Wizards

Why the Heat may have a model the Wizards can follow

Wizards

The Washington Wizards only won 25 games in the 2019-20 season, yet four of them came against teams currently playing in the conference finals. They beat the Celtics twice and both the Nuggets and Heat once. And they won all four games without Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans.

That is a bizarre fact in what is and was the strangest season in NBA history. Though it could be seen as encouraging for the Wizards, it also doesn't necessarily indicate they are close to being on the level of those teams.

The Heat, though, may be a team the Wizards could follow. Of the four teams remaining - the Lakers being the other - they have the most replicable model for the Wizards to emulate. There are parallels to both teams, certainly more than there are between the Wizards and the other three.

The Lakers got where they are because they signed one of the greatest players of all-time in free agency, then traded for another star who is among the top 10 in the league and will likely be in the Hall of Fame someday. That is not a realistic plan to apply elsewhere.

The Nuggets found Nikola Jokic, a first-team All-NBA superstar (even if he isn't seen as one), in the second round of the draft. He might go down as one of the best draft picks in NBA history, so good luck copying that method.

The Celtics built their roster partly through free agency with Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward. The Wizards do not have the cap room to sign big free agents or a history of success in that realm.

 

The Heat, though, arguably has a more attainable blueprint if you look at what the Wizards already have on their roster. Like Jimmy Butler, they have an elite two-way wing in Bradley Beal. Butler is better defensively than Beal, but Beal can be a strength on that end, as he has shown in the past when in lineups with better defensive personnel around him. On the other side of the floor, Beal offers more than Butler as a scorer.

Goran Dragic is very effective both on and off the ball as a slasher. And once he gets past the front line of the defense, he is excellent at dishing it out to shooters. John Wall could play a similar style and, perhaps, even more effectively in the short-term as he is four years younger.

The Heat also features an elite three-point shooter in Duncan Robinson. The Wizards will have one of those in Davis Bertans, if they re-sign him this offseason, as is their plan.

There are, of course, plenty of areas that would have to be filled in. Chief among them is a versatile rim protector like the Heat have in Bam Adebayo. But there happens to be a prospect in this year's draft who is commonly compared to him. That would be USC's Onyeka Okongwu, whom many have projected to be taken by the Wizards with the ninth overall pick. Looking at what the Heat have done this year suggests it might be worth trading up to get him, if necessary.

RELATED: The Wizards should never consider Bradley Beal in a Paul George-esque trade

Beyond those four parallels, the Wizards would have to continue to bolster their depth and improve on several specific weaknesses. They would need to develop a supporting cast on the level of Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder. Perhaps Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Moe Wagner, and Troy Brown Jr. can fill some of those spots.

Collectively, the Wizards would have to improve quite a bit on defense. Miami's biggest strength is their offense, just like the Wizards, but they had the 11th-best defensive rating (109.5) this season. The Wizards were 30th in the league (115.5) in that category, though they were 14th after the All-Star break.

The Heat is also much better at defensive rebounding, ranking sixth in the league (35.9 per game) while the Wizards are 28th (31.9). Other gaps would include overall field goal percentage, the Heat placed 10th (46.8), and the Wizards 21st (45.7), plus three-point defense where the Heat allowed the sixth-lowest percentage (34.7) compared to the Wizards at 27th (37.6).

Miami also has one of the most accomplished coaches in the game in Erik Spoelstra. He has two rings and has coached the Heat to success despite roster turnover.

The Wizards still have a long way to go to be a team like Miami, which is in the conference finals, where Washington has not been since the 1970s. But the model they are following tracks closely to what the Heat have built.