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2019-20 Wizards Season Preview Roundtable
We’re only a few days from the Wizards’ season opener in Dallas, and the WashingtonWizards.com and digital crew is gearing up for the start of the season. Burning questions about the team’s starting lineup, rotation, injury returns, and more await. We get you ready with six questions heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. What are your expectations for the Wizards in 2019-20?
Zach Rosen – Sr. Manager, Digital Content: The Washington Wizards enter the 2019-20 season with little or no expectations around the league. The team is well aware that people are counting them out, and every single player has a chip on his shoulder heading into the season. It’s been established that this year is about development with John Wall likely missing the entire season, but winning is part of developing too. I’m not expecting the Wizards to compete for a championship this season, but I do think they will be better than people think. They’ve been together since after Labor Day and have already built an identity and team chemistry. The Wizards want to be the team you don’t want to play every night, competing on every possession and diving for loose balls. We’ve already seen them showcase that identity in the preseason, and I’m looking forward to watching this team compete in 82 games. If everything aligns and the team can stay healthy, Washington has a chance to play spoiler in the East and win more games than people think.
Chris Gehring – Sr. Manager, Digital Media: Developing a culture and a “program” has been a major focus of the Wizards’ offseason. They’ve made a ton of changes in the front office and on the roster and have goals of growth that may not turn into wins immediately. So while putting a number on expectations and predicting a playoff run this season is probably unlikely, I anticipate being able to look back on guys like Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, and Troy Brown Jr. at the beginning of the season and say that they’ve taken leaps in terms of solidifying themselves as long-term fixtures for the Wizards going forward. Some of the ways I think we’ll be able to quantify that is how much better all three can get as perimeter threats and how well they grow into NBA defenders and rebounders.
Jacob Raim – Sr. Director, Digital Media: I have a few expectations for this Wizards team. The first is that they are going to compete like hell every single night, and even beat some teams you really won't expect them to beat. If anybody looks past this squad, they're going to find themselves with problems on their hands. Bradley Beal will not let this young team take a night off, and you have a lot of players really hungry to make a name for themselves in this league. The second is that this team is going to look a lot different the second half of the year than the first. Not in the physical players on the roster, but in how those players play. Guys like Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Jordan McRae (and the list could go on), are all getting the biggest opportunities of their career. They're going get a ton of run, crunch time minutes, and more. They’re going to get better and more comfortable in their roles as the season goes along.
Blair Berry – Manager, Social Media: The Wizards are coming off of a 32-win season and despite having a completely new squad, they can definitely grow from last year’s record. The team has a lot of young guys ready to learn, but they’ve also got some big-time veterans. Bradley Beal, John Wall, and new acquisitions like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, and C.J. Miles are all great leaders to have who can help this team build.
Thomas Bryant is one player who made a name for himself last season and I expect him to make an even bigger splash this season. Another player we can expect a lot from is Davis Bertans. The Latvian sharpshooter is going into his 12th season playing professional ball and I think he’s a sleeper who is going to have a really good season. If people don’t know who he is, they sure will soon.
Injuries have hurt the Wizards in the preseason, but the injured veterans will be a good voice for the younger players on the sidelines. I expect the win total to be 40 games.
Zac Ikuma – Wizards Digital Correspondent (Japanese Language): What a difference a season makes. I’m new to the Wizards digital team, but looking at last year's Roundtable predictions, everyone’s hopes was along the lines of going deeper into the playoffs or cracking the top four in the East. Times have changed though. People hate to hear the term “rebuild” but this season is going to be about laying the foundation for sustained winning a couple years down the road. This season is for identifying and further establishing the long-term pieces. This team could surprise everyone, be sneaky good and be a lower playoff seed. But the more likely outcome is that it will be competitive most nights, be overmatched some nights and win in the low to mid-30s. No matter how good or bad the team performs, if the front office can practice patience, it is a team on the rise.
