilize Tyus Jones. That was how Denver utilized Morris effectively, but the Wizards simply do not have anyone better to take his place.
Avdija is a great defensive player, but he has two major weaknesses. He fouls too much, and, more importantly, he is an offensive liability. Avdija is averaging just 7.7 points per game on 27% shooting from three and 41% from the field overall; unless your fourth-best player’s name is Ben Wallace, that is simply unacceptable.
Positive: Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert still have so much room to grow.
I just harped on Avdija for his subpar offense, but I truly believe there is a good offensive player within him. As frustrating as it may be for fans, he just needs more reps. Read what Bleacher Report’s scouting report said of Avdija ahead of the 2020 draft: “Given where Avdija’s game is currently at, his development will take a couple of years to start showing significant results. The Wizards will have to be patient in order to make this pick turn out as well as they hope it can be.” Remember, he’s still only 21 years old!
Kispert, on the other hand, has already shown marked improvement efficiency-wise in his second year. He’s jumped up to 41% from three and 49% from the field in his sophomore season. He’s also showing a bit more aggression when driving to the rim, though there is still much room for improvement there. Additionally, he is a high-effort defensive player; though his defense is not particularly impactful at this stage of his career, he clearly is working to become a better two-way player.
Positive: He came to play last night.
Will Barton scored a season-high 22 points last night, and efficiently at that — he was 8-for-15 from the field and 4-for-8 from downtown. Barton did a little bit of everything as well, dishing out seven assists and grabbing seven boards with only one turnover. When Beal is out, Barton is starting to prove he is an option the Wizards can turn to after his rocky start to the season.
Negative: He slows the whole team down.
Some Wizards fans have pessimistically anointed Bradley Beal a “ball stopper”; if Beal is a ball stopper, then I don’t even want to know what Will Barton is. It feels like every time he gets the ball toward the top of the key, he just takes his defender one-on-one and tries to hit a contested midrange shot or spinning layup — and he’s not often successful. He’s like that guy in pickup who played point guard in high school and thinks he runs the court. Once that ball is in his hands, it’s going up, no matter the look.
Positive: Kuz is playing the best basketball of his career.
Kuz is averaging career-highs in points per game (21.3), assists per game (3.6) and field goal percentage (45.8%). He’s also averaging 7.7 rebounds, the second best mark of his career. Add in being one of the team’s better defensive players, and it’s easy to forget that Kuz was basically a throw-in in the Westbrook trade. Kuz’s on-court production has never been better, and he is still entering his prime, which could mean one of two things: Either Kuz will be a franchise cornerstone going forward, or he has inflated his trade value to the point where a contender would be willing to part with one or more draft picks to acquire him.
Positive: Kuz is a fan-favorite and brings the energy to Capital One Arena.
There’s a certain value that some players bring to the fan experience, whether or not it actually improves the on-court product. Kuz is probably the Wizards’ fan-favorite player, and his goofy off-court (and sometimes on-court) persona just makes games more fun. As I said earlier, at the end of the day, sports are meant to be enjoyed, and Kuz makes every game in which he participates more enjoyable to watch.
Positive: I couldn’t come up with anything negative about Kuz! He has been one of the bright spots in a difficult start to the season.
Positive: Kristaps Porzingis is also playing the best basketball of his career.
Porzingis was an All Star in 2018. That year, he averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game on 44/40/80 shooting splits. This season, he is averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on 48/35/80 shooting splits. Every aspect of his game other than his three-point percentage has improved since his All Star days in New York, and Porzingis has easily been the Wizards’ best and most consistent player so far this season.
Negative: The injury bug reared its nasty head last night.
For most of his career, Porzingis carried the label of “injury prone,” and for good reason. The most games he has ever played in a season was 72, and only twice has he played more than 60. Luckily, he’s only missed one game so far this season, which has him on pace to shatter his previous record for games played in a season. Unluckily, however, he is now listed as day-to-day after exiting the game with back tightness yesterday. Hopefully Porzingis will be ready to return by tomorrow night’s game against the Nuggets, but we will have to wait and see.