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Opportunity arises for Wizards' young core with Beal, Bertans out
Earlier this week, just before departing D.C. for Orlando, the Wizards announced that leading scorer Bradley Beal would not accompany the team on the trip and would not be participating in the NBA’s restart as he continues to nurse a shoulder injury that has nagged him all season. Beal’s absence – and that of sharpshooter and number-two scorer Davis Bertans – creates a unique opportunity for the rest of the Wizards’ rotation.
Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Moritz Wagner, Jerome Robinson and the rest of Washington’s young core will take on more responsibility and play meaningful minutes on a high-exposure stage.
Beal, out due to his shoulder injury, and Bertans, looking to maintain full health heading into a free agent summer after sustaining ACL injuries earlier in his career, have received full support from the front office, coaching staff and their teammates. The reactions from around the organization demonstrate a trust in the remaining active players to carry the load during a period that Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard says, despite the absences, remains about competing and qualifying for the playoffs.
“Guys don’t want to hear that we’re going to Orlando to develop,” Sheppard said on a Zoom press conference Tuesday. “They want to go there to win. All of our players want to win…We’re going to have to play everybody…We go there with the mindset that we’re going to develop and keep playing all those guys. But we’re going there to win. I’ve said that from the jump. That’s why you play games in the NBA. You’re trying to win these games.”
Beal and Bertans, though, leave a sizeable gap to fill. The duo combines for 65.3 minutes per game, 45.9 points per game and account for 6.7 of the team’s 12.3 threes per game.
Washington signed DMV native and Go-Go standout Jerian Grant to fill Bertans’ roster spot. Beal’s roster spot, per league rules, will not be filled as his absence is due to injury. The Wizards, however, are not counting on any single-player, plug-and-play replacement for either spot. Instead, a holistic effort with an emphasis on the young core, a group the front office will now have a chance to see in a new light.
At the time the season was suspended, the Wizards ranked sixth in the league in total scoring from players under the age of 23 – and that was with Beal and Bertans driving most of the scoring. Now, they will get to see what they can do with more usage.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” Sheppard said. “We’ve got a lot of people that can step in (to fill the backcourt minutes). Certainly anchored by Ish Smith, Shabazz Napier, Troy Brown (Jr.) – those are three guys, those are fixtures anyway in our rotation – and then you throw in Jerian Grant who we signed, who had a great season with the G League, who also has over 275 games in the NBA of experience. We’re not going in with an unknown quantity in our backcourt. We’ve got multiple guys who can play multiple positions. You’re not going to replace Bradley Beal. We realize that, but I think the opportunity for other players to step up is there and we’re excited to see what they can do.”
Brown Jr., Robinson and Grant are likely to see the biggest uptick in minutes given their positional similarity to Beal and Bertans, but the effects will be felt all through the rotation. Scott Brooks could just as easily go big to replace the pair, opening up more opportunities for Hachimura, Bryant, Wagner and Anzejs Pasecniks.
Brooks will have no shortage of options as he considers how to shuffle the lineup. Washington’s bench is scoring 49.6 points per game this season, which trails only the Los Angeles Clippers (51.5). As a whole, the Wizards are tied for the league lead with eight players averaging at least 10.0 points per game.
“You’re never better without Bradley Beal,” Sheppard said. “Never. But we had to play without Bradley this year and we had some success. These guys stepped up and did well. You have that in your back pocket. This is not something we didn’t do. We had to play games this year without Bertans, too. That’s in our memory banks that we can do these things…at least experience is on our side and we had success.”
Sheppard also noted how it seemed that each player across the roster had at least one stretch throughout the season where he stepped up and showed flashes of what he could do in a larger role.
From December 14 through January 10, with the Wizards fighting through a rush of injuries, Brown Jr. scored in double figures in 13 of 15 games, averaging 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. In a six-game stretch in early December, Hachimura averaged over 20.0 points per game, including a career-high 30 against the Clippers. Bryant started the season hot, scoring 20-plus points five times in a 15-game run before suffering a foot injury. Lastly, Wagner had a career night against Minnesota in November, going for 30 points and 15 rebounds as part of an eight-game stretch in which he scored 10-plus points seven times.
Now, those opportunities will be abundant.
The Orlando restart will be extremely valuable to the Wizards’ front office as it charts the future of the organization. Whenever it concludes, Washington will have a far clearer understanding of what this group can do, how they handle playing in pressure situations and where each piece fits as it plans for a full-strength 2020-21 season.