2. How can Bradley Beal continue to improve?
Zach Rosen: Bradley Beal committed long-term with the Wizards last week, and now can focus on the season ahead with no distractions. On the court, Beal has become a dynamic playmaker, and he can still get even better. He averaged a career-high 5.5 assists per game last season, and that number will go up this year. Last year, he started using a new form with his free throw shooting. It improved for a period of time, but he still finished 80.8% from the line. For whatever reason, his free throw shooting has never been higher than 82.5% in a season. Beal has showcased one of the best step-back moves in the league, and I expect that to improve this year as well. He has some of the best moves in the NBA, and he’s always working to improve his game.
Chris Gehring: This is the first season that Bradley Beal has known all offseason and through training camp that this is unequivocally his team to lead. He showed he was ready to handle that responsibility last year with the way he took both Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. under his wing and set expectations as they were thrust into major minutes. That spotlight is only going to get brighter for that young duo, and I think their relationship with Beal is going to pay off even more as they play feature roles for the Wizards this season.As for Beal’s impact on the court, he’s going to be called upon to do everything this season. He’s coming off of the best performance of his career having averaged over 25 points to go with five rebounds and five assists per game, and it’s not crazy to predict that those numbers will climb even higher in 2019-20. This season, we’re going to see Beal’s full arsenal for 82 games. Offensively, he’ll be asked to take defenders one-on-one, make tough shots, and make the right passes out of double-teams. Then, he’ll also be expected to be a leading perimeter defender on the other end. Even though it likely won’t result in pressure-packed playoff moments, this season will be likely the most unique challenge of Beal’s career. The good news for the Wizards is that he’s ready for it.
Jacob Raim: Bradley Beal has improved something every year of his career. From shooting, to ball-handling, iso scoring, and distributing, he keeps finding ways to get better. I'd love to answer defense for this question, but the fact is that Beal is going to have to carry so much of the load offensively, that asking him to be an elite defender as well is a tough task. Beal takes a ton of pride in his defense, and he'll compete every possession, so I'll answer leadership. This is the first season in which Beal will not be sharing leadership duties with another superstar in John Wall. This is unquestionably his team from start to finish, particularly after his new contract. I will really enjoy seeing him continue to grow and mature as a leader this year.
Blair Berry: Bradley Beal is the guy right now, so he has to continue to be a leader. He’s vocal in practice and that will have to carry over in the game. Last season he had to learn how to become more of a playmaker after John Wall went down and he adjusted to that well. Now he will need to continue to do that and then some. This time around he’ll have to look to be more comfortable with playmaking since he had almost a complete season to make the adjustment. He can also improve by attacking the boards more to get more rebounds, rather than relying on other teammates to do it. Lastly, when other teams are game planning, they will be looking to take Beal out the game and double team him, so his shot selection and decision-making will need to be top-notch.
Zac Ikuma: Statistically speaking, Bradley Beal can further improve his already good 3-point percentage. But the bigger impact will be with his leadership. For the first time, this team is his from the get-go. For a self-admittedly quiet guy, he will have to lead not just by example but also vocally. When to call out teammates? When to pick his fights? For all the new faces in the building, this team is already a tight unit. Now, can Brad continue to perform night in and night out, while also coaxing his young teammates into overachieving.
3. What’s a bold prediction for this year’s team?
Zach Rosen: Everybody is ragging on the team’s defense, but I think it will be improved from last year. It starts in the middle with Thomas Bryant, who has shown drastic improvement defensively during training camp and preseason. Bradley Beal is a solid perimeter defender, and Troy Brown Jr. may already be the best on the team. Rui Hachimura is bigger and a better defender than scouts gave him credit for. Finally, new ‘defensive coordinator’ and assistant coach Mike Longabardi is an excellent coach. His system and different looks on defense have worked in the preseason, specifically the zone.
Chris Gehring: I think Rui Hachimura will play himself into a first-team All-Rookie selection. He’s a natural on the floor and has the patience and willingness to learn more to go with it. Hachimura will adjust to the NBA game faster than a lot of his fellow rookies, and I think he’ll be given the stage to put up the subsequent numbers to be in the conversation as one of the brightest rookies this season.
Jacob Raim:Thomas Bryant finishes with a 20-10 season, or something real close to it. I think Bryant is going to be the second leading scorer on this squad. He’s going to be crazy efficient around the hoop and is shooting threes now. The sky is the limit for this kid and he's going have every opportunity in the world this year.
