The Washington Wizards were 10-3 with the league’s fourth-ranked defense on Nov. 16, 2021. But the bottom fell out after that as the Wizards won just 25 of their final 69 games, finished eight games out of the Play-In in the Eastern Conference and finished 25th in defensive efficiency. Bradley Beal missed half the season (though the Wizards weren’t any better in the games he played than they were in the games he missed) and, after his acquisition at the trade deadline, Kristaps Porzingis appeared in just 17 of a possible 28 games. The Wizards’ two highest-paid players didn’t play a single minute together.
Beal is back with a new, five-year contract, committed to a franchise that hasn’t been anything better than earn the No. 8 seed in the last five seasons. And that franchise is committed to him despite some regression in his game, set to pay him more than $250 million over the next five.
This team appears to be a few steps away from a return to relevancy, especially with the East looking stronger than it has in the last 20 years. But Beal has a new point guard (Monte Morris) who should ease his playmaking burden, and on Media Day, he called Porzingis “probably the best big I’ll play with in my career.” The Wizards have a solid, veteran core and some young talent that could make a leap. It’s a new mix and the two former All-Stars could complement each other pretty well, so there’s potential for a breakthrough.
Can they defend? The Wizards’ projected starting lineup could be pretty potent offensively. But the best way to overachieve is to defend at a high level. The Wizards did that for about four weeks last season, but couldn’t sustain it and have now ranked 20th or worse defensively in four straight seasons. They do have some good defenders — Delon Wright, Deni Avdija and Daniel Gafford — coming off the bench, but they’ll need the starters to also defend decently to compete in this Eastern Conference.
There’s a clear top nine in the East, the eight teams that reached the playoffs last season plus the eighth-place team — Cleveland — that added Donovan Mitchell. Unless one of those nine teams has serious troubles, the Wizards should be in a competition for the final Play-In spot with teams like Charlotte, Detroit and New York. They seemingly have the talent to be the best of that group, but how competitive they are will come down to chemistry, defense and player development. Projection: Draft Lottery
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
26, 26 — The Wizards were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in both 3-point percentage (34.2%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (35.6%, 26th) last season.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Monte Morris: Can be more of a playmaker away from Nikola Jokic. Consistently among the league leaders in assist/turnover ratio (4.77 over his four full seasons).
Bradley Beal: Ranked sixth in drives per game and will have the space to attack, but still needs to rediscover his 3-point stroke (30% from deep last season).
Will Barton: Might find things tougher without Jokic feeding him. Saw a big drop in the percentage of his shots that came in the paint last season.
Kyle Kuzma: Had some nice moments, hit some big shots and became a little more of a playmaker in his first season in Washington.
Kristaps Porzingis: Shot just 31% from 3-point range last season, but did take a career-high 46% of his shots in the paint. Also had strong rim protection numbers.
Deni Avdija: Has the profile of a forward that every team would love to have. Has had some good moments defensively and could be more aggressive on offense.
Daniel Gafford: Bouncy big is a strong finisher and rim protector (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes ranked seventh). Played only 14 minutes alongside Porzingis last season.
Rui Hachimura: Missed the first 39 games last season, but came back a much-improved 3-point shooter, going 54-for-115 (47.0%) on catch-and-shoot attempts.
Corey Kispert: Got a chance to play as a rookie. Averaged 31 minutes and registered an effective field goal percentage of 62.3% after the All-Star break.
Delon Wright: Defensive pest whose 2.3 steals per 36 minutes ranked third among 272 players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Wizards have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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