The 2020-2021 Washington Wizards were not very good. The unfortunate part about that is that it was pretty much expected. Washington finished with a 34-38 record, when 1-1 in the play-in tournament, and lost their first-round series to the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. Their regular season record was a nine game improvement over the previous season. Despite that improvement, they could not agree on a new contract with head coach Scott Brooks, and the two parted ways. That coaching change is just one of the many changes that the Wizards underwent this offseason, ones that will greatly shape this upcoming season. So let’s take a look at this year.
Washington Wizards Team Preview
Wes Unseld Jr. Takes Over
The son of the late Hall of Famer and Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets legend Wes Unseld (Who was a player, coach, and executive for the Bullets) has returned to D.C. to take over the Wizards. Unseld Jr. has been an assistant coach in the NBA (And for a short time in the WNBA) since 2005. He spent fourteen seasons in total with the Wizards, including the first six seasons of his coaching career. He has spent the previous six seasons on Michael Malone’s staff with the Denver Nuggets.
Going off just the name alone, this is an attractive hire for Wizards fans. Especially for ones that were around to see his father in action. But he is also good at what he does. In Denver, Unseld Jr. was the lead assistant coach and his special assignment was to manage the Nuggets’ defense. Doing that he transformed a formerly porous Nuggets defense into one of the best defenses in the league. He took a Nuggets defense that was ranked 28th in the league in 2017-2018 into the 10th best the following season. Denver was ranked in the top six in defensive efficiency from 2018-2021. Unseld Jr. also has been credited as creating the the Wizards’ offensive game plans in the three seasons they were top ten in the league from 2004-2007. He brings a lot of knowledge to the organization.
Rise of Rui
Rui Hachimura is going into his third NBA season. Last year he made a big improvement as a shooter. He raised his 3P% to almost 33% and his effective FG% to over 51%. He did make a slight drop in rebounds but that can definitely be made up. I have always been a huge Hachimura fan and think he can take a big step this year with head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who has played a huge part in developing Jamal Murray and NBA MVP Nikola Jokić. As the likely number two option on this team now, he has a golden opportunity to take that big step.
Corey Kispert Rookie of the Year?
First off yes, I know the big ROTY favorites are guys like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, and Jalen Green. But do not discount Corey Kispert. He could not have really had a much better career at Gonzaga. He improved in most areas every year. Kispert is a tremendous shooter and has shown great leadership abilities. The 15th overall pick in this year’s NBA draft has a skillset that should translate to the league very well. He is one of the darkhorse candidates for this season’s Rookie of the Year award.
Continued Dominance of Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal is coming into his tenth NBA season and should dominate once again. Last year’s second-leading scorer (31.3 PPG) is finally the guy for the Wizards. No John Wall, no Russell Westbrook. It’s his time to shine, and he should do just that. He will be this team’s leader and best player. If he remains with the team for the whole season, he will thrive in that role. The rumor mill about him seems to always be churning during the season, with rumors that he wants out of Washington or making cryptic tweets. But until he actually explicitly says that (And he has stated the exact opposite multiple times.), then all of that stuff is exactly what they are: rumors. Expect him to perform very well again.
Replacing Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook ended up only being a Wizard for a single season before being dealt to L.A. He averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in the last five seasons last year. It is almost impossible to replace that kind of production with just one player. Their new point guard that will try to fix as much of that big hole as he can is Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie has been improving every year with the Brooklyn Nets until suffering a partially torn ACL only three games into last year, ending his season very prematurely. Personally I think he is a very underrated player.
You don’t hear many people talking about him a lot, but he’s pretty good at what he does. He is a good scorer and passer and he doesn’t even have to start (Although he definitely will for this team.). He isn’t a very good three-point shooter, but on a team that has guys like Dāvis Bertāns and rookie Corey Kispert, he doesn’t have to be. With Aaron Holiday coming over from the Indiana Pacers and Raul Neto returning, he won’t have to handle the PG duties alone. Dinwiddie can show what he can really do this season.
Other New Additions
The Wizards got multiple new big additions in the Westbrook trade. Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell, as well as the #22 overall pick in this year’s draft, came over from the Lakers. That pick was used on Isaiah Jackson, but it was sent to the Pacers for Aaron Holiday and the 31st pick, which became Isaiah Todd.
First for the later part of the trade. Rookie PF Isaiah Todd was one of the best players in the country coming out of high school. He had originally committed to Michigan but he ended up changing his mind. Todd skipped college and went to play for the NBA’s G-League Ignite. He played well, averaging 12.3 PPG and 4.9 RPG and shot just under 48% from the field. However, he only started two games, but that isn’t really a big issue. The Baltimore native may not make a big impact right away, but he definitely can eventually.
Aaron Holiday was the other part of that trade. In his first three NBA seasons, all with the Pacers, he was a very solid role player. He mostly came off the bench for them, doing so in 141 of his 182 career games so far. His stats did drop a little bit last season, but that could be attributed to the fact that he was averaging playing almost seven fewer minutes per game. The point guard should be a good addition to the Wizards’ bench.
Now for the big one, the return they got for Russell Westbrook in the trade with the Lakers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope arrives in the district as a potential starter. The shooting guard could either start of come off the bench. But either way, he’ll produce. He had his highest 3P% in a season in his career last year, although he other shooting numbers did drop off a little bit. But he increased the rest of his averages compared to the year before. While Caldwell-Pope is mainly a scorer, he is a good defender too. He even received a third-place vote for Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Montrezl Harrell might be the best player the Wizards received in that trade. Harrell, the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year, will be a monster off the bench in Washington. In his award-winning 2020 campaign, he averaged 18.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, & 1.1 BPG. While those numbers did drop last season, he did raise his shooting percentages. Harrell shot 62% from the field and had a 63% 2P% last year. He will be the number one guy off Washington’s bench.
Kyle Kuzma is the wildcard. Not long after the trade, there were already rumors that Washington could flip him to another team. While those rumors have died down, it could still happen. But for now, he’s still a Wizard. Kuzma’s production fell off significantly the past two seasons after the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis. He struggled with inconsistency. Perhaps he struggled under the pressure from one of the NBA’s biggest fanbases and under the Los Angeles spotlight. Who knows. But Kuzma gets a clean slate in Washington heading into his fifth professional season. He’s still only 26-years-old, so he still has time for improvement. Kuzma played PF for his first three seasons before playing mainly Small Forward last season. Given that the Wizards suddenly have a lot at Center and Power Forward, he should be able to carve himself out a role at SF.
Continued Development Of Young Players
Thomas Bryant is coming off of a torn ACL. Before that, he was playing great. Granted it was a very small sample size because he only played in ten games. Bryant was averaging 14.3 PPG (Career-high.) & 6.1 RPG. He was also playing a career-high 27.1 minutes per game. Before being injured, he shot 71% from two-point range. That’s crazy good even with the small sample size. He has also raised his three-point percentage to just under 43%. Bryant also led the league in two-point percentage in 2018-2019 at over 68%. That also set a Wizards franchise record.
Bryant has become one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. Perhaps the best part is that he only turned 24 a couple of months ago so he’s still young. The center position is a lot better now than it was a year ago. But if Bryant continues to get better then he should have no problem getting playing time.
Deni Avdija was the ninth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft coming out of his native Israel. As a rookie he averaged 6.3PPG/4.9RPG/1.2APG/0.6SPG/0.3BPG. He played 23.3 MPG and started 32 of the 54 games that he played in. Those are solid numbers, but you obviously want more than that out of the ninth overall pick. But remember, Avdija is only 20 years old and going into his second NBA season. He has plenty of time to learn and develop.
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