Whether you have to work the night shift, pick the kids up from basketball practice or go to dinner with your wife’s college roommate, Karen, who you really don’t care for- you just don’t have the time to watch all 82 Wizards games. Let WizardsXTRA do that for you (and save you a few hours scrolling through Twitter in the process). The purpose of this Washington Wizards State of the Union series is to provide you with a high-level recap of the past two weeks of Wizards basketball. That way when you’re talking hoops at the water cooler or happy hour or in the barbershop, you’ll still be caught up on how the team has been doing and be more well-informed than your friends. And that’s what really matters, right?
So how are they: As of this writing, the Wizards are 2-6, which is good for 14th place in the Eastern Conference. This leaves them 2 games behind Brooklyn (4-4) who currently occupy the final playoff spot.
Most frequent starting 5: Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant. Although, Scott Brooks now seems to have pivoted to Isaiah Thomas, Beal, Troy Brown Jr., Hachimura, Bryant.
Who has earned more minutes: After starting the year on the injury report, Troy Brown seems to be finding a nice rhythm. In his 5 games, Brown has averaged 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He has also shot 36.4-percent from 3 on 2.2 attempts. Brown has also shown effort on the defensive end (1.6 steals per game), which makes him a rarity on an otherwise porous defense.
Moritz Wagner has also been a pleasant surprise, averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. Wagner is also shooting 39-percent from 3 on 2.3 attempts. In under 20 minutes per night, Wagner has been trying to bring energy (sometimes to his detriment as he’s averaging 3.9 fouls per game) and perimeter shooting. Considering the Wizards essentially got him for free I’d say we owe the Lakers a “thank you!”
Who is playing too much: It pains me to write this, as Isaiah Thomas has been one of the best stories in the league and seems to genuinely be enjoying his stint as a Wizard, but starting point guard has been the biggest weak spot so far. Thomas has been the better individual scorer and Ish Smith the better facilitator but neither has shown much on the defensive end. John Wall wasn’t always the most engaged defender but his size and athleticism at least allowed him to offer more resistance than either Thomas or Smith. They will both keep playing a lot out of necessity but being able to bring them off of the bench would be more conducive to winning.
The best defensive teams in the NBA all have high-end point-of-attack defenders to disrupt opposing offenses. Giving more minutes to someone who can bring that to the table may also help mitigate the fact that Bryant is not the most effective rim protector. Beal has attempted to fill this role at times but given his early-season shooting woes, it seems like a lot to ask him to expend the extra energy. If Brown continues to develop then maybe letting him bring the ball up and starting an additional 3-and-D wing like Miles (although the “D” might be more theoretical at his age) could help stabilize a very shaky defense.
Rookie watch: Rui Hachimura looks like he will be a productive NBA player for a long time. He is already averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. He has been up-and-down at times but overall he should be in the running for All-Rookie first team. It’s still too early to tell just how high his ceiling truly is but improving his 3-point shooting (currently 25-percent) and defense (.1 blocks per game) would go a long way toward reaching it. The remaining rookies (Schofield, Mathews, and Robinson) haven’t shown much so far but their opportunities have been limited.
Roster needs: Everything? At the very least, a defensive-minded point guard and a rim protector would go a long way.
Coaching staff and front office: Scott Brooks has shown more of a willingness to play the youngsters and to shake things up (like mixing in more zone defense). While those things haven’t always led to more success on the court, that’s still probably good enough for this season. And Tommy Sheppard still isn’t Ernie Grunfeld and that’s probably good enough for this season too.
Something for the organization to keep an eye on: The progress of college players like Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. The Wizards should be focused on getting a top pick to help them retool for next season. This roster badly needs a talent infusion and there seem to be a few guys in this upcoming draft who could supply that.
Updated prediction for the rest of the season: Enough losses to earn something better than the 9th pick in the next draft seems pretty likely already. 12th in the Eastern Conference feels about right.
Stat to watch: Minutes. Specifically Beal and his minutes in blowouts. Obviously, it’s important to keep Beal happy and he has balked at the idea of “load management” but Brooks needs to do the smart thing and shut him down when games appear out of reach. It’s about playing the long game!
Anecdotes: For as much as has been made about the Wall-Beal dynamic over the years, something as simple as them coordinating their Halloween costumes was great to see.
Stats as of 11/9: