NBA Season Restart 2019-20

2019-20 Season Reset: Washington Wizards

2019-20 Season Reset: Wizards

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic . The season will return on July 30 and‘s writers are taking an updated look at each of the league’s 30 teams.

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Record: 24-40, No. 9 in Eastern Conference

Season summary: The idea of the Wizards still being alive in the Eastern Conference playoff chase when the season was place on hiatus is remarkable, given how poorly they performed on defense. Yet here they stand as the No. 9 team in the East and in the 22-team mix for the season restart. It’s a testament to Bradley Beal’s leadership and the drama-free culture new general manager Tommy Sheppard is cultivating. By all accounts, the Wizards should have been buried months ago with a lack of top-end talent available (John Wall’s absence being the most glaring factor). Give coach Scott Brooks credit, though. He went all in with the likes of Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown, Ish Smith, Moritz Wagner and other guys you might not recognize on a nightly basis. On the strength of Beal’s will to compete they were a legitimate playoff contender, the Wizards earned respect in what could have easily been a lost season for the franchise. Unfortunately, Beal opted out of the restart, so anything Washington accomplishes in Orlando will be done without his services. Instead, there is optimism that things will start turning next season. They don’t have the exciting young talent of an Atlanta or Memphis, but they are in the same stratosphere in terms of how quickly things could change in the near future.

Breakout player: Bertans has shown himself to be an ideal fit as an off the bench scorer capable of elevating his game in ways no one had seen previously. Unfortunately for the Wizards, he opted out of the season restart. But the most pleasant surprise for the Wizards has to be how well Hachimura has managed the transition from college to the NBA. Player comparisons leading up to the Draft were all over the place, everything from a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard to yet another international prospect (Japan, if you didn’t know) who was more a curiosity than a legitimate frontline starter ready to make an immediate impact. Hachimura has turned out to be an ideal fit and has endeared himself to Beal and the other veterans who appreciate his no-nonsense focus and production (13.4 points, 6.0 rebounds). He fits perfectly within that culture Sheppard is crafting.

Statement win: The Wizards enjoyed an extended statement weekend in January that saw them win back-to-back games over playoff teams, the only time they did that and just the third set of back-to-back wins they enjoyed all season. The two-game homestead included a 128-114 win over the Nuggets on Jan. 4, when Smith dropped a career-high 32 points and Brown added 25 and a career-high 14 rebounds while Beal was in street clothes resting a sore leg. They followed that one up with a 99-94 defeat of Boston on Jan. 6, when Smith once again led them in scoring (27 points) and Brown in rebounds (nine). Smith got MVP chants from the crowd for his work with a half dozen of the Wizards regulars unavailable, including Beal, Wall, Hachimura, Bryant, Bertans and Wagner. Finding ways to win those games against high-level competition was not only a confidence booster for Smith and Brown and the others who played, but it did wonders for the confidence Beal, in particular, had in his supporting cast.

Most exciting game: Beal was in the midst of a nuclear stretch after being snubbed for the All-Star Game and rang up his second straight 50-point game and lit up the league-leading Bucks for 56 points in a 137-134 Feb. 24 home loss. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton scored nine straight points for the Bucks with reigning Kia MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out and on the bench at crunch time. Beal didn’t get a chance to tie the game in the final seconds as the Bucks made sure to deny that opportunity. A Brown 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark and the Bucks survived Beal’s attack on the day of Kobe Bryant’s memorial service in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, Beal became the first player in the league since Bryant in March 2007 to score 50-plus points on consecutive days (Beal scored 53 the day before in a loss to Chicago). “Oh man, that’s crazy,” Beal said. “That’s who Kobe was, that was his drive and that ceremony today just brought the feeling, the tears all back again.”

Memorable moments: Take your pick from a season full of ’em for Beal, who was not an All-Star. He was fantastic (29.1 ppg, 32% on 3-pointers) before the All-Star break and even better after it (36.5 ppg, 45% on 3-pointers). The most memorable moment for Sheppard and the Wizards came months earlier. When Beal signed a two-year, $72 million max extension in October, he bought everyone time to see exactly what they are working with in the rebuilding process. He also made it clear that he still believes in the power he and Wall have as one of the league’s most dynamic duos. No one knows for sure what type of player Wall will be when he returns, but the most important people involved (Wall, Beal, Brooks and Sheppard) are betting on him getting back to his All-Star-level ways. In hindsight, Draft night was better to the Wizards than anyone realized at the time, given the way Hachimura performed as a rookie.

Team MVP: Beal is the runaway winner here. If not for James Harden (34.5 ppg), Beal would be staring at his first scoring title (30.5 ppg). He is already the face of the Wizards’ franchise and has ascended to a different space among his peers around the league. This season was his first opportunity to showcase what type of leader he could be without sharing those responsibilities with Wall. By all estimates, he’s smashed it. Sheppard has full confidence in Beal being the player the Wizards build around going forward and that sort of trust in a player can speed up change. Any moves the Wizards make in the Draft and free agency after the season’s return will be done so with Beal in mind.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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