Alright, so you’ve been so preoccupied with finding your significant other the perfect Valentine’s Day gift that you forgot to watch any Wizards games over the last two weeks. Or perhaps you’ve just preferred to spend each evening binge-watching Schitt’s Creek because that Eugene Levy is SO funny. Whatever the reason, you need someone to get you up to speed on what you’ve missed over the last few weeks of Wizards basketball. As always, we got you covered.
How are they
The Wizards are currently 20-33 and in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings. They have won six of their last ten games and are on a two-game winning streak going into the All-Star break. The Wizards are currently three games back from the Orlando Magic for 8th place and five games back of the Brooklyn Nets for 7th place.
Most recent starting five
Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, Isaac Bonga, Rui Hachimura, and Ian Mahinmi. FINALLLLLY, Ish Smith is the starting point guard of the Washington Wizards! Finally! I never thought I would be so happy to type that sentence. But I am, I really really am. Smith is just a much better fit in the starting line-up as a pass-first point guard who is looking to get others involved. The Wizards have won three of their last four games with Smith as the starter.
This is our first State of the Union after the trade deadline so there has been some shakeup. Goodbye to Isaiah Thomas and Jordan McRae, hello to Shabazz Napier and Jerome Robinson. Napier had started 22 of his 36 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and is averaging 9.7 points, 3 rebounds, and 5.1 assists.
He is only shooting 31-percent from three-point range this year but is 34.5-percent for his career. Napier is also in the top 80-percent of point guards in steal percentage (how many steals did a player get per team play), according to Cleaning the Glass. The Timberwolves were also better in terms of points per possession with Napier on the floor.
Robinson is a former lottery pick. He’s young, he’s athletic, and he has all of the offensive tools needed to adequately replace Jordan McRae’s production. For more detail on Robinson, read our deep-dive on him!
Who has earned more minutes
Moritz Wagner has earned more minutes. Ian Mahinmi has been starting games to act as a defensive bellwether. Despite what Washingtonians may think about him, Mahinmi has actually been good defensively. Wagner still has a lot of room for improvement on that end but why not use the rest of this season as an opportunity to let him learn from getting his butt kicked against starters?
Who is playing too much
When Thomas Bryant comes back full-time from his injury, it would be disappointing to see Mahinmi take minutes away from him and Moe Wagner. Making the playoffs would be a nice bonus but as Tommy Sheppard has said multiple times, this year is about development. Anything that inhibits that development should be stopped as soon as they have enough healthy bodies to do so.
Rui Hachimura is the only rookie playing substantive minutes at this point. In five February games, Hachimura is averaging 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. These numbers may seem routine as he is averaging 13.9 points and 6 rebounds for the season.
However, the unusual part is that the vast majority of Hachimura’s production has been coming in the first half of games. Perhaps he is just running out of steam early in games while he plays his way back into shape. It would certainly be understandable given how much time he missed due to his groin injury.
This could end up being a good sign if he is able to sustain that level of production over the course of entire games once his conditioning gets back to where it was. He is also shooting close to 43-percent from three-point range this month. Granted, it has been in limited attempts but he has looked more comfortable and confident shooting from there.
A defensive-minded big…that is still competent enough offensively…on a team-friendly contract. That sounds easy enough to find, right? Ideally, over the rest of the season, Wagner and Bryant will learn Mahinmi’s old man tricks and develop into smarter, more disciplined defenders. If not, don’t be surprised to see the Wizards target such a player in the draft.
Bryant should be back soon and that means we will finally see what this Wizards team can do when finally healthy. There are still some holes that need to be filled from a roster construction standpoint but the added depth that comes from having healthy bodies will be enough to help them at least make a legitimate playoff push.
Thoughts on the coaching staff
I’m still not entirely sold on some of the rotations and things like that but I’m trying to cut Scott Brooks some slack. We don’t know enough about what goes on behind the scenes to drive some of these decisions. It is easy to sit here and say things like, “Troy Brown Jr. should be starting every game!” Well, maybe he isn’t doing what he needs to be doing in practice to earn the starting job.
Not to say that’s the case but we just don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t still pick nits though. Those lineups with Bertans at power forward and Hachimura at center are going to keep getting destroyed on the boards so let’s shelve them, okay?
Thoughts on the front office
I love what they did at the trade deadline. It was understated and exactly the opposite of recent trade deadlines. They didn’t trade away any draft picks in win-now moves, they didn’t trade a developing young prospect to rent a washed-up geriatric, and they actually added someone they were previously high on and couldn’t get in an earlier draft.
Something for the organization to keep an eye on
Would Napier actually make more sense as a back-up to John Wall next year? I know he is on an expiring contract but just hear me out. Smith essentially plays the same way Wall does so maybe it makes more sense to have a back-up that comes in and changes up the style a bit? Napier projects as a better defender than Smith and is a better career three-point shooter. Just something to consider if he looks impressive during his 30-game audition!
Updated prediction for the rest of the season
I think the Wizards will fall just short of the playoffs and finish exactly where they are currently – in 9th place. Aaron Gordon will be in revenge-mode after being snubbed in the Slam Dunk Contest once again and that will help propel the Magic. They will end up beating out the Wizards by two games. The Milwaukee Bucks will sweep them in four games. The Wizards will end up with the 9th pick in the draft for the second year in a row.