Wes Unseld Jr. has had a great start to his first season as head coach of the Washington Wizards. Starting out 10-3, the Wizards appeared to be well on their way to returning to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Unfortunately, Washington would go 5-12 in their next 17 games. The Wizards spent the rest of the season trying to stay above .500, but ultimately fell short, finishing the season in 35-47, ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t help that their best player, Bradley Beal, tore a ligament in his left wrist and was only able to play in 40 games before being shut down for the season, effectively missing more than half of Washington’s games.
What about the 2022-23 season? Beal and Kristaps Porzingis are healthy, Unseld Jr. has more experience as a coach and they believe they have secured their starting quarterback. Does this mean that Washington can make a big leap into the new season? Not really.
Monte Morris is not an ideal solution next to Bradley Beal
While the Wizards could trade Monte Morris from the Denver Nuggets, are we sure he’s the ideal solution next to Bradley Beal in the backcourt? Last season, the Wizards were split between Spencer Dinwiddie and Beal at point guard before the former was dealt in a package for Porzingis. This time, the distribution will be left to Morris, and Beal is expected to do his part as well. The only problem is that none of these players are pass guards.
Morris’ assist rate was 21.4% with Denver last season, matching his career average. Beal’s assist rate has been rising in recent years, posting a career high assist percentage 30.8%, but that number is expected to drop with Morris in town, as Beal excels as a scorer. And Beal’s career average is 20.2%. These assist rates are already pretty low, especially Morris’s, considering that even Kobe Bryant’s career rate was 24.2%and we’ve all heard the jokes about Kobe not missing a beat.
Bottom line, Morris should at least slow Beala down a bit, and his career three-point rate of 39.4% will help make an impact, but when it comes to setting up his teammates or even helping with perimeter defense, this backcourt leaves a lot to be desired. desired.
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The Washington Wizards will still struggle to get stops
A common problem last season in Washington was the inability to get pressure on the ball, turn the ball over or limit their opponents in the running game. Washington finished dead last in steals and ranked Allowed 21st place in painting. Two of those measures are expected to improve naturally, with Beal and Porzingis returning. Beal excels at collecting the pocket, and Porzingis’ great length makes for a difficult adjustment on the edge for opponents who drive the lane.
As a whole, this team has poor defenders and, outside of Porzingis, a lack of a formidable presence on the rim. Opponents attempted more 3-pointers against the Wizards than any other team a season ago. If that trend continues this year, the Wizards could find themselves on the wrong side of several shootouts.
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Wizards have potential, but a low ceiling
Aside from Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, there are serious concerns about who else could be a consistent contributor in Washington. It’s not without potential, though, as the Wizards have several top picks from the past few years who are either on the verge of breaking out or fading into NBA oblivion, bouncing from team to team.
- Rui Hachimura – ninth pick in 2019 – 24 years old
- Deni Avdija – ninth pick in 2020 – 21 years old
- Corey Kispert – 15th pick in 2021 – 23 years old
- Johnny Davis – 10th pick in 2022 – 20 years old
Aside from Davis, who is a rookie, none of these former first-round picks have been able to establish themselves as starters, and it’s not like anyone is blocking their playing time. Kispert has shown he can be a long-range sniper, and Davis’ best attribute is scoring, but Hachimura and Avdia’s skills are slow to develop. Hachimura did take a step forward, shooting 44.7% from three-point range, but his free-throw goal was also a hit. Seeing how much further he can continue to develop his shot will be crucial to his future success, but he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
Early returns from Davis suggest he might have a rough transition from college to the pros, but Kispert’s sprained left ankle could give the rookie a chance to prove he can hang on early. Kispert is expected to miss the first three to six weeks of the season.
All of this means Washington could take a big step forward, but that won’t happen without any of these four first-round picks proving they’re capable of being a starter at the NBA level.
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