Washington Wizards: Steps to Contention

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The Washington Wizards are going to be one of the more interesting teams in the league next season. They have one of the top scorers in Bradley Beal, and it seems as if former All-Star John Wall may finally be healthy. If both can produce at the levels they have before, the Wizards instantly have one of the best backcourts. The pieces are clearly there for a playoff return, but work has to be done to truly become competitive.

How the Washington Wizards can Return to the Playoffs

Step One: Do Not Rush a Bradley Beal Trade

Beal’s name has been hot for a while now when it comes to trade rumors. It’s easy to see why – Beal’s an elite scorer and two-time All-Star. He’s also now beginning his prime at 27-years-old. This past season he averaged 30.5 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game while leading a very mediocre Wizards squad to the NBA Bubble.

As stated earlier, however, if Wall is truly healthy then the Wizards have an elite duo once again. It’s been a while since he played, but during his 32 games in 2018-19, he averaged 20.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. In his last full season, 2016-17, Wall averaged 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, and 2 steals per game.

It’s very likely that Wall’s injury history has affected his speed and explosiveness. With that being said, Beal has emerged as the first option on offense, so the Wizards can still thrive if Wall remains an elite distributor.

It’s also important to note that Beal signed a contract extension in 2019. The Wizards can hold onto him for two more seasons, and in 2022-23 he has a player option for the last year on his deal. The Wizards are not in immediate danger of losing him for nothing.

Washington is best suited to see what moves they can make during the offseason to strengthen the roster, and see how Wall performs in his return.

If not in the plans, of course, Beal holds plenty of trade value. A deal with the Brooklyn Nets centered around Caris LeVert may be an option. Or perhaps one with the Denver Nuggets for Michael Porter Jr.

Step Two: Use Free Agency to Strengthen the Roster

This seems like an obvious step, but the Wizards roster is full of bench role-players getting starter minutes. Many of them are viable NBA players, but their roles need to be changed. Troy BrownJerome Robinson, Ish Smith, and Moritz Wagner have earned their rightful spots on the team. Rui Hachimura finished a strong rookie season, and Thomas Bryant can make a starting case. Several others, however, especially those signed for the Bubble, can see their way out.

Washington will have to make decisions on Davis Bertans and Shabazz Napier. Bertans emerged as a major offensive threat for the team but offers very little defensively. Defense was the Wizards’ biggest issue last season, so perhaps they are best suited to not offer him a large contract. Napier is a solid bench point guard. If he’s willing to split time with both Wall and Smith, then a return on a reasonably priced deal may be wise.

If Bertans does not return, the Wizards need forward help. Serge Ibaka would instantly improve the defense, and he can play both the four and five. Ibaka, however, may choose a team with better contending status. The Wizards can also look at some New York Knicks free agents. Bobby Portis played well in his first stint in Washington, and Maurice Harkless is a great defender off the bench. Montrezl Harrell is another option that would bring instant energy and defense but at a price.

There have been rumors about DeMarcus Cousins going to Washington. If the Wizards can sign him on a low-risk, high-reward deal then it is certainly worth it. It’s unlikely Cousins returns to his post-injury form, but a rotation of Bryant and Cousins at center would be strong.

Step Three: Washington Wizards Must Find Value in the Ninth Overall Pick

The Wizards have the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft. It’s unlikely they’ll find a future star there, but they can definitely draft a future starter and solid contributor.

Assuming Wall and Beal are starters in the backcourt, Hachimura, Bryant, and a free agent power forward replacing Bertans are starters in the frontcourt, then the Wizards would be wise to draft a dead-eye shooter off the bench. This player would effectively take over Bertans’ role of shooting threes. Devin Vassell and Aaron Nesmith are two realistic options.

Vassell shot 41.5 percent from three in his college career, and that will certainly translate onto the next level. More than that, however, Vassell is one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire draft. The Wizards would be solving two issues with one player by making this selection. The only issue is that Vassell may be selected earlier.

Nesmith is the second-best option. The Vanderbilt man is arguably the best shooter in the entire draft. Last season he shot 52 percent from three in over eight attempts per game. With that being said, he lacks the athleticism and drive that can take his game to the next level. He’s still a high-volume scorer, however, and at his peak can become a very reliable sixth-man. That’s good value, without a doubt, for the ninth pick.

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