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Washington Wizards 2019-20 Season Preview
The 2019-20 Wizards season is just about here, and we’ve got you covered with a mega-preview ahead of the season opener on Wednesday. Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the 2019-20 Washington Wizards.
1. Building an identity and culture. General manager Tommy Sheppard and head coach Scott Brooks have vowed to build a winning culture in the nation’s capital. Modeled after Bradley Beal, the team wants to be built on hard work, max effort, and high impact off the court. The Wizards seem to already have an identity this season, as Brooks has already started molding a gritty, hard-working team. It was just preseason, but the Wizards showed that they will be a tough out every night this season. This year will be about development, but the Wizards have already started to build a winning culture and something to carry over into seasons to come.
2. Beal’s leadership. Bradley Beal’s decision to sign his extension last week had a lot to do with the identity and culture the team has been building (see above). Though under unfortunate circumstances with John Wall’s injury, this will be the first season Beal enters the season as the unquestioned leader of the team. Beal has preached accountability and ball movement, as the Wizards go into a season of development. Still only 26, the Wizards love what Beal has brought to the table so far in training camp and the preseason. He’s here to stay for the long run, and seeing him continue to become one of the faces of the league on and off the court has been special.
3. Longabardi’s defense. New ‘defensive coordinator’ and assistant coach Mike Longabardi has put in a new system that will be more successful than people are giving the Wizards credit. Longabardi, who won a title with the Celtics in 2007-08 and the Cavaliers in 2016-17, is looking to be a change agent in Washington. His system and different looks on defense have worked in the preseason, specifically the zone. 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. After struggling last season, the Wizards’ defense should be improved in 2019-20.
PG Ish Smith
For the first time in nine years, the Wizards will have a starting point guard not named John Wall to start the season. Scott Brooks will turn to Ish Smith as the team’s starting point guard to open the year, with Isaiah Thomas as the primary backup. Smith, who started 67 games in three years in Detroit, brings veteran experience and quickness to the starting unit. With his premier speed and solid playmaking, Smith will be a solid contributor to the backcourt alongside Bradley Beal.
SG Bradley Beal
The two-time All-Star begins his eighth NBA season, and will be poised to make his third straight All-Star team. Beal is coming off a season in which he became the first player in franchise history to average at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game, and I expect those numbers to go up even more. After the All-Star break last season, Beal averaged 26.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. This season, he could score closer to 30 points and seven assists per game.
SF Troy Brown Jr.
Troy Brown Jr. suffered a left calf strain during voluntary workouts, setting back his second season in the NBA. Brown Jr. will likely miss the season opener against the Mavericks, but he’s still poised to have a big impact on the 2019-20 Wizards. He’s noticeably stronger and even grew an inch over the summer, and the Wizards have high expectations from their 2018 first-round pick. Brown Jr. started receiving rotation minutes the last month of last year, and he should be able to step in and be one of the best perimeter defenders and overall solid players on the team right away.
PF Rui Hachimura
All indications are that Rui Hachimura will get an opportunity to start right away, one of few rookies in the entire league to do so. For Hachimura, development and growth will determine a successful season. 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.
C Thomas Bryant
After a breakout year in 2018-19, Thomas Bryant enters the 2019-20 season with high expectations. The 22-year old center will likely be the team’s second leading scorer behind Bradley Beal, thriving in pick-and-roll. Bryant was literally the league’s best finisher around the rim last season; he led the NBA in shooting percentage inside three feet. His evolution will come in pick-and-pop, as Bryant has become a solid 3-point shooter and can give the opponent fits defensively. He could average a double-double this season, especially after posting 18.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last year.
F Davis Bertans
Bertans is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league; he shot 43.9% on catch-and-shoot 3s and 58.3% from the corners last year. The Wizards shot 44.6 3-pointers per game in preseason, the second most in the NBA; Bertans will be a big part of that. 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. Bertans is not afraid to make the extra pass and fits the Wizards’ identity as a team-first, hard-working player. Still only 26, Bertans should have a big season and show that he hasn’t quite reached is potential yet in the NBA.
G Jordan McRae
Few veteran players have earned their opportunity like Jordan McRae. After coming back from overseas and recovering from an Achilles injury, McRae played on a two-way contract last season. He was one of the best players in the G League and helped build a winning culture with the Capital City Go-Go. Now, McRae, who entered the offseason with a non-guaranteed contract, made the team and has been one of the team’s top players in training camp and the preseason. The man coined a “walking bucket” will get a chance to contribute this season, and could even average double-digit points off the bench.