Blair Berry: Bold prediction for me is that the Wizards finish near .500 and slide into the playoffs with an eighth seed.
Zac Ikuma: We saw in the preseason how this undersized bunch can out-grit opponents into the league’s fourth best net rating (yes, I know it was preseason!). This team could very well be like last year’s Pacers. Out-defend, out-hustle and give itself a chance to win every night. What the Wizards lack in size, they make up for in speed, youth and heart. But with such a thin roster, can the central players maintain peak performance for an entire season? As mentioned before, this underdog mentality could happily find themselves with a lower playoff seed; possibly even a first-round upset. Another bold prediction: the team barely misses the playoffs but wins big in next year’s lottery and ends up with a top three pick.
4. Which (non-rookie) new addition will have the biggest impact?
Zach Rosen: He could also be the team’s x-factor, but I’ll go with Davis Bertans. The Wizards’ acquisition of Bertans from San Antonio in a three-team trade will turn out to be one of the best trades of the offseason. Bertans may literally be the best 3-point shooter in the world; he shot 43.9% on catch-and-shoot 3s and 58.3% (!!!) from the corners last year. The Latvian Laser is also an underrated defender with great size. He can heat up from 3-point in a hurry and has some moves to get to the rim as well.
Chris Gehring: Davis Bertans is the easy answer here. He was very much a role player in San Antonio, and while he can be an elite role player on a playoff team, he’s going to be given the chance to be more than that in Washington. It’s an opportunity he’s personally excited about, and I’m very interested to see how much he can contribute this year. He’s a young guy with valuable veteran experience, making him a really good fit for this roster. Oh, and he’s probably one of the five best 3-point shooters in the NBA (if not higher). His addition was maybe the most under-the-radar of all this offseason, but don’t be surprised if it’s also the best one at season’s end.
Jacob Raim:He's not getting many headlines, but I think the answer here is definitely Davis Bertans. This guy can straight up shoot it; 43% from three is no joke. That was good for 6th in the NBA and second among forwards. He's going to play a lot this season, and whenever he's on the court, he'll cause big problems for defenses as a floor spacer. Assuming he comes off the bench, he will lead the team’s bench players in scoring by a large margin, and maybe even gets himself a Sixth Man of the Year vote or two.
Blair Berry: Isaiah Thomas. He’s bounced around with a couple teams since leaving Boston and he’s been plagued with injuries, but once he’s back from his injury, which should be much sooner than we thought initially, I think he’ll make a huge impact. He’s fast, he’s quick, he can lead a team, he’s a playmaker, and when he’s healthy, he’s a problem to defend.
Zac Ikuma: Moe Wagner. He didn’t get a chance to do much last year with the Lakers. And he did lose a bunch of weight during FIBA World Cup action with Team Germany. But he plays like he has the biggest chip on his shoulder. The way he didn’t back down against an at times out-of-control Joel Embiid in the final preseason game was impressive and promising. He is pretty much the polar opposite of the cool-on-the-court Rui Hachimura. And this team needs that kind of emotional sparkplug to come off the bench and keep opponents’ bigs in check.
5. Who is your x-factor this year?
Zach Rosen: Isaiah Thomas. The point guard is as healthy as he’s been since playing in Boston, with his hip and left thumb injuries almost behind him. If the Wizards can get even 50% of what Thomas was in Boston, he will be a strong contributor off the bench and even threaten to start. A revamped Isaiah Thomas can take this team to the next level. Furthermore, Thomas has been a strong influence in the locker room in training camp and the preseason, which can’t be overlooked.
Chris Gehring: Isaiah Thomas is only a few seasons removed from averaging nearly 29 points per game. There’s no questioning that a lot has changed since then with injury problems keeping him out for much of the past couple of years, but prior to a fluke hand injury he said he was feeling as good as he has in years. He’s a critical veteran voice in this locker room regardless of what he contributes on the floor, but his drive to return and prove that he’s still a difference-maker in this league has been impressive to watch. When he gets that chance, he could change the landscape for Washington this season.
