Wizards

Quick Links

5 things we've learned about the Wizards around the quarter-mark of the season

5 things we've learned about the Wizards around the quarter-mark of the season

In an 82-game NBA season, there is no natural quarter-mark. Technically, that would be at halftime of a team's 21st game.

But now that the Wizards have played 23 games this season, they have a nice three-day break, which provides an opportunity to step back and take stock of what we've seen so far. And for these Wizards, that evaluation process is extra interesting because they had so much roster turnover in the offseason.

Really, these past two months have been an introductory period where we got our first glimpse at a team almost entirely comprised of new players. According to Basketball Reference's continuity table, only the Warriors have seen fewer minutes played this season by players who were on their team last year.

With all that in mind, here are five things we have learned about the 2019-20 Wizards after basically a quarter of the season has passed...

Bertans was a steal

The highlight of the Wizards' season so far is definitely the emergence of Davis Bertans, whom the Wizards acquired over the summer in the NBA trade equivalent of a casino heist. Somehow, after only giving up the Euro-stashed Aaron White, they brought in what has so far been the best three-point shooter in the league this season. General manager Tommy Sheppard hadn't even had the interim tag taken away when he made the move in July, which should be a very good sign of things to come.

Bertans is their second-leading scorer with 15.7 points per game and is shooting an absurd 46.5 percent from three. He has doubled his attempts from last season with the Spurs, from 4.4 to 8.6 per game, and somehow his percentage has gone up. That's unheard of.

Bertans has been so good that it is inevitable the Wizards will field calls leading up to the Feb. trade deadline from contenders looking to add a shooter. But should they part ways with a guy who can shoot this well at 6-foot-10? Maybe if they were undergoing a long-term rebuild it would make sense, but team chairman Ted Leonsis doesn't want it to take long and neither does Bradley Beal. Bertans is the type of guy you keep if you plan to compete for the playoffs sooner than later.

Beal may have a shot at All-NBA

Though his shooting percentages have suffered from a recent slump, Beal is putting up monster numbers now in his first season as the face of the Wizards' franchise. He's averaging career-highs in points (27.4/g) and assists (7.0) while also adding 4.5 rebounds per game.

You know what those look like? All-NBA numbers. Consider the fact only three players in the last decade have averaged at least 27 and seven in a full season: James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. All three guys did it multiple times during that span and only one of their seasons, 2015-16 for Harden, didn't end with an All-NBA nod. Somehow Harden was snubbed despite averaging 29 points and 7.5 assists that year.

So, it could happen where Beal keeps this up and still falls short. But helping his cause are injuries at the guard position with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each out long-term.

It's really hard to make All-NBA on a team that wins fewer than 30 games, but it has happened before and Beal might be the next to do it. If he does, the Wizards signing him to a contract extension before the season will look even smarter because if he hadn't signed that deal, All-NBA would qualify him for a supermax.

Rui is already good, could be very good

It didn't take long for rookie Rui Hachimura to show he belongs at the NBA level. Most rookies take years before they can impact games the way he has, with averages of 14.4 points and six rebounds per game. That is especially impressive for a guy who was taken ninth overall.

We still don't have a great read on what Hachimura's ceiling is, whether he will ever develop into an All-Star. But he's already shown enough to say he will be a productive NBA player for many years to come. The Wizards have found another franchise building block.

They may have another one in Moe Wagner. He came over as a Lakers castoff in the summer and has done nothing but exceed expectations. He's averaging a solid line of 11.6 points and six rebounds per game while ranking seventh in the league in true shooting percentage (68.2).

Thomas is back, at least partly

Isaiah Thomas is currently sidelined with a left calf injury and there is an argument their best point guard is Ish Smith, but Thomas has already proven plenty of people wrong with the way he has played this season. There was so much mystery surrounding him entering the year because he only played 12 games for the Nuggets last year and hadn't shown he could be healthy in the past two seasons.

So far this year, though, he has been a solid offensive player with averages of 12.6 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 41 percent from three. He may never be the All-NBA player he once was, but Thomas clearly still has plenty of days left in his career.

They're probably going to get a high draft pick

Sure, most of us didn't think the Wizards would be very good this year. But given they have so many new players, they deserved some time to show us what they could do before we drew conclusions about their likely fate this season.

So far, they have actually been surprisingly good on offense. They are currently fourth in both points per game and offensive rating. Few would have predicted that coming in.

But their defense may be even worse than we thought. They are dead-last in points allowed and in defensive rating. And, because of that, they appear safely headed towards the draft lottery in the offseason.

Maybe they can turn things around and fight for a playoff spot, but at 7-16 on the year it looks like the Wizards will be picking high in the June 2020 draft. Though it would have been fun if they were a surprise team this year, that is probably for the best in the big picture. 

They can get another blue chip prospect and add him to a core that includes Beal, John Wall, Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and maybe Bertans, if they can find a way to keep him. Add someone like Cole Anthony, James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards to that mix and the 2020-21 Wizards could make some noise. For now, there are going to be a lot of high-scoring games with the Wizards coming out on the wrong end of them more often than not.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold the Raptors under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: