The Washington Wizards will look to end its absence from the playoffs this season behind backcourt Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. After struggling to a 23-49 record last year, Washington will attempt to establish itself as a force in the Eastern Conference. Beal had his best season to date in 2019-20, averaging 30.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on 45.5 percent shooting and 35.3 percent from three. Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and seven assists on a career-high 47.2 percent shooting.
It has been two-years since Beal had a healthy back-court partner to help him in Washington. Former Wizard John Wall was on the sidelines since December 25th, 2018 after suffering a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles. Beal established himself as one of the NBA’s elite last year with his monster numbers, causing the Wizards to change directions and build around Beal instead.
Coach Scott Brooks needs a big season after Washington’s recent failures however, this is an organizational problem rather than his as a head coach. For the first time since 2017, Brooks has a healthy roster to work with.
Washington Wizards Expectations Grow behind Elite Backcourt
The 2019-20 season was a slog for the Washington Wizards. Without star Wall for the entire year, Beal’s game took the next step as the primary offensive option for the ball club. The 28-year-old was one of two players to average at least 30 points for the year and finished second to offensive juggernaut James Harden.
Washington also unlocked Davis Bertans‘ inner Klay Thompson. The forward shredded basketball nets all over the country shooting a red hot 42.4 percent from three on a whopping 8.7 attempts. Scoring a career-high 32 points against the Charlotte Hornets, Bertans landed eight triples from 12 attempts to keep Washington in the game.
Davis Bertans had a career right in Charlotte.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 11, 2019
This was one of the best shooting performances in the NBA last season and a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the franchise.
Last Minute deal Changes Washington’s Trajectory
Early in Free Agency, there was a lot of chatter surrounding a Wall for Westbrook trade. The Houston Rockets were haggling for multiple first-round picks from Washington and talks came to a sudden halt. However, Westbrook’s agent initiated talks again and a deal was done within hours.
.@wojespn details the Russell Westbrook-John Wall trade:
"[James Harden] had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook." pic.twitter.com/GoAHv1QVUj
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) December 3, 2020
This is a tremendous trade for the Wizards who now have an All-NBA floor general to run alongside Beal. Wall is a fantastic guard but his return has a number of question marks. The 30-year-old is coming back from a torn ACL and Achilles tendon which has sidelined him for two years. Westbrook is a known commodity at this point giving the Wizards an idea of what the team will look like this year.
Prior to this deal, the Wizards re-signed sharpshooting forward Bertans to a five-year, $80-million deal. Bertans was one of the NBA’s best shooters last season connecting on 42.4 percent of his threes on an absurd 8.7 attempts. While many view this as an “overpay”, there is a premium on elite shooting in the association so this deal is fine.
Washington made one mistake signing Robin Lopez using the Mid-Level Exception (MLE). Lopez is a steady back-up big man but signing him with the MLE hard-capped the Wizards. Upgrading the roster with Beal, Westbrook, and Bertans absorbing the bulk of the cap is very difficult. Washington needs help on defense so it will be interesting to see what they do from here.
Washington Wizards Expectations for 2020-21
Westbrook’s arrival in D.C changes what Wizards fans should expect from the team this year. The 32-year-old will bring it every night, playing with aggression, ferocity, and competitiveness. Couple that with Beal’s immense talent and now Washington is a playoff contender.
Compete for Homecourt Advantage
Now that Washington has two superstar guards, they should be a near-lock to make the postseason. However, competing for homecourt advantage is a goal that might be a bit of a stretch for the current roster.
Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Miami are locks to make the playoffs thus Washington needs to knock off two of these to steal the four seed. Three of the five teams are driven by star power (Nets, Celtics, and 76ers) while the other two (Raptors and Heat) lean heavily on culture, scheme, and excellent in-game coaching. Washington can compete with any five of these teams due to its offensive firepower but the defense must improve if it’s going to achieve homecourt.
There are a lot of ifs and maybe’s at this stage and the Wizards Front Office has to make a move to upgrade the defensive side of the ball. Right now, this goal might be a bit difficult to achieve but it’s one Washington needs to strive for.
The Wizards were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last year. They ranked 29th in defensive rating and found themselves accompanying the Atlanta Hawks in the basement.
WASHINGTON DEFENSE METRICS
DEF Rating – 114.7 (29th)
Reb – 31.9 (28th)
Steals – 8.0 (11th)
Blocks – 4.3 (24th)
PTS off TO – 16.7 (13th)
FB PTS – 12.7 (9th)
2nd chance PTS – 14.4 (28th)
PIP – 51.4 (25th)
FG% – 49.1 (29th)
2PT% – 55.7 (27th)
3PT% – 37.6 (27th)
Need help pic.twitter.com/aBW7CPidtr
— WELCOME TO BAZLEY ISLAND (@geola388) December 5, 2020
The current iteration of this roster won’t get it done so achieving this goal leans heavily on future transactions. They will need to pry the open market or look at trades on the margins. Players like Andre Roberson and Stanley Johnson are defensive specialists and easily attainable. Washington needs to look into their availability.
Coach Brooks also needs to be better on this side of the ball. You can’t teach effort but he must do a better job implementing a tighter defensive scheme. Brooks is in the final year of his deal so he needs to inspire his players to defend at a higher level. If the Wizards are to make some real noise, they must be better on this side of the ball.
The Wizards were surprisingly in the bottom half of the NBA in offensive rating. Despite scoring a whopping 114.4 points per game (seventh), the Wizards ranked 16th in offensive rating (110.2). Additionally, Washington ranked eighth in three-point percentage (36.8), 11th in free throw percentage (78.8), 12th in assists (12.0), and 21st in field-goal percentage (45.7) with the leagues fifth-fastest pace (103.38).
Adding Westbrook to the mix will elevate Washington’s offense. The 32-year-old is a terrific passer and will likely have his fair share of the ball running the offense. Defenses collapse when Westbrook drives thus Wizards shooters will receive an abundance of open looks. Washington only attempted 32.6 three-point shots (17th) per game and this stands to increase with Westbrook at the helm.
Beal was an absolute monster last season and pairing him with another star will push his game to superstar levels. There is no reason why Washington cannot have a Top-Five offense.
The Washington Wizards will return to relevancy in 2020-21
Westbrook and Beal form one of the league’s best backcourts propelling the Wizards into playoff contention. There are still question marks about the defensive side of the ball but Washington’s offense is loaded with weapons. Beal’s play last year indicates he is ready to take the next step into the superstar stratosphere. He was unlucky not to receive an All-Star selection despite his gaudy offensive numbers.
There is some debate between pundits regarding how good Washington will be. The Wizards improved with the Westbrook addition expect to see them in the post-season.
Main Image: Embed from Getty Images