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Three storylines to watch entering Wizards training camp

Examining the most intriguing stories as Wizards training camp opens up next week

Wizards F Deni Avdija high-five’s Wizards G/F Corey kispert

The Washington Wizards kick off training camp next week, signaling the unofficial start of the season. With many new faces in the District, this season shapes up to be a fun one.

Around half of the roster will be first-year Wizards. We can thank new GM Will Dawkins for that. His work in the trade market brought several new additions to the squad:

  • Jordan Poole
  • Tyus Jones
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Mike Muscala
  • Patrick Baldwin Jr.
  • Ryan Rollins

The Wizards are widely expected to be among the worst teams in the league, bringing forth questions about the construction and depth of this team.

Below, I break down those areas of uncertainty, and share how I think each storyline plays out.

17 Guaranteed Contracts for 15 Players:

As I wrote about two weeks ago, the Wizards have 17 guaranteed contracts - Only 15 will remain.

GM Will Dawkins must cut two players prior to the season opener on Oct. 25. Players I believe are on the bubble:

  • F Anthony Gill
  • F Xavier Cooks
  • F Patrick Baldwin Jr.
  • G Ryan Rollins

Gill, 30, and Cooks, 28, are much older than the latter two. Although they can contribute this season, age might be the decider. As the team transitions into a rebuild, siding with youth over immediate help makes sense.

Can Jordan Poole be a Number One Option?

After four years behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State, Poole is free. He can shoot 20 times a game without looking over his shoulder. That could either be good, or straight-up bad. It all depends on his approach.

At this point in his career, everyone knows he can score. He scored 20 points a game last season in what many considered a “down year.” He has a knack for getting to the rim while simultaneously torching teams from deep.

The real indicator of a potential leap comes outside of just scoring. As the primary scoring option, teams will key in on Poole. It’s not like he has the Splash Brothers to divert attention from him. He’ll have to trust his teammates when doubled, swing the ball to the open man, and penetrate the defense to create open shots.

His role in Washington expands drastically. Responsibilities such as leadership, running the offense, and making sure teammates are in the right spots will be new to Poole. How he handles these aspects of the game will show whether he’s a building block or a temporary space filler.

As part of Golden State’s 2022 championship team, being the focal point is something he embraces. The spotlight has never been too bright for Poole. Hopefully he takes on this new challenge and proves to be a reliable number one option for the Wiz.

I have full confidence in Poole to take over this season. I’m talking 25+ points per game on efficient shooting splits, leading by example and mentoring younger players such as Johnny Davis and Bilal Coulibaly, and keeping guys on the same page, both on the court and off. The Wizards need Poole to become a leader, someone this franchise could potentially build around, and this season will tell them all they need to know.

Positional Battles

Training camp for unsettled and unproven teams often provides fireworks, especially when it comes to deciding the starters. For the Wizards, a team with logjams at multiple positions, something has to give.

Some positional locks:

SG: Jordan Poole

PF: Kyle Kuzma

C: Daniel Gafford

Other than that, everything is up grabs.

Small Forward: I’m most curious to see how this position plays out. Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert will battle in camp to determine roles. If Avdija developed a jump shot this offseason, it’s his to lose. However, if he continues to be a liability offensively, Kispert could win the job.

Additionally, Davis and Coulibaly could fit as SFs. Many consider them to be guards, but we just don’t know yet. If that’s the case, they’d be behind two talented forwards where minutes are scarce.

Guard depth: If it’s up to me, Tyus Jones starts at PG. His ball distribution without turning it over is a skill only the best PGs possess. Delon Wright is a close second though. I wouldn’t be surprised if head coach Wes Unseld Jr. elects not to name a starting PG until the end of training camp.

Assuming Ryan Rollins makes the 15-man roster, he’ll slot in as the third point guard behind both Jones and Wright.

Similar to small forward, the coaches have some difficult decisions at shooting guard. Assuming Kispert plays SF and knowing that Poole starts, three players will fight for the final spot.

  • Landry Shamet
  • Coulibaly
  • Davis

If I were a betting man, I’d throw the house on Shamet beating these guys in a traditional position battle. His experience (now entering year six) and shooting ability alone put him above Davis and Coulibaly.

However, what matters is Unseld’s philosophy. Does he want to go with talent, or is the goal to get Coulibaly and Davis as many reps as possible? That’s a question he’ll have to answer come Oct. 25.

The Wizards kick off training camp with media day next Monday, Oct. 2, at Capital One Arena. I’ll be there on behalf of Bullets Forever to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the vibe around the team entering year one of this rebuild.

Drop some questions below in the comments you would like me to ask the players!