When the Wizards started this season 10-3 and with the best record in the Eastern Conference, part of what made that run so impressive is they kept it rolling even as their rotation withstood major absences. It seemed like no matter who was in the lineup, they found a way to win.
Yeah, about that. Right now, as they have lost 10 of their last 15 games, it seems like Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, two key players who have yet to debut this season, can't return fast enough. Pretty soon you may see Wizards players on the bench wearing G-Shock watches and raising the roof.
Hachimura, 23, remains out as he works himself into game shape following an extended absence due to personal reasons. His timeline to return remains non-specific. Bryant, 24, will likely be back sometime in the next several weeks after recovering from ACL surgery which he had in February.
Exactly when they will be back, we still don't know. But it's becoming more and more clear the Wizards could use them.
Washington now ranks 22nd in offensive efficiency and 19th on defense. Though neither guy has established consistency on the defensive end, there seems to be no question they will help the Wizards' cause on offense.
Last season, Bryant averaged 14.3 points and Hachimura scored 13.8 points per game, third and fourth on the team behind Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Bryant is a 41.1% three-point shooter over the past two seasons (2.0 3PA/g). Hachimura was third on the team last year (behind Beal and Westbrook) in double-figure scoring games, reaching that bar 43 times in 57 games.
Both are adept at scoring around the rim. Last season, Bryant shot 87.5% within five feet of the basket and the year before he hit 74.9%, each time leading the team.
Bryant's outside shooting will bring a new element to the Wizards at the center position, allowing them to use pick-and-pop actions, and also simply give head coach Wes Unseld Jr. another option to turn to. Starter Daniel Gafford has struggled with foul trouble, while Montrezl Harrell's consistency has dropped off lately as teams have been able to exploit matchups against him. They are the team's only two centers currently in the rotation.
Like Harrell does, and did particularly early this season, Bryant brings energy and excitement to the floor. He plays with a passion that his teammates are drawn to and could probably use some of at this particular moment as the losses continue to pile up.
An intangible way Hachimura may help is his tendency to get hot early in games. While he has openly talked in the past about wanting to finish games better - he tends to be less aggressive in the fourth quarter - the Wizards are desperately searching for better starts. Over these last 15 games, they sport a ghastly -14.7 net rating in the first half. They have been -0.4 in the second half.
In Hachimura's two-year career, he has averaged 7.6 points in the first half, compared to 6.2 in the second, while shooting a higher percentage as well (48.1 to 46.3). He averaged 7.4 points in the first half last season, while only Beal has scored more in the first half this year (10.9). Despite averaging 13.7 points per game for his career, more than half the time Hachimura reaches double-figures by halftime (53 of his 105 career games).
With both players, it's also worth keeping in mind their age and how it's possible they come back better than they were before. Bryant, of course, will have to find his footing following a serious injury, but for Hachimura it's certainly possible he makes a greater impact than he did in previous years.
Hachimura is set to begin his third season with the possibility of earning his first contract extension next summer. There are several guys from his draft class making leaps this season, like Tyler Herro of the Miami Heat and Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs.
Both Herro and Johnson participated in Olympic competition this past summer, as did Hachimura who played for Team Japan. Hachimura was already one of the Wizards' better players, even last season when they made the playoffs. Another noticeable step forward for him could make a significant difference for the team. Some ways he could do that include increasing his offensive output, improving his three-point percentage and becoming more consistent on defense.
With Hachimura, it's not a situation where the Wizards can pressure him back, given he has been out because of sensitive personal reasons. Though he does not have an injury, they have been taking it very slow working him into the mix.
But it's obvious they could use him sooner than later and the same goes for Bryant.