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Wizards preseason: questions and position battles

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Can forward Rui Hachimura win a job as the Wizards starting forward this season?
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

As befits a team that’s missed the playoffs last season, the Wizards head into the preseason with questions and position battles. Here are some key issues I’ll be watching throughout the preseason:

Positional Battles

Starting Forward

Kyle Kuzma is a probable starter at forward, but there’s a three-way competition for the other spot between Will Barton, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija.

Barton is the best offensive player of the group, who’s long-established as a solid NBA player who shoots decently and attacks the paint. His defense is meh, at best. His contract expires after the season.

Hachimura is a good athlete who has had stretches as an effective scorer, and who seemed to become a three-point marksman last season. His on-ball defense has been okay at times, though his off-ball and help defense has been poor. He’s a restricted free agent this summer.

Avdija is a skilled and physical defender who has struggled on offense.

My guess: Barton begins the season as the starter with Avdija as his backup. Hachimura will play as Kuzma’s backup. Both Avdija and Hachimura could end up getting a few more minutes in some small-ball lineups with Kuzma, Hachimura and Avdija on the floor at the same time.

Starting Guard

Bradley Beal is a lock to start at one guard. The likely starter at the other guard spot is Monte Morris, but it’s possible Delon Wright could win the job with a strong performance in training camp and exhibition action.

Morris is the better shooter, but his lack of size limits his defensive effectiveness. Wright is an able though reticent shooter, who’s also a competent playmaker. His strength is rebounding, defense and size, which could be important assets to a starting lineup lacking in quality defenders.

My guess: Morris will start but playing time will be split fairly evenly between the two. I expect Wright to be in closing lineups because of his size, defense and positional versatility.

Beal’s Backup

While there’s a strong argument for using a three-guard rotation of Beal, Morris and Wright (and that might be the move if they make the playoffs), head coach Wes Unseld Jr. is more likely to go with a four-man group, in part because it’ll mean playing time for at least one of their two most recent first round picks.

Corey Kispert, the 2021 pick, had a decent rookie season and started 36 games when Beal was out with a wrist injury. The other option would be this year’s pick, Johnny Davis, who had a rough summer league.

My guess: Kispert wins the competition, though Unseld finds some minutes for Davis.

Key Questions

  • Is Beal’s wrist fully healed? There’s a high failure rate for his type of injury and surgery.
  • Can Beal bounce back to his previous All-Star or All-NBA level of play? Even before his wrist injury, his play was subpar for him.
  • Can Hachimura maintain his high-level three-point shooting from last season? His free throw accuracy, often a marker of real shooting ability, dropped to a shade under 70% last season.
  • Can Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford play effectively together? They were on the court together for 14 minutes total last season, but it could be a way to get two of the team’s more productive players on the floor at the same time.
  • Will Avdija’s play with the Israeli national team have any carryover to NBA games? His overall performance in international play was decent despite a couple clunker games. Did he make time work on his three-point shooting and left hand?
  • Can one of the team’s young players dramatically improve from previous performance levels to give the team an unexpected boost? Hachimura and Avdija are at ages and experience levels where a leap is possible. Kispert’s the right age and got strong experience last season.
  • Can Beal and Porzingis stay healthy enough to play 70 games each?

What are some of the questions and position battles you’re watching during the preseason?