Like every year, Basket USA offers you a presentation of the upcoming NBA season, franchise by franchise, in the form of a countdown, from the 30th place to our favorite for the title of champion. It is now the turn of the Wizards, the first team to qualify for the playoffs in 2021 in our previews.
And if the franchise of the capital is presented so “early”, it is above all because Russell Westbrook is no longer there and that many questions surround this Washington version 2021/22: recovered from his breakup of the Crusaders, Spencer Dinwiddie will he find all his sensations? Promised a bright future, does Rui Hachimura have the shoulders to finally explode and establish himself as Bradley Beal’s lieutenant? Relieved of all pressure away from the Lakers, will Kyle Kuzma regain his self-confidence? Successor of Scott Brooks, will the highly acclaimed Wes Unseld Jr. adapt to his new status as “head coach”?
The answers to all these questions should not be long in coming, whether they are positive or not. What is certain, however, is that the Wizards have a group capable of reaching, at a minimum, the end-of-season play-in. The playoffs are also within their reach, provided, of course, that the mayonnaise takes (or, rather, the magic happens) quickly around Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford, the only survivors of the franchise’s starting five, in 2020/21.
Bradley Beal’s latest effort?
One of the other big questions of Washington’s 2021/22 exercise, to make it as successful as possible, is whether Bradley Beal will be properly supported in the absence of Russell Westbrook? On paper, Rui Hachimura, Kyle Kuzma, Spencer Dinwiddie or Montrezl Harrell have the ideal profile to play luxury lieutenants, relaying their All-Star back, eager not to request his transfer for the moment and, thus, give up anytime soon, looking for the “easy”.
But, while Spencer Dinwiddie returns from a cruciate ligament injury and Montrezl Harrell remains on a failed year (like the other sixth man, Davis Bertans), Rui Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma have mainly stood out for their irregularity the last two seasons. Hence this lack of certainty as to the hierarchy of the team or its rotations. And, if Bradley Beal is the undisputed “franchise player” of the Wizards, he will need support no matter what to bring his team back to the playoffs for the second campaign in a row.
Be careful, however, not to hang around too much for Washington, as the 28-year-old, who has had the last two years more than 30 points on average, only has one year guaranteed on his contract. Then, he can test the market in the summer of 2022, or request his transfer upstream, if his training does not reassure him on a collective level. Suffice to say that Wes Unseld Jr, son of the legendary hub of the Bullets between 1968 and 1981, will not have it easy for his debut on an NBA bench.
Wes Unseld Jr, new defense architect
Precisely, the new coach of the Wizards will very quickly impose his paw on the workforce of the franchise of the capital, in particular by establishing an effective, regular and therefore less permissive defense.
Particularly talented and complete offensively, with a host of elements capable of turning at a minimum of 10 points per game, the squad led by Bradley Beal has been fishing for several years defensively. Evidenced by his 114.7 and 112.3 points collected out of 100 possessions, in 2019/20 then 2020/21.
Without real defensive specialists in their ranks, the Wizards can nevertheless count on a trio Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Rui Hachimura – Daniel Gafford to limit the damage in defense, under Wes Unseld Jr, besides specialized in this sector of play from the beginning. of his career as an assistant, in Washington (already), Golden State, Orlando then Denver. But will his defensive science be enough with such a limited cast in the field?
Nothing is less certain and it is this weakness that may pose a problem for the Wizards this season. They, who dream of the playoffs, but who could quickly be brought back to reality, due to the construction of their roster, at first glance not sufficiently armed to fight with the leaders and outsiders of the Eastern Conference.
THE SUMMER MOVEMENTS
Arrivals : Corey Kispert (Draft), Isaiah Todd (Draft), Aaron Holiday (Pacers), Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets), Kyle Kuzma (Lakers), Montrezl Harrell (Lakers), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Lakers).
Re-signatures : //
Departures : Russell Westbrook (Lakers), Alex Len (Kings), Robin Lopez (Magic), Ish Smith (Hornets), Isaac Bonga (Raptors), Chandler Hutchison (Suns), Garrison Matthews.
