By all early indications, this season would be different on so many levels for the Washington Wizards. They had an elite defensive mind, West Unseld Jr., at the helm. They not only cut the cancerous Russell Westbrook out of their roster, but they flipped him for three postseason-tested veterans. And, most importantly, superstar guard Bradley Beal was still donning Washington’s red, white, and blue.
But what began as a highly encouraging 10-5 start painfully devolved into a soul-crushing 23-24 predicament for the Wiz. Yet again, Washington sits in 10th place in the East, and it owns the same record as the underachieving New York Knicks. Much more slippage — like in Sunday’s 29-point throttling to Jayson Tatum and the Celtics — and the Wizards run the risk of being back in the lottery.
The last thing the Wizards need right now is another unpolished young player from the draft who is a project. So, they had better act fast to save their season. This roster is in big-time need of a shakeup before the Feb. 10 NBA Trade Deadline, and the clock is ticking.
Washington has problems on its overcrowded roster and should deal size for shooting
In this craziest of NBA seasons, where more than 100 players have gotten promoted from the G League, depth has never been more critical. For an extended stretch of December, NBA games looked somewhat similar to small-college matchups with no-named hopefuls dotting every NBA roster.
A tremendous depth of talent is the Wizards’ most significant advantage, yet somehow it hasn’t helped them during their slide back to mediocrity. Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant recently returned to add bodies to an already crowded Washington frontline. Both are still on minutes’ restrictions, but the Wizards are still trying to shoehorn them into a front-court rotation that includes Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, David Bertans, Daniel Gafford, and Deni Avdija.
The Wizards have a steady stable of talent around Beal in the backcourt. Spencer Dinwiddie can be dynamic, but he hasn’t fit as planned. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still a streaky and hesitant shooter, while Corey Kispert is finding his way in the NBA.
That logjam has led to Unseld Jr. playing as many as 11 players a night. Unseld Jr. even admitted the insanity of trying to do so two weeks ago during a pregame news conference in Orlando. Playing that way doesn’t allow players to find their rhythms and hurts the team. Of course, Unseld Jr. would prefer to play nine players so that Washington’s go-to players can produce at high levels.
When questions turn to Bradley Beal, the Wizards must decide whether or not to deal
Bradley Beal has undoubtedly been one of the best shooting guards of his generation. And, of course, it’s been admirable that he’s spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Wizards. He’s always resisted the temptation to ask out of rebuilding situations or seek out more glamorous markets to play in.
But what have Washington and Beal gotten out of all the 3-point baskets, 40-point nights, and the host of one-man-band performances? Beal has helped the Wizards to the playoffs just twice in the past four years, and neither time were they much of a threat to win.
Even Beal’s usually steady production has taken a nosedive this season. After averaging 30.5 and 31.3 points a game the past two seasons, his scoring average in 38 games this season is at 23.6 points per game. A career 37.2% shooter from 3-point range, his accuracy has plummeted to 29.9% this season. His poor shooting has been contagious as the Wizards rank 28th in the 30-team NBA in 3-point accuracy (32.4%).
Any trade talk in Washington always begins and ends with Beal. Do the Wizards dare deal a player who has been immensely loyal to them? The guard is just 28 years old, but should Washington look to flip him now while he still holds maximum value around the NBA?
If not Beal, who should the Washington Wizards trade before the deadline?
In recent years, Wes Unseld Jr. was the mastermind of the massive defensive improvements the Denver Nuggets made. The hope in Washington was that his firm hand, unwavering expectations, and that vaunted Unseld glare would do the same for the Wizards. However, Washington is a disappointing 20th in the league in points allowed, and 17th in field goal percentage surrendered.
Because superstar players are so hard to come by, Washington would be wise to keep Beal on board and continue building around him.
The most obvious area to deal from is Washington’s crowded frontcourt. Washington must choose between Hachimura or Avdija and trade the other. If Bryant is their center of the future, they should shop Gafford, who could potentially fetch a draft pick in return. Then, they have to ask themselves if Kuzma, Harrell, Hachimura, Bertans, and Bryant can ever mesh in the same frontcourt? Also, there’s this: Why has Dinwiddie looked so passive and unable to fit in with Beal, Caldwell-Pope, and Kispert?
Answer those questions, and the Wizards will likely know how they should proceed before the trade deadline. Do nothing, and the slumping Wizards run the risk of once again being stuck in the NBA’s vicious lottery cycle. Get Beal, Kuzma, and primarily Unseld Jr. some help, and Washington could potentially climb as high as sixth in the East and avoid the dreaded play-in game.
This latest slump, one that has seen Washington drop four of five, threatens the season. The clock is ticking for the Wizards to answer their roster questions and act accordingly.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.