WASHINGTON — The Wizards held media day at Capital One Arena Monday, where players such as Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma spoke about this upcoming season.
The Washington Wizards, lead by a new front office, were a beacon of change this offseason.
Veteran players such as Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis were traded for young assets such as Jordan Poole and Tyus Jones, guys this organization can build around.
With more than half of the roster in their first year as a Wizard, this media day was much different from last.
I got to catch up with the Wizards’ players and get a feel for their expectations entering year one of this new era.
Kyle Kuzma took the podium Monday a new hair color and a new outlook on the future in Washington.
Entering year one of a four-year deal, Kuzma knows he’ll have to take on more responsibility.
With that star-player-role comes greater expectations on the court, but Kuzma thinks his leadership off the court is just as important:
“Just being myself...Being who I always am. When you try to act out of character, it’s a little bit of a turnoff,” said Kuzma. “Come in and bust my butt...Lead by example...Talk when I see things.”
It’s no debate that the Wizards revamped the roster this offseason, with stars like Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis on the move.
Kuzma believes drastic steps have been made, but wouldn’t fully commit to this being a rebuild.
“I wouldn’t call this a rebuild,” Kuzma said. “I’d call it a re-tool.”
With this re-tool comes new players, players that Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. believes can play fast.
Kyle Kuzma is in line with that change.
“We’re gonna get up and down fast,” said Kuzma. “Much, much faster.”
Following a trade from Golden State in June, Jordan Poole is happy with his landing spot in D.C.
When asked about the re-tool in Washington, Poole said:
“I think we’re building something special here.”
Building something special starts with first building a winning culture, something Poole said he and Kuzma are actively working on.
“We know what it takes to build a championship culture,” Poole said. “It starts with chemistry. You have to be willing to play for your teammates.”
Poole’s best line of the day came when asked about how green his light to shoot this season is.
“As green as D.C.”
The Wizards acquired Jones in a three-team trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Boston Celtics back in June.
Now, on his third team, Jones finally has a chance to start.
He explained his “old-school” play-style that’s lead to him leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I’m a traditional point guard. “[I] like to set my teammates up...Make the right play. Just play unselfish. Take what the defense gives me. Pride myself on not turning the ball over.”
Jones will step into a starting role this season with the Wizards, but he had to wait his time behind talented vets such as Derrick Rose and Ja Morant to get there.
I asked Jones what it was like to play with those guys, and what they taught him about being a PG in today’s league.
“For me, I’ve never been a guy who tried to compare myself. I just wanted to learn, especially early in my career,” Jones said. “Just tried to take bits and pieces from everybody and learn from it.”
Jones mentioned his great chemistry with former Grizzlies teammates Ja Morant, and how their shared passion for the game helped them improve in their own right.
Entering a contract year, Wizards Forward Deni Avdija isn’t too concerned with getting a deal done before training camp.
“For now, I’m just focusing on working out...Just being Deni. I think everything’s gonna take care of itself. Obviously I love D.C., but we’ll see what’s gonna happen.”
As a young player with great defensive skills, Avdija sees similarities between him and Wizards rookie Bilal Coulibaly, mentioning his desire to mentor him defensively.
“Bilal is a great potential. He’s long, he can slide his feet. I can already see me and Bilal switching onto people and being the anchor for this team.”
When asked what he worked on this summer in Israel, Avdija mentioned shooting, especially from behind the arc, as the focal point of his workouts.
After tearing his ACL 13 months ago, Danilo Gallinari is eager to step onto the court with his new teammates.
With a logjam at power forward and limited depth at center, Gallinari envisions himself playing more as a center.
His ability to stretch the floor will be key to the Wizards half-court offense.
Gallinari said he was blindsided by the trade to the Wizards from the Boston Celtics back in June, a move that prompted ‘Gallo to circle the Celtics on his calendar.
“I didn’t expect it. I had a meeting with the team (Boston) on Friday and I got traded Tuesday.”
Gallinari said he’s “always loved playing in ‘The Garden,’” which is the reason he has the game in Boston highlighted.
Per a team press release on Sunday, Wizards Center Daniel Gafford suffered a left elbow sprain in practice, causing him to miss 2-4 weeks.
Gafford on a timetable for his return:
“I’m just gonna take it one day at a time. [I] want to make sure I come back 100%.”
Despite having a defensive-minded head coach, the Wizards have ranked in the bottom-10 in defensive rating each of the last two seasons.
I asked Gaff how the team could improve on that end this season.
“Really just being a lot more aggressive, a lot more vocal, and just being there for each other,” Gafford said. “At the end of the day, defense is what wins games.”
