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New wave: what will the Wizards' 2019-20 starting lineup and rotation look like?

New wave: what will the Wizards' 2019-20 starting lineup and rotation look like?

This week at NBC Sports Washington is all about Rui Hachimura and the new wave of Wizards players. Today, we examine what the Wizards' new-look lineup and rotation could be after an offseason of roster turnover...

The Wizards will have something around 10 new players on their Opening Night roster this Oct. 23 when they face the Mavericks in the first game of the 2019-20 season. They may have stopped short of a full rebuild this summer, but they still managed to overhaul basically their entire roster. The aftermath is a lot of new faces and variety of roles to designate.

Head coach Scott Brooks will be the one to sort it all out when training camp begins later this month. And, per usual, he will likely be tinkering with his rotation throughout the regular season.

But here is a snapshot of what those decisions look like as we glance ahead to the Wizards' 2019-20 season...

The locks

The easiest decision Brooks will have to make in all of this is who starts at shooting guard. Barring injury, Bradley Beal will be a mainstay there. He has started each game the past two seasons and last year logged more minutes than any other NBA player.

The other position in the starting lineup that will require no thinking is Thomas Bryant at center. He started 53 games for the Wizards last season and this summer got a new contract. At 22, he has the best resume and most upside to start at the five. And Bryant's per-36 numbers last year - 18.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg - suggest he could thrive if afforded starter's minutes. Last year he only averaged 20.8 minutes per game.

The question marks

This is where it gets dicey. Basically, after shooting guard and center it's a mystery. At point guard, it should come down to Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas. At small forward, it figures to be between longtime veteran C.J. Miles and second-year pro Troy Brown Jr. And at power forward, a battle between rookie Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans.

With Smith and Thomas, it will come down to Thomas' health and whether he is anything near the All-NBA player he was two years ago. The other two battles will test Brooks' faith in young players. He has shown a willingness to prefer veterans over inexperienced, young draft picks so far during his tenure in Washington. Brown and Hachimura will have to overcome that to get the starting job.

Biggest wild card

Thomas is the biggest X-factor in all of this. He only played 12 games last year with the Denver Nuggets and 32 games the year before that. If that is any indication about his availability this season, Smith will be spending a lot of time on the court. But, if Thomas' hip is mostly or fully healed by now, he should have a good chance to play big-time minutes, even if he doesn't return to his All-Star form.

The Wizards will probably know fairly early in the preseason about what they have in Thomas and what they can expect. As long as he can be a competent back-up, they should be in okay shape. But if this year goes like last year did for him, they could be in an interesting spot at point guard with John Wall likely out for at least most of the season due to his Achilles injury. They may have to turn to guys at point they would prefer to only have to in a pinch like Brown or undrafted rookie Justin Robinson.

Best guess

Given Thomas' health concerns and Brooks' proclivity to lean on veterans, it seems like the safer bet Smith starts at point guard and Miles at small forward. But Hachimura was impressive enough in the Summer League and the World Cup to have the edge over Bertans at the four.

Though Brooks has shied away from playing rookies the past three years, none have came into the organization with the pedigree as a top-10 pick. Plus, Bertans has been mostly a back-up in his career to this point.

Here is my projection of what the Wizards' starting lineup and rotation will look like early in the 2019-20 season:

Starting lineup: PG Ish Smith, SG Bradley Beal, SF C.J. Miles, PF Rui Hachimura, C Thomas Bryant
Second unit: PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Jordan McRae, SF Troy Brown Jr., PF Davis Bertans, C Moe Wagner

The starting lineup may have some rough nights, especially on defense, with Smith at point guard and two guys of college age manning the middle. Also, Miles is coming off a pair of down seasons and a foot surgery he underwent in late July. Somebody will have to step up to help Beal score, as right now it's unclear who is the second option on offense. 

The bench will also have some defensive issues, but Thomas and McRae could be an intriguing scoring duo. And Bertans and Wagner both can stretch the floor. Brown's passing ability could be a huge asset playing along those two.