THE PLAYER TO WATCH: KYLE KUZMA
At 26, and after four seasons in the league, Kyle Kuzma has already known everything collectively in his career, thanks to his time with the Lakers. The galleys first, between 2017 and 2019, then the glory, in 2019/20. Without forgetting the relative anonymity, in 2017/18, then the media overexposure, between 2018 and 2021. But, now, he is opening a new chapter in his personal history, in Washington.
Sent to the capital in exchange for Russell Westbrook, with Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, “Kuz” will thus try to revive individually, at the end of a rather sluggish 2020/21 exercise coming off the bench (12.9 points and 6.1 average rebounds, 44% on shots), and especially in the playoffs (6.3 points on average, 29% on shots). On the positive side, the winger will no longer have as much pressure on the shoulders at the Wizards, in addition to finding responsibilities in attack, behind Bradley Beal.
Former lieutenant of LeBron James, able to shoot up to 18.7 points on average in 2018/19, Kyle Kuzma then found himself in the shadow of the “King” and Anthony Davis, from the summer of 2019. To the point of (logically) falling statistically and settling for the status of “role player”, which he had also ended up assimilating. But, in Washington, this role will be quite different and, like Rui Hachimura and Spencer Dinwiddie, he will have to respond and regain confidence and feelings offensively, so as not to leave Bradley Beal lonely in this area.
AVERAGE AGE: 25 years old
PAY MASS: $ 139 million (12th out of 30)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
If Bradley Beal remains irreproachable individually, always chaining the meetings to a minimum of 25-30 points and reiterating his desire not to be transferred, it is especially the contributions of Spencer Dinwiddie (reassuring physically), Rui Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma that allow the Wizards to to settle in the Top 8 of their conference. All three above 15 points average, they take turns and perfectly support their “franchise player” in attack, whether in the starting five (for Dinwiddie and Hachimura) or out of the bench (for Kuzma).
Also starting, the versatile Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Daniel Gafford are particularly responsible defensively by their coach, Wes Unseld Jr, and the formula works rather well, with more balance in the sector. For the first time in a long time, Washington is thus showing itself in defense, even if all is not yet perfect. But this “simple” change allows the franchise of the capital to no longer lose so many matches “within its reach”, for lack of defensive irregularity.
The scratchy par excellence in the East, the Wizards can also rely on the good performances of Aaron Holiday, Davis Bertans and Montrezl Harrell, who find a beautiful alchemy in rotation, while the ghost Thomas Bryant finds his sensations in the racket, without relapse. As for the young Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert, relieved of all pressure, their development in a team obviously “playoffable” at the end of the season continues. And the future of the franchise is brightening up …
Expected on the physical level, like Thomas Bryant, Spencer Dinwiddie is unfortunately not recovered from his serious injury, and relapses quickly. Leaving a Bradley Beal, more lonely than ever, to scramble to keep his people in the Top 10 in the East. Because, in the shadow of the All-Star back, Rui Hachimura and especially Kyle Kuzma are still struggling to find consistency in attack, shining more in turn.
On AC, Washington remains in line with its 2020/21 season, but with Russell Westbrook less. Obviously, the franchise of the capital does not take off in the rankings, despite the greater density of its workforce. Because, on a big night, she is able to beat anyone, given the many options she has in attack. The problem is that the chronic irregularity of this team, always so permissive defensively despite the efforts of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Daniel Gafford, prevents it from finding its cruising speed and stringing together victories.
The first year of Wes Unseld Jr. on the bench of the Wizards turns sour and, to make matters worse, Bradley Beal, tired of vegetating in the soft underbelly of his conference, officially requests his transfer to the “trade deadline”. Davis Bertans and Montrezl Harrell, unable to regain their level of the 2019/20 financial year, are also pushed towards the exit, in order to make room for young Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert, limited in terms of playing time and therefore slowed down in their progression.
The time for in-depth reconstruction has come for the leaders of Washington!
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