One year ago this month, the Washington Wizards convened with the rest of the NBA for a stretch of games played at a neutral location. They put out a roster highlighted by Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr., their two most recent first round picks. It was a collection of young players assembled by newly-promoted general manager Tommy Sheppard.
That was the Las Vegas Summer League. One year later, the Wizards have taken a similar group to Orlando for the NBA's restart.
That is by no means a knock on their roster. In fact, the summer league may be a good baseline to compare from. With John Wall, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans out of the mix, guys like Hachimura and Brown will have to lead the way on offense. It may be the most responsibility they have had on a team since then.
And with their top trio of players out, the final eight games (or more) at Disney World will be a very good test for the supporting cast Sheppard has built. Though he was in the front office, Beal and Wall preceded him taking over as GM. This roster is almost entirely comprised of players he acquired since assuming the job last spring, first in an interim role.
Of the Wizards in Orlando, all but three of them were acquired by Sheppard as GM. Those three would be Thomas Bryant, Ian Mahinmi and Brown.
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The rest are Sheppard's players and what that means is this final stretch of the season will be a good barometer of how he has done so far. He remade the roster around Beal and Wall while working within cumbersome salary cap constraints. Despite that, he has had a series of solid finds.
Hachimura has arguably exceeded expectations so far. Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga have been productive after being acquired for essentially nothing in a trade last summer. Though Bertans isn't in Orlando, the same and more could be said about him.
Also in Orlando with the Wizards are Jerome Robinson, Ish Smith, Shabazz Napier, Jerian Grant, Anzejs Pasecniks, Admiral Schofield and Jonathan Williams III; all Sheppard acquisitions. Of that group, Robinson and Schofield are particularly interesting as it pertains to Sheppard. Both are expected to get the best opportunities at the NBA level in their careers so far.
Through two pro seasons, Robinson has always been behind stars on the depth chart. He has had to share a rotation with Beal this season and before that Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams in L.A.
Schofield was a second round pick in 2019, but spent most of this season in the G-League. How he plays at Disney will be a good indication of the Wizards' player development system from the top-down.
Sheppard put it in clear terms recently when talking about what he expects from his young players in Orlando.
"Everybody has to show value," he said. "They have to show us 'why are you here and why should we keep you on the roster moving forward?'"
Those players will be evaluated closely to see who is worth holding onto going into next year, when the team will have higher expectations once Wall returns from his Achilles injury. Either way, a lot of these guys will probably be back.
The team won't have much money to spend in free agency. They will have two draft picks and can make trades. But the team in Orlando could resemble the core supporting cast Beal and Wall will be rolling with next season. It's time to see what they can do.
If the Wizards' young players surprise and make the playoffs in Orlando, it will be a sign the team is ahead of schedule under Sheppard. No matter the adjusted postseason format, that would be an impressive feat. They have a scaled-down roster facing a scaled-up schedule, as the NBA only brought its 22-best teams to Disney World.
Because of that, this will be a really good look at the margins of the roster. The Wizards' depth will be tested against a schedule of basically all playoff teams.
The Hachimura and Brown-led Wizards, by the way, went 2-3 in Summer League. That may be interesting to compare how they do in Orlando, given the roster similarities.
But more important will be the way Hachimura and Brown handle a larger role in the offense. What happens when they have to take more shots and when they are a greater focus of the defense will be interesting.
It may tell us a lot about the Wizards' future and the hands they are in, with Sheppard in charge.
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