After dealing Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, no one expected the Washington Wizards to be in win-now mode. But here they are, just under a month into the regular season, sitting at 10-3 atop the Eastern Conference standings. Life is good in D.C., to say the least. Especially if you’re newcomer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Washington Wizards revamped their roster
The combination of Westbrook and Bradley Beal was good enough to get the Wizards to the playoffs, but that’s about it. Washington finished 34-38, grabbing the eight-seed in the East and quickly losing to the Philadelphia 76ers.
First, Washington hired Wes Unseld Jr. as its new head coach. Next, faced with a decision to keep Westbrook and pay him $44 million or move on, the Wizards chose the latter. Shortly after the draft, Washington traded Russ to the Lakers in a five-team deal that saw Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell swap out purple and gold for blue and red.
Washington also executed a sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie. The former Brooklyn Nets guard signed a three-year, $54 million with the Wizards, who in turn sent a pair of second-round picks to Brooklyn. 2018 first-round guard Aaron Holiday also joined the team following three years with the Indiana Pacers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has found a home in D.C.
Caldwell-Pope is playing for his third franchise in nine seasons. Following a four-year run with the Detroit Pistons, KCP spent the last four seasons in LA, winning a championship in 2020. But so far, his stay in D.C. has been a solid one.
In 13 starts, the 28-year-old is averaging 9.7 points, exactly what he averaged last season with the Lakers. But he is also enjoying the new scenery away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Caldwell-Pope, who was born and raised in Georgia, told NBC Sports Washington he loves playing in Washington D.C. because of the views. Not the world-renowned monuments, but rather the trees surrounding highways and suburban roads.
“I’ve never seen so many trees,” KCP said, also adding he feels like he’s back home “in the country.”
The new-look Wizards are surging
It’s not uncommon to see a team with a lot of new pieces struggling at first. But so far, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Wizards have yet to miss a beat.
Washington’s come-from-behind effort against the New Orleans Pelicans marked its fifth-straight victory. Team defense has played a major role, as the Wizards rank fifth in defensive rating. They have also held opponents to a league-low 47.7% effective field-goal rate.
Led by Beal, the Wizards have four players averaging double figures. The other three are all newcomers, with Harrell averaging 18.0 points primarily off of the bench, Dinwiddie adding 17.0, and Kuzma chipping in 14.5 per game. At 9.7, Caldwell-Pope is also on the verge of joining that group. And while overall 3-point shooting has left a little to be desired, Washington’s shooting from inside the arc as well as from the free-throw line sits comfortably within the top-10.
With two matchups against the Miami Heat and a road game against the Charlotte Hornets in the next four days, the Wizards will have a chance to really assert themselves as more than an early-season surprise.