The Washington Wizards scrapped and fought for their place in the playoffs last season after inspired play down the stretch of the regular season vaulted them into the play-in and secured the No. 8 spot in the East. Once there, through, it was obvious they were no match for the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, and were ousted in five games.
Since that final loss back in June, Washington got busy reshaping its roster for the upcoming season, highlighted by shipping off All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers. In return the Wizards got back several productive role players to fill out their roster, and made a splash by signing former Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie in free agency. There were also some changes to the coaching staff, as Washington agreed to part ways with Scott Brooks after five seasons with the team. Filling his shoes will be first-time head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who most recently served as an associate head coach for the Denver Nuggets.
With a new coach, revamped roster and still having Bradley Beal in tow — for now — the Wizards project to be a better all-around team than the squad they rolled out onto the floor a season ago. Ahead of training camp, here is the Wizards roster and three reasons why they should make the playoffs this season.
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Washington Wizards roster
1. Dinwiddie and Beal are an exciting offensive duo
Beal has now shared the backcourt with two All-Stars, one being a former league MVP. In both cases they were traded. John Wall’s injuries kept him and Beal from ever truly seeing how far they could take the Wizards, and Russell Westbrook’s contract mixed with his inefficient style of play wasn’t the right fit for the Wizards.
Enter Dinwiddie, who is coming off an ACL tear in his right knee, and will try to prove that he can still operate at the level we saw him playing at before the injury. The last time we saw a full healthy season from Dinwiddie, he was a borderline All-Star, putting up 20.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Now he’ll join Beal in the backcourt in D.C., and while a backcourt of these two guards will be a little shaky, offensively, Beal and Dinwiddie are going to put up a lot of points.
Beal is coming off a season where he fell just short of winning the scoring title after putting up 31.3 points (Stephen Curry ultimately won that title at 32 points a night), and although rumors will continue to swirl this season as he’s playing on his final year of his contract — if he turns down his player option this summer — for right now he’s committed to the Wizards and making it work with Dinwiddie.
What will be interesting to watch is how the two players balance each other out on offense, as Beal is a player who can create off the bounce or be effective without the ball in his hands. Dinwiddie is a more ball-dominant guard, and is most dangerous when he’s attacking the rim, similar to Westbrook. Also similar to Westbrook is Dinwiddie’s low efficiency from 3-point land. In his seven-year career, Dinwiddie’s shot just 31.8 percent from deep on 4.3 attempts per game. However, the difference between this season and last for the Wizards is that they have more shooting depth now that Dinwiddie’s inability to connect on 3s may not be a difference. Speaking of which …
2. More depth on the roster
In trading Westbrook, the Wizards got a significant upgrade in other areas on their roster. They got back Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell from the Lakers in the deal, making them a more balanced team. Caldwell-Pope helps with 3-point shooting, as he connected on 41 percent of his 3s — a career high — last season. That will surely help a Wizards team that ranked 23rd in the league in 3-point percentage, and had no one who attempted over three 3s a game shoot over 40 percent. Davis Bertans, the team’s resident sharpshooter, was just shy of that mark (39.5 percent), but that number regressed in the playoffs (34.8 percent).
Adding Pope into the mix, in addition to drafting forward Corey Kispert, who shot 40.8 percent from deep over his four years at Gonzaga, including a blistering 44 percent in his senior year, will give Washington several shooting weapons this season. Then there’s Kuzma, who proved last season that he can be slotted in the starting lineup or come off the bench and still make an impact. He started in 32 games for the Lakers last season, and averaged 14.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Whether he comes off the bench or starts, Kuzma should get more opportunity with the Wizards, which means we could see more production out of him this season.
Other additions give the Wizards an opportunity to be more dynamic on offense. A pick-and-roll combo of Harrell and Dinwiddie can be a deadly combination. Overall, the Westbrook trade gave Washington more freedom not just in cap space, but in their ability to have other scoring options outside of just Beal.
3. New coach, fresh start
There were many changes that happened to the Wizards roster, but one of the bigger team moves was replacing Scott Brooks with first-time head coach Wes Unseld Jr. One of the emphasis he made during his introductory press conference was prioritizing defense and creating an offense that involves more ball movement to limit the one-pass, or no-pass possessions the Wizards often executed.
“I think your best defense starts at the end of your offense,” Unseld said. “So, the quality possessions, trying to take away some of the no-pass or one-pass possessions. And we talked about it. Great players are gonna [save] tough situations late in the clock, but trying to limit those one-on-one situations in the meat of the possession, where you’ve got nine guys locked in on you spatially — how does that work in your favor?
“So, I think those are nuanced things, but they’re important. We always talk about it: Possessions that start poorly usually end poorly, so how can we collectively be more efficient in what we’re trying to do?”
That’s encouraging to hear as Washington ranked 20th in defensive rating, and ranked in the top half of the league in opponent 3-point percentage (37 percent). If the Wizards can become even an average defensive team, then it will help them greatly on the other end of the ball.
Unseld will have pressure to win right now given Beal’s impending free agency this summer if he opts out of his player option, but he comes into Washington as a highly regarded coach and from a Nuggets franchise that is just one year removed from making the Western Conference finals in 2020. While Brooks was well liked by many of the players in Washington, Unseld will bring a fresh new look to a Wizards team that is trying to re-establish itself as a winning franchise.