Jacob Raim:Troy Brown Jr. This kid is about to get a baptism by fire on the defensive end, as many nights he'll be responsible for defending the opponent’s top guy. He has all kinds of upside defensively and he's going to learn a ton going up against the league's best night in and night out. Offensively, Beal will help get him a lot of open looks and he looked good putting it on the deck at the end of last season. He's going to be as important to this team as anybody outside of Beal on both ends of the floor.
Blair Berry: Thomas Bryant. He’s been working on his shot and we learned from preseason that he’s improved on his jumper from deep. I’m sure we can expect to see a good bit of threes from him this season. He’s also a frustrating player to play against. He’s not going to give up shots inside the lane easily, so opponents have to be ready to work for it.
Zac Ikuma: Rui Hachimura. I’m not just saying this because I’m the Japanese-language correspondent in charge of transmitting Rui’s every move and word to his native Japan. But the reality is that this team has roster holes in the ‘3’ and ‘4’ positions. And Rui slots in perfectly as an undersized but steady and heady 4. His game is as NBA-ready as any rookie and he fills the team’s immediate need. Whether he produces or not will be the difference between this team winning 30 games or 35+ games.
6. What will constitute success for Rui Hachimura in his rookie season?
Zach Rosen: For Rui Hachimura, development and growth will determine a successful season. All indications are that he will get an opportunity to start right away, one of few rookies in the entire league to do so. The team will have baseline numbers they’d like Hachimura to hit in terms of minutes, but keeping him healthy in his first year will be key. Developing some more moves to get to the rim and continuing to expand that already improved jump-shot will be keys to his rookie season. I expect him to average about 12 points and six rebounds and get to the free throw line a lot for a rookie.
Chris Gehring: Preseason is preseason, but one of the most telling of Hachimura’s performances in my opinion was his outing against the Bucks. He shot the ball poorly (4-of-13 FG, 1-8 FT), but added 12 rebounds and three steals. Rookies have off nights, but I think one of the best ways to measure his success and growth is by paying attention to what else Hachimura contributes when his shot isn’t there on a particular night. He knows that he’ll have to contribute in other ways when he’s not scoring, and his ability to switch defensively, create deflections and rebound will be key areas in which to do that. Another knock on him pre-draft was his 3-point shooting ability. He’s already shown that he’s a capable shooter from the perimeter, but his consistency from beyond the arc is another thing to keep an eye on as the season gets underway.
Jacob Raim:It's cliché, but just continuing to improve night in and night out. Soak everything in during his rookie campaign and also try not to get overwhelmed by all the 'Rui Mania' that he sees in every city. Hachimura is probably going to start and see as many minutes as any rookie in the league. You'd love to see him put up the kind of numbers in those minutes that result in an All-Rookie campaign, but as long as you look back on the season and can say that he improved significantly over the year, it can be called a success.
Blair Berry: His hustle and his confidence. He’s 21 and he definitely made some noise in preseason. He’s scrappy on defense, he goes after the ball no matter where it’s at on the court, and if his shot isn’t falling, he’s following his shot and putting it back up until it goes in as many times as it takes. If he stays consistent with that then you can guarantee a successful season for the Japanese Jumpman.
Zac Ikuma: Rui carries the expectations of an entire media-crazy country and the pressure he faces is enormous. Just getting through his daily media responsibilities in both English and Japanese (I promise not to overwhelm him!) is an accomplishment on its own. Given that, just getting through the season and learning the ins and outs of the league will constitute success. But because he is thrust into a situation where he will get many minutes and touches right away, there will be expectations for him to produce statistically. So, there’s that added pressure, but he knows what he signed up for. His game is real, and he knows it. He is uber confident and super calm. He’s experienced multiple Final Fours. He’s been living in the Japanese media circus since high school. He is a winner. The pressure doesn't seem to get to him at all. Coach Brooks called him the “oldest 21-year-old” he’s ever been around. Because he is already counted on by the team to produce, if he can become the team’s secondary scoring option (along with Thomas Bryant) and second-best rebounder (behind Bryant), that can be called a resounding success.