Wizards Preseason Preview: schedule, storylines, scouting reports and more

On Tuesday, the Wizards will open a four-game preseason schedule on the road against the Rockets. After an offseason in which Washington hired Wes Unseld Jr. as its new head coach and made significant changes up and down its roster, the preseason will provide the Wizards a much-needed opportunity to gel as a group in preparation for a regular season schedule that tips on October 20 in Toronto.

Here, we break down everything you need to know about the Wizards’ preseason, including scheduling information, top storylines, opponent scouting reports, and quotes.

Wizards Training Camp Huddle

PRESEASON SCHEDULE
Tuesday, October 5 – at Houston Rockets – 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 9 – vs. New York Knicks – 7 p.m.
Tuesday, October 12 – vs. Toronto Raptors – 7 p.m.
Friday, October 15 – at New York Knicks – 7:30 p.m.

STORYLINES
New-look Wiz
The Washington roster got a makeover this offseason, most of which came by way of a five-team trade in early August. Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Holiday were all acquired in the deal and will make their unofficial Wizards debuts Tuesday night. Their additions give Washington a major boost to its depth – and perhaps more importantly, rotation and lineup flexibility that should pay dividends on both ends of the court. Dinwiddie, who averaged 20.6 points per game in his last full season in Brooklyn, provides a steady two-way threat and will fit nicely next to Bradley Beal. Raul Neto, who returned to the team as a free agent, and Holiday are each likely to see minutes at the backup point guard position. With Beal coming off consecutive 30-point-per-game seasons and holding down the two-guard spot, how far the Wizards go this season could depend on what they get out of the wing positions. Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma and first-round pick Corey Kispert join returning rotation players Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura. All are likely to see consistent minutes at positions 2-4 throughout the season.

Kispert pulling from Summer League experience
Over the final two seasons of his college career, Kispert shot 43.9% from deep on nearly six attempts per game – and 52.9% from the field overall in his senior season. After averaging 9.5 points per game with the Wizards in August’s NBA Summer League, Kispert is ready to show how his elite shooting ability – and the spacing that accompanies it – can elevate an NBA offense. Kispert said last week that he would continue to pull from that Summer League experience as he adjusts to full NBA competition.

“It’s part the same, part different,” Kispert said. “Coach Wes (Unseld Jr.) was with us at Summer League and he ran every practice and he basically put in our offensive system in Summer League. I had a little bit of a head start coming here and everything I’m seeing as far as the offense system goes is review. With that being said, Spencer (Dinwiddie) and Brad (Beal) weren’t handling the ball in Summer League. That’s the adjustment, to get used to that caliber of player. Honestly, it makes my job a lot easier, too, playing off those guys…They make my job really easy with how good they are.”

Gafford to see expanded role
After joining the Wizards at last season’s trade deadline, Daniel Gafford quickly established himself as a game-changing presence at the rim on both ends of the court. In his first 11 games in Washington, Gafford recorded 24 blocks, including five games with at least three blocks – and was a threat on every offensive possession to catch a lob in the pick-and-roll. None of those performances, however, came in a starting role. Gafford came off the bench in every game until their final two playoff games against Philadelphia. That will change this season. Gafford will see his role expand with just he and Montrezl Harrell as the only current active centers on the roster. Thomas Bryant, who suffered an ACL injury in January, will miss the start of the season as he continues to work his way back to full strength.

Unseld Jr., who has been well-regarded around the league for his defensive prowess for years, is eager to put Gafford’s talent on the defensive end to full use.

“(He has an) innate ability to change shots at the rim,” Unseld Jr. said. “I think it’s an incredible dynamic to have. He’s got the versatility and athleticism to be in his stance and impact the ball at the point but then also make plays late. It’s a weapon that I’m honestly not used to having. So having that gives me an incredible advantage but also a degree of comfort. Your defense isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be mistakes and if you have someone…who can change shots late, it gives you a secondary line of defense.”

Todd, Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Wes Unseld Jr. on preseason minutes – “I’m going to try to get as many guys in as I can. Not having as many preseason games as we would in past years, we have to be smart and use those games wisely. We also want to see what groups work well together. You’ll see your core group play, at some point, extended minutes, but you’re not going to run them past 26-28 minutes. That would be more than enough. But you want to have a tune-up ready to go so we can be ready by (opening night).”

Wes Unseld Jr. on the importance of the preseason – “In the preseason, you want to see certain groups play well together – and different combinations to see something maybe you didn’t know about. You may see a three-man lineup and say ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’ I think you have to be creative at times – and once again, you have to get those core guys minutes together to help develop that synergy and chemistry. But it gives you the opportunity to just play with some things, throw some guys out there and see what it looks like. Ideally, you want to get young guys some minutes as well. Those are minutes you can’t simulate in practice. You can say it’s game-like, but it’s not. The level of intensity, the emotional component, the nerves – all of that…You want to see how they handle it.”

Aaron Holiday on the start of the preseason – “It’s going to be fun. We’ve been (in D.C.) for a while – at least a month now – just working out…We’re just ready to be out there and play.”

OPPONENT BREAKDOWNS
Houston Rockets
Over the last calendar year, few teams have undergone a roster reconstruction as significant as the Rockets. After dealing Russell Westbrook to D.C. for John Wall and James Harden to Brooklyn for a haul of draft picks, Houston has begun to shape it’s rotation around newly acquired youth. The Rockets’ roster is highlighted by four first-round picks from the 2021 NBA Draft: Jalen Green (2nd overall), Alperen Sengun (16th), Usman Garuba (23rd) and Josh Christopher (24th). Green earned All-Summer League honors after averaging 20.3 points, shooting 51.3% overall, 52.6% from three and 92.8% from the free throw line. Christian Wood, a fifth-year big who averaged career highs in minutes (32.3), points (21.0) and rebounds (9.6) per game last season, and Kevin Porter Jr., a third-year wing, lead Houston’s corps of returning players. Porter Jr. averaged 19.1 points and 6.5 assists per game over his final 10 outings of the 2020-21 season, including a 50-point performance against Milwaukee.

New York Knicks
Last season, the Knicks made their first postseason appearance since 2013, led by an All-NBA season from Julius Randle and a promising year-long campaign from RJ Barrett. Randle missed only one game last season and averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. In the offseason, the team made a concerted effort to build on their progress, specifically in the backcourt, adding four-time All-Star Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, who has averaged over 15.0 points per game in each of the last six seasons. New York selected Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, a pair of defensive-minded perimeter players, with the 25th and 36th overall picks, respectively.

Toronto Raptors
Washington will get a sneak peek at their opening-night opponent when the Wizards and Raptors face off against one another on October 12 in D.C. The most notable offseason change for the Raptors came at the point guard position. Six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, who had spent the last nine seasons orchestrating the Toronto offense and setting the tone on the defensive end, was sent to Miami in a sign-and-trade that yielded the Raptors Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. Dragic and Fred VanVleet, who averaged a career-high 19.6 points per game last season, give Toronto options at the point guard position. OG Anunoby, who averaged 15.9 points per game last season, and Scottie Barnes, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, provide flexibility at the wing positions and will play important roles for the team as All-Star forward Pascal Siakam recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

TICKETS
Tickets for the Wizards’ two home preseason games – and all games this season – can be purchased HERE.

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