WASHINGTON -- If you haven't seen the 2019-20 Washington Wizards yet, you may have a good excuse. Maybe you were watching the Nationals in the World Series, which unfortunately overlapped four times with Wizards games. Maybe you have just been apprehensive. Their biggest star, John Wall, is hurt. They have a roster full of young players and castoffs. The playoffs may be a pipe dream.
But if you haven't been paying attention, you may want to start now. This iteration of the Wizards is not like the ones we have seen in recent years. They aren't overpaid and complacent. They try hard and celebrate with genuine, youthful passion. It's endearing and infectious and it is already winning fans over.
Just listen to Bradley Beal, the team's central leader, who described his Wizards' new identity and how it differs from years past.
"We play hard. We play extremely hard," Beal said. "It's not a matter of effort. That is probably one of the worst things as a hooper and as a coach; your team not playing hard. That doesn't take any Xs and Os or take any skill. It's just a matter of you being energetic and passionate about the game you love to play. We have all that, thankfully."
The Wizards wanted to create a team full of players like Thomas Bryant, as managing partner Ted Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington back in July. They want hungry players that work hard and scrap for rebounds and loose balls.
The early returns on this year's squad back up that goal. Despite getting a lucrative contract over the summer, Bryant is still overflowing with energy. He clinches his fists, closes his eyes and screams to the crowd after even the smallest successful plays.
Moe Wagner, his former teammate with the Lakers, is the exact same way. He celebrates layups like buzzer-beating threes. It is contagious.
Davis Bertans is already establishing himself as a fan favorite, a superstar on Twitter and Reddit. He doesn't miss from three and has a great nickname, the 'Latvian Laser.' He's the rare red-headed NBA player and he gets red-hot from long range.
In the Wizards' loss to the Spurs, Bertans scored 23 points on a perfect 7-for-7 from the field. No Wizards/Bullets player had ever scored that many points on that few of shots. He's a special type of shooter.
And how about Rui Hachimura? The 2019 first-round pick has reached double-digit points in all of his four career games. In Wednesday's match-up with the Rockets, he had 21 points in his first 24 minutes.
He is already getting respect from the best players in the league.
“He’s good, mature, and will be a great player," Rockets star Russell Westbrook said.
Hachimura has star potential. He plays with power and grace, and he's only 21. It looks like he's going to be a lot closer to Wall and Beal than other Wizards' recent first-round picks like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr.
Then there's Isaiah Thomas, a guy who has always been easy to root for because of his height and his backstory. Through two games, he's posted 16 points with five assists and then 17 points and 10 dimes. If he keeps this up, his comeback could be one of the best feelgood stories of the NBA season.
A member of some hard-nosed Celtics teams in the past, Thomas likes the way the Wizards are playing.
"That has to be our identity because we’re not the most talented team," he said. "But if we play hard and put it all out there, we have a chance every night."
Wizards fans will likely find this year refreshing, to watch young players who are fighting their hardest every night to prove something in the NBA. Guys like Isaac Bonga, Justin Robinson, Chris Chiozza, Garrison Mathews and Admiral Schofield are going to win people over as they aim to find a place in the league.
"This is fun. I mean, this is fun," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I can't wait. I mean tomorrow we're going to get what you need day but I can't wait for the next day because I know they're going to come in, they're going to be excited, they're going to compete they're going to challenge each other. And we're going to do the same thing for 48 minutes the next night."
Much like Beal, Brooks seems to be genuinely re-energized by the revamped Wizards. It seems like it's only a matter of time before fans feel the same way.
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