The Wizards arrived in Orlando with dual goals, to make the play-in tournament and to use the extra games to develop their young players. Now that they are eliminated from playoff contention, the second one has come fully into focus.
Really, it was their most important goal all along. Though they had an opportunity to make the postseason, and publicly stated their hope of qualifying, they had no illusions of their chances, especially with Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans opting not to go.
Surely they wanted to do better than they have so far. With their loss to the Pelicans on Friday night, the Wizards have lost all eight of their games in the bubble: five regular season games that count and three others during their warm-up exhibition schedule.
It was been an ugly showing in terms of wins and losses, no doubt. But the returns in the player development department have been solid.
"Coming down here, that was our goal: get involved in the play-in game. We didn’t reach that, but we also had other goals to develop and keeping getting better and keep playing the brand of basketball we want to play," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We’ve done a lot of good things."
Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant have made the most of the experience. Brown is averaging 16.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists while handling more ball-handling duties than he usually does. Bryant has been a force on both ends, averaging 20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three (5.0 3PA).
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The rest of the team has been a mixed bag. But young players like Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga, Moe Wagner and Admiral Schofield are getting more minutes than ever and are being allowed to play through their mistakes.
The mistakes, though, could be less forgivable than they appear. Brooks dropped a reminder of another reason why the Wizards feel their time in Orlando is valuable.
"Our job is to keep evaluating before next season starts who’s going to be with us and who’s not," Brooks said.
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Next year, the Wizards will have some collection of these guys but whomever is kept will be asked to perform under more pressure, for a team with bigger goals. Once Beal reunites with John Wall, it will be playoffs or bust.
The guys who will return need to work the kinks out now because the coaching staff and front office will have no choice but to be less lenient in their decisions. Barring a trade, Bryant should be back and installed as an important piece. He understands what he is preparing for.
"It’s difficult because everyone wants to win," he said. "But sometimes you’ve gotta look at the bigger picture of how things are going to work out."
The Wizards will now get their toughest tests yet with their final three games in Orlando all coming against teams with top-10 records in the NBA. They see the Thunder, Celtics and Bucks to close things out.
There may not be much on the line in terms of the standings, but the Wizards' young prospects will get to try their hand at the league's best. Whether they can leave the bubble with a victory is now a real question.
"This is my rookie season and I want to finish strong. Hopefully we can win a game," Rui Hachimura said.
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