Last year, it was Montrezl Harrell. The year before that, it was Russell Westbrook. Prior to Russ, it was John Wall. A wrist injury last season cost Bradley Beal 42 games.
The Wizards have had some ‘dogs’ in recent years, i.e. players who bring out the tenacity of their teammates—another competitive instinct, a drive. However, after Harrell was traded to Charlotte at the deadline last year, it might’ve been tough to see who the dog was on the team.
In reality, Washington might’ve lacked some of that fire in the latter half of the 2021-22 season. They finished 35-47 on the year, 12th in the Eastern Conference.
While the Wizards had goals in mind this offseason from purely a basketball standpoint—to add a point guard to pair with Bradley Beal in the backcourt and bring in perimeter defense and shooting—they also had the goal to add another dog.
And judging from head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and general manager Tommy Sheppard’s pre-training camp press conference, they didn’t add just one dog, but a whole pack.
“I think all the guys that are new to our roster bring a whole different mentality, maybe in terms of their expectations of themselves walking in the door, defining themselves as players—it’s obvious that they don’t have to tell you about it, they show you,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard would go on to name a few new additions to the squad who bring out that fire in the rest of the roster.
Delon Wright is a defensive specialist and a disruptive depth piece at point guard. Monte Morris is a sharpshooting guard who is primed to complement Beal’s game and can score at all three levels. Will Barton brings perimeter defense which should mesh well with that of Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija.
Sheppard also brought up rookie Johnny Davis who, despite some struggles during the Summer League, looks like his brand of basketball is one the Wizards will appreciate as a high-motor, pure effort kind of guy.
“It’s Delon locking up people, Monte and Will being able to play both ends, flying around…but I’m also gonna give Johnny Davis a plug,” Sheppard said. “He got back in the lab [after Summer League] and he got healthy. I think when players got together in L.A., they saw what we saw all season as a player in college: he is a dog. He goes hard, loves to compete and he’s got a nasty streak in him.”
But one new addition kept popping up as the guy who could be the catalyst of the Wizards’ doglike mentality: Taj Gibson. Washington brought Gibson in as a depth piece at center who can bring a veteran presence to a squad that needs it.
Sheppard brought Gibson’s name up what seemed to be a dozen times during the press conference, each time noting what his contribution to the team will ideally look like.
“I can’t stress enough, last time I’ll say it: Taj is one of those guys,” Sheppard said. “Just in the short time that he’s been in here, watching Daniel Gafford learn some tricks of the trade…When you set a screen, make sure you lay somebody out, that’s okay. When you learn that from a peer, I think it means a lot more—no offense to our coaching staff. They could say the same things, but sometimes a player will say it in a way…that leaves a little bit more imprint on their head. I’ve seen that.”
Yes, the Wizards look to be a blend of players who don’t have as much experience playing together as other teams in the East. But Unseld Jr. has already dealt with that during his first season in Washington — Kuzma, Dinwiddie, Harrell, Caldwell-Pope, Porzingis and others all had to acclimate into D.C. last season.
Even with all the new fresh faces in town, the Wizards hope to unleash a new level of competitiveness. Gibson, Morris, Wright, Barton Davis—these are the names to watch out for when the Wizards might find themselves in a tie game with two minutes left.
“What happens is, one or two players can change the way your team is perceived by the other team,” Sheppard said. “You got one or two tough guys, all of a sudden people are like, ‘Hey, don’t mess with this guys.’…It brings it out of [other players] when you look to your left and your right and there’s a lot more fight next to you, it comes out in you too.”