Wizards

5 things we learned from the Wizards in preseason

Wizards

The Wizards' 2021-22 preseason is in the books, which means we have some information to go off of when it comes to new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and the host of new players the organization acquired in the offseason. We still don't know a ton, but we know way more than we did just two weeks ago.

Here are five things we learned about the re-tooled Wizards...

Hachimura will need some time

The preseason is over and projected starting power forward Rui Hachimura still hasn't joined the Wizards for a practice following his absence due to personal reasons. Though he should be cleared from health and safety protocols soon, it's clearly going to be a little while before he's ready to make his debut in an actual game. The Wizards plan to bring him along slowly as he builds his conditioning and rhythm.

In the meantime, it looks like Kyle Kuzma will start in his place at the four, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will start at the three. That may leave the Wizards a little thin behind Bradley Beal at the two. If Caldwell-Pope is a forward they will probably have to play point guards Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday as the second unit backcourt, which they got a preview of in the preseason.

Dinwiddie looks ready

The most important positive development for the Wizards this preseason would have to be how Spencer Dinwiddie looks all the way ready for the start of the season. That is despite the fact he had surgery in January to repair a partially torn ACL. Nine months are enough time to recover from such an injury, but the fact he seemingly has no limitations is a really good sign for the team.

 

Dinwiddie being 100% available to start the year and as effective as he has been so far should help the Wizards get off to a good start. But also, in the big picture, it's encouraging because the team made a sizable investment in him with a three-year free agent contract worth $54 million. 

Patience may be needed

There was plenty in the preseason for Washington to like, but overall they were inconsistent especially in areas of emphasis for Unseld Jr. Defense, in particular, remains a work in progress and may not click immediately when the season begins. Though preseason stats shouldn't be taken as gospel, the Wizards were dead-last in defensive rating (112.4), 24th in net rating (-7.7) and they allowed the second-most threes (17.3/g). Opponents also shot 41.3% from long range, the highest clip allowed by any team.

Again, it's the preseason, but that's something Washington prioritized in its offseason moves and in practices so far. Surely, Unseld Jr. will be keeping a close eye on it. The Wizards, though, also struggled shooting the three, which was another problem area they aimed to address in the offseason. They shot just 32.5% from deep, which was 23rd among NBA teams in the preseason.

All of this isn't to sound the alarms, it's just to set the expectations accordingly. As Kuzma said after their loss to the Toronto Raptors, it could take 10-to-20 games for them to hit their stride with so many new players and a new coaching staff. After seeing them in the preseason, that sounds about right.

Harrell, Holiday stood out

This preseason saw a mixed bag from most Wizards players, as the preseason usually does. Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope, for instance, had some good and some bad. But two other newcomers really seem to be adjusting quickly: Montrezl Harrell and Aaron Holiday. Perhaps it helps that both have something to prove as they arrived in Washington embracing a fresh start from their previous teams.

Let's start with Harrell. The former Sixth Man of the Year was a force in all four of the Wizards' games. He clearly didn't treat them like the preseason, as he brought energy and an edge when he came off the bench. Harrell had 11 rebounds in his debut, 18 points and 10 boards in his second game and then 17 points in 21 minutes in his third. Against the New York Knicks in the finale on Friday, he had 11 points and two blocks.

Holiday showed he has more to offer on the offensive end than we saw from him in Indiana. He had 17 points in the preseason opener and then 14 points in the finale. He also rebounded well with four-plus rebounds in three games, which isn't bad for a point guard of his size. We know Holiday can defend, but it looks like he may be able to help in several ways.

 

Gafford looks really, really good

If the preseason is any indication and you're looking for one Wizards holdover to make a big leap year-over-year, right now the most likely candidate appears to be Daniel Gafford. He was really good for Washington during his brief tenure with the team last year, but he looks even better entering this season. Gafford is still throwing down dunks and blocking shots left and right, but now he's blocking even more shots, rebounding better and, at least so far, staying out of foul trouble. In the finale on Friday night, he even knocked down a shot from about 15 feet out, which we never saw last year.

Gafford was the starting center for all four games with averages of 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 24.1 minutes per game. He shot 60% from the field.

Gafford has everything you want in a young player: athleticism, motor, smarts and the drive to get better. So, perhaps it's no surprise he is getting better right before our eyes. Still, it's incredible to see some of the stuff that he's doing. He had three blocks in 23 seconds in the first preseason game against the Knicks. Like, seriously? His performance should have fans excited as the season begins.