Following a four-month hiatus as a result of COVID-19, the NBA is getting ready for a long-anticipated league restart. Beginning on July 31st, the top 22 teams will compete at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Given that there will be a secured “bubble”, concerns over the spread of COVID-19, and no fans, it’s safe to say that this will be a season unlike any other. Taking the unique NBA landscape into consideration, the Last Word on Pro Basketball staff continues this contender or pretender series with the Washington Wizards.
Can a depleted Washington Wizards team overcome its lack of experience to make a surprise NBA championship run?
NBA Bubble Contenders or Pretenders: Washington Wizards
The Wizards are in a massively unenviable position as of now. Their conference positioning is quite poor, and they face one of the toughest schedules in the bubble.
Based on record alone, the Wizards’ schedule does not seem too intimidating. However, taking talent into consideration, the Wizards have a deceptively difficult schedule. Their first two games are certainly winnable, as they go up against the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets. However, they then face a gauntlet of underappreciated teams, with the potentially Victor Oladipo-led Indiana Pacers, the improved Philadelphia 76ers, the hyped New Orleans Pelicans, and the underrated Oklahoma City Thunder. To close out the season, they’ll play against two of the league’s top five teams: the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.
It appears to be a two-team race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. While the seventh-seeded Nets and eighth seed Orlando Magic are within a half-game of each other, it’s very likely that the Nets will lose a large number of games in the bubble. They underwent massive roster turnover, and team chemistry appears to be poor. As a result, expect the Nets to be the Wizards’ biggest competition for the final playoff spot in the East.
However, while Brooklyn may seem vulnerable, they still hold a six-game advantage over the Wizards. It’s definitely possible that the Wizards make it within four games of the Nets, which would mandate a play-in tournament, but this would require the Wizards to win at least three more games than the Nets. The way things look, it’s hard to see the Wizards winning more than two games in Orlando.
Loss of Talent
It is indisputable that the two best players on the Washington Wizards this year were Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. By Box Plus-Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), both players were by far the two best players on the lackluster Wizards squad. In fact, Beal and Bertans combined for a 3.6 VORP; the rest of the Wizards team combined for a 0.1 VORP.
Unfortunately, the Wizards are losing their best two players. Beal, who is averaging 30.5 points and 6.1 assists, will sit out in Orlando due to an injured rotator cuff. Bertans, who is averaging 15.4 points on a sizing 42.4 percent from downtown, is sitting out to minimize risk prior to a presumptively lucrative long-term deal in this year’s free agency. Without any truly established veterans, it’s no surprise that the Wizards went winless in Orlando’s preseason scrimmages.
With the newfound absence of Beal and Bertans, many young Wizards will have increased opportunities. Whether the team’s young, unproven talent can break through the well-balanced East remains to be seen.
The most obvious beneficiary of Beal’s absence is forward Rui Hachimura. He appeared to make major improvements during the offseason by adding muscle and improving his jump shot. The results were on full display during the Wizards’ scrimmage games, as the Japanese forward averaged 17.3 points on 43 percent shooting.
The Wizards have a plethora of other raw, young players who could potentially play a big role in Orlando. Players like Thomas Bryant, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Shabazz Napier, and Troy Brown, who are all under the age of 25, will be expected to make big leaps to compete for a playoff spot. However, there’s very little faith that these young players will be able to elevate the depleted squad. According to the FiveThirtyEight’s projection model, the Wizards have a five percent chance of simply making the playoffs.
Washington Wizards Verdict: Pretender
Don’t overthink this one. The Wizards weren’t going to make the playoffs in the first place, then they went out and lost their two best players. With their poor positioning, tough schedule, and horrible preseason showings, the Wizards are probably the farthest team from a contender in Orlando. Before counting on the Wizards to contend for a championship, first consider whether they’re even capable of winning more than two games.
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