G Isaiah Thomas
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Thomas since he led the Celtics over the Wizards in the second round of the 2016-17 Eastern Conference playoffs. Thomas has been recovering from hip surgery for two seasons and just came back from his injured left thumb. He’s expected to be ready for opening night and will certainly be the team’s x-factor this season. The Wizards will have Thomas come off the bench to start the year and hope he can start to get back to being a lethal scorer. In the locker room, Thomas has already made an impact as a veteran leader and Washington hopes that continues through the season.
C Moe Wagner
After coming over in a trade from the Lakers in the offseason, Moe Wagner will be the Wizards’ backup center behind Thomas Bryant. Wagner impressed in training camp and preseason, leading the team in scoring. He averaged 15.8 points per game on 56.3% shooting overall, 36.4% from 3-point, and 89.5% from the free throw line. Wagner has earned the opportunity to get minutes, and the second-year big man out of Michigan will give the Wizards a solid stretch big off the bench.
F Isaac Bonga
The 19-year old Isaac Bonga has burst onto the scene during training camp and preseason, earning a chance to possibly start on opening night. Bonga made the most of the opportunity in front of him with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles injured, impressing the coaching staff. At 6’8”, Bonga will mainly play the ‘3’ for Washington, but he has experience internationally playing point guard. Bonga is in the beginning of his development, and he will be an exciting player to watch in the 2019-20 season.
F C.J. Miles
Another offseason acquisition who has been dealing with injury, C.J. Miles will get lots of playing time at the forward position this year. A career 35.9% 3-point shooter, Miles has been dealing with injuries over the past year-plus and is looking to prove he still has plenty left in the tank. Miles averaged double-digit points for four straight seasons before last year’s injury-riddled season. He’s already been a leader in the locker room and will continue to impact the team positively when he returns early in the season.
Schedule Stretches to Watch
Opening Week: 10/23 @ DAL, 10/25 @ OKC, 10/26 @ SAS, 10/30 vs. HOU
The Wizards will begin the season on the road, with three games in four nights. Washington opens at Dallas in what will be an exciting atmosphere with Kristaps Porzingis’s Mavericks debut, and the Wizards have only won once there since 2009. Next up on the trip will be the new-look Oklahoma City Thunder, who traded Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the offseason. The Wizards have historically struggled in OKC as well, but did finally win there last season. The final stop on the road trip will be in San Antonio on a back-to-back, and the Wizards haven’t won there since 1999. Last but not least, the Wizards will host Westbrook, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets in their home opener.
West Trip over Thanksgiving: 11/26 @ DEN, 11/27 @ PHX, 11/29 @ LAL, 12/1 @ LAC
To begin their first road trip out West, the Wizards will face the Nuggets and Suns in a road back-to-back. Not only is Denver coming off a breakthrough season, the Nuggets also had the best home record in the NBA last year. The Suns’ young players have another year of experience, and Devin Booker could score 50 points on any given night. After the game on Wednesday against the Suns, Washington will spend Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. The Wizards will face the Lakers and Clippers over that weekend, getting their first look at LeBron James and Anthony Davis’s Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s Clippers.
Homestand in late January and early February: 1/30 vs. CHA, 2/1 vs. BKN, 2/3 vs. GSW, 2/7 vs. DAL, 2/9 vs. MEM, 2/11 vs. CHI
February will feature eight of 11 games at home for the Wizards, not to mention a week-long All-Star break. One of Washington’s six-game homestand will take place in February, as the Wizards will take on the Hornets, Nets, Warriors, Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Bulls. That includes the Wizards’ first look at Kyrie Irving on the Nets, as well as D’Angelo Russell on the Warriors. Washington will also host Cleveland after the All-Star break and Brooklyn and Milwaukee later in the month.
March Road Gauntlet, West Coast Part 2: 2/28 @ UTA, 3/1 @ GSW, 3/3 @ SAC, 3/4 @ POR
February 28 will begin a tough month on the road of the Wizards, who will play almost all playoff-caliber teams away from home. The slate starts with a four-game road trip out West against the Jazz, Warriors, Kings, and Trail Blazers. Not only are all four projected to be playoff teams, they all have tough home environments. Following that trip, the Wizards will also have road games in March in Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. All four of those teams project to be at the top of the standings in the East.
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.
The Wizards do not make the playoffs, but this will be a positive year for development and growth. Washington wins 32 games, more than expected, and begin to build a reputation as a tough team to play every night.