Starting the season strong is something the Wizards third-year sharpshooter is eager to do, being that he struggled to begin his rookie season and started last season injured.
Now, entering year three, Corey Kispert is ready to pick up where he left off.
Kispert will be with his third point guard in three years in Tyus Jones, which could be an adjustment. However, Kispert says he and Jones are already on the same page.
“Believe me, I don’t have to say anything to Tyus about where to give me the ball. He is a professional point guard and he’s a professional set-up guy. He’s talking to me about how he’s gonna try to get me open...How he’s gonna try to get me shots. To play with a guy like that is the reason that everybody who plays with Tyus loves to play with Tyus.”
Kispert later mentioned defense as the area he wants to improve in the most.
Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. often swapped Kispert late in games last season for offense-defense subs, something Kispert doesn’t want to happen in the future.
As Daniel Gafford said, “defense wins you games.”
It’s a big reason that the Wizards held onto veteran PG Delon Wright, despite transition into a rebuild.
Delon described why he takes his role as a defensive anchor so serious, and how this team can become better defensively.
“Whenever i was on the court, I tried to bring a lot of energy to that side of the ball. I feel like it’s a mindset. If they really wanna play defense, then we’ll play defense.”
Asked about rookie Bilal Coulibaly, Wright said:
“He has a lot of tools to be a great defensive player.”
Wright said Bilal had a huge block on a big-named Wizards player (he elected not to say who) at a recent scrimmage that turned heads.
Coulibaly, with a mentor like Delon Wright, could become lethal on that end of the floor.
Bilal Coulibaly, the 7th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, is entering his rookie season at just 19 years old. An athletic but raw prospect, Coulibaly still has a ways to go in his development.
The work, however, began this summer.
“I’ve been working a lot on my handle and my shot,” Coulibaly said.
At 6’6” and 194 lbs, Coulibaly’s position is still unknown. I asked him where he sees himself playing this season, whether it be PG, SG, or SF.
His response: “All three.”
My favorite part of Bilal’s presser came during a question about mentorship, and which vets have taken him under their wing.
Coulibaly shared that Jordan Poole took his name plate and moved it next to his locker so that the two could talk more.
Coulibaly mentioned Poole, along with Anthony Gill, as two guys who have been showing him the ropes.
Following a disappointing end to the season in Phoenix, Shamet felt a move was coming.
“You get a feel after a certain amount of time in the league. Being on a team with championship expectations and not achieving them, changes are gonna be made. I had a feeling I’d be on the move...Happy to have landed here [in D.C.].”
Shamet mentioned being on a championship contender last season, where having those lofty expectations can lead to stress during a season.
So I asked him what’s it’s like being on a team in Washington with possibly the lowest expectations of any team.
“It’s a dangerous group. You can step in front of a group with nothing to lose...no expectations. Nobody thinks you’re any good. It gets me going a bit...Fires me up.”
Year two is sure to be better for Johnny Davis, the Wizards 10th pick last year who struggled during his rookie season.
I asked Davis what the hardest part of his first year was:
“Everything...Definitely traveling was hard, just being away from my newborn baby,” Davis said. “Also just adjusting from the college level to the NBA level. You never really understand how difficult it is to make that jump until you actually do it.”
After a lengthy stint in the G League with the Capital City GoGo, Davis found his stride, averaging 17 points and six rebounds over the Wizards final five games.
I asked Davis what lead to that improvement.
“I went home to Wisconsin during the All-Star break and I got to see my family and my siblings and it just brought me back to what i used to do in college...It definitely gave be a big confidence boost.”
When asked what he tried to work on this offseason, Davis offered a simple yet funny response:
Davis mentioned shooting as a focal point of his development, but understands that improvement in every phase of the game is needed.
No stranger to Capital One Arena, Wizards center Mike Muscala reminisced about his time with the Hawks, where he battled it out with the Wizards in the playoffs.
Muscala noted the imfamous “I called game” quote from Paul Pierce after knocking off Muscala’s Hawks, a game in which Muscala actually hit the game-tying three with ten seconds left.
A strength of Muscala’s game is his ability to stretch the floor, shooting nearly 40% from deep in each of the last two seasons. Muscala is excited to have so many shooters around him this year.
“It’s gonna be a strength of our team for sure.”
- The team chemistry is great - every players seemed excited to be working with such a fun group
- Poole and Kuzma have emerged as leaders of this team
- Deni and Johnny made shooting a point of emphasis this summer
- Bilal is going to play the 1, 2 and 3
- Offensive pace will be much faster - look for tons more transition buckets
That does it for my coverage of Wizards Media Day. Let me know what you thought of all the quotes and pictures from today’s festivities at Capital One Arena.