NBA basketball is back, as the Wizards prepare to open their 2020-21 regular-season schedule against the Sixers Wednesday night.
After a two-year absence from the postseason, Washington is focused on getting back to the playoffs, and with Russell Westbrook now part of the team, optimism is in there. So in the spirit of optimism, let's look at five stats that bode well for the Wizards heading into this season.
Perhaps the Wizards' biggest problem last year besides health was their defensive shortcomings. They finished with the worst defensive rating in the NBA last season, giving up about 116 points per 100 possessions. Most of that had to do with the first half of the season, though.
Before the trade deadline, the Wizards gave up 117.8 points per 100 possessions (30th in NBA), but over the next month and taking games inside the bubble into account, they improved substantially. The Wizards gave up 112.3 points per 100 possessions post-February 7, which was good for 13th in the NBA.
The Wizards don't have issues scoring the ball and project to be an explosive offense with Westbrook and Bradley Beal running the show. If they can play league-average defense as they did in the second half of last season, they're going to be a hard team to beat.
Bradley Beal's last 18 games
After he was snubbed from the All-Star team on January 30, Beal went berserk until the season shut-down in March due to COVID-19.
He averaged 34.8 points, 5.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds over his final 18 games of the year and shot 45.9% from the field and 41.5% from three.
This was all before he was snubbed from the All-NBA teams, too. If his response is anything similar to what he did in February and March, the NBA is in trouble.
Thomas Bryant finding the range
Bryant's development from three was a major bright spot for the Wizards last season. He shot over 40% from deep on two attempts per game and certainly wasn't afraid to let it fly in the bubble. Bryant went 14-33 (42.4%) from three in Orlando, which helped him average nearly 20 points per game over seven games.
His defensive limitations are well documented, but if Bryant can couple his strength as a strong roller with a consistent three-point stroke, it'll be difficult for Scott Brooks to take him out of the game. Playing next to Westbrook should open up plenty of opportunities to score in both areas as well.
Russell Westbrook's defensive history
As noted before, the Wizards need to play at least league-average defense to be a serious contender in the East. The good news there is that newly acquired point guard Russell Westbrook has never been a member of a below-average defensive unit.
Over the last 10 years, Westbrook's teams have finished with a defensive rating no worse than 14th.
2019-20 Rockets: 14th
2018-19 Thunder: 3rd
2017-18 Thunder: 10th
2016-17 Thunder: 12th
2015-16 Thunder: 13th
2014-15 Thunder: 13th
2013-14 Thunder: 5th
2012-13 Thunder: 4th
2011-12 Thunder: 9th
2010-11 Thunder: 14th
Westbrook isn't one of the league's elite defenders, especially now that he's in his 30s. But Westbrook-led teams play hard, and that's typically where defensive success begins. It'll be interesting to see how much the Wizards improve on that end this year.
Strong shooting from the corners
Other than a layup/dunk, the corner three is the most efficient shot in basketball. It's the closest of the three-point shots and if a team shoots it well from the corner, there's usually plenty of spacing for creators to pick apart opposing defenses.
The Wizards had the best corner-three-point shooter last season in Davis Bertans, who shot 55% on corner threes, per Cleaning the Glass. Isaac Bonga and Troy Brown Jr. also proved to be well-above-average corner three-point shooters despite limited volume. Bonga shot 44% on corner threes, while Brown hit 41% of his attempts, which puts both in about the 80th percentile of all NBA players.
The only downside to this last season was the Wizards didn't take many corner threes. They ranked 24th in corner three-point frequency and 22nd in three-point percentage on those looks.
With Bertans back, Bonga and Brown a year older and Russell Westbrook as the lead ball-handler breaking down defenses off the dribble, the Wizards could find another source of efficient offense in the corners that wasn't tapped into last season.
Tune in at 6 PM to NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday for complete coverage of the Wizards season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.