Is it the rotation of a playoff team? Probably not. But perhaps some surprises could emerge. As Bryant showed last year, you never know when a young player will make a leap.


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Expectations weren't high, but at 2-7 are the Wizards underachieving?

Expectations weren't high, but at 2-7 are the Wizards underachieving?

Should the Wizards be better than this?

Certainly, what has transpired so far this season has not been all that surprising. They let more talent leave than they brought in over the summer, but by-design to get younger players with more long-term upside and more financial flexibility. With the roster they put together, few out there had any delusions of them contending for a top seed in the Eastern Conference.

But after nine games they sit 2-7, as certifiably one of the worst teams in basketball. No teams have fewer wins than the Wizards and only three have more losses. Those three are the Pelicans (Zion Williamson got hurt), the Warriors (everyone got hurt) and the Knicks. Hey, at least they're not the Knicks.

A 2-7 record, though, is a 2-7 record and some of the numbers aren't pretty. The Wizards are allowing 120 points per game, fourth-most in the NBA. Their 114.6 defensive rating is 29th out of 30 teams.

To be fair, we knew they were going to be dreadful defensively. Though they made some astute moves in the offseason, they basically brought in all offensive-minded players. 

Yes, much of what has happened for the Wizards this season has been predictable. But when you bring a magnifying glass over the big picture things have been, well, just okay so far.

When it comes to individuals, it's a mixed bag. Rui Hachimura has been a nice surprise because of how quickly he has translated to the NBA as a rookie. Thomas Bryant looks at least marginally improved. His trajectory appears to be continuing upward.

Moe Wagner has been solid, at least showing enough to prove he isn't the bust he resembled last year in L.A.. Davis Bertans has been excellent, giving general manager Tommy Sheppard an early feather in his cap by possibly beating the vaunted Spurs in a trade.

Isaiah Thomas has been mostly good so far. He may not be the All-NBA star from his Boston days, but the Wizards are at least getting more than Denver got out of him last year. 

But there have been some relative disappointments. Ish Smith and C.J. Miles haven't gotten going yet, though their long veteran track records should present some hope.

Troy Brown Jr. has not shown anything to suggest a second-year leap, but he missed all of the preseason with a calf injury and may need some time to catch up. Jordan McRae hasn't been great either, but should also be graded on a curve because of his injury.

We haven't seen anything conclusive yet from Admiral Schofield or Justin Robinson. Isaac Bonga was okay when he started the first seven games of the season, but showed nothing to write home about.

There have been some positives and some negatives, which is to be expected. Their latest loss was understandable, as they fell in Boston to the NBA-best 9-1 Celtics on Wednesday night. But their loss the game before, by double-digits at home to the Cavaliers, was a head-scratcher.

And still, 2-7 is 2-7. Right now, the Wizards look safely headed towards the lottery, hoping the ping-pong balls bring them a future star in James Wiseman or Cole Anthony.

Really, if that happens and they fall well short of the playoffs, it's okay. They are going to need more building blocks, anyways.

The Wizards are a franchise in transition, having just restructured their front office. The early part of this season is essentially baseline testing. It's not about how they look now, it's what they turn into by the end of the season and the foundation they lay for the future.

This year will be viewed as a success if Hachimura and Bryant continue to ascend, if Brown Jr. turns a corner and if some combination of Wagner, Schofield and Bonga show promise. Maybe Bertans, Thomas and Miles are flipped at the trade deadline for future assets.

It's still very early. We are just getting a good read on what the Wizards are at the moment.

As long as they make progress and trend up from here, things will be fine. If they don't, then there might be a different conversation.


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Rui Hachimura bluntly describes Wizards' defensive struggles this season

Rui Hachimura bluntly describes Wizards' defensive struggles this season

The Wizards didn't just drop their third straight to fall to 2-7 Wednesday night in Boston, but they again gave up an obscene amount of points. 

Washington fell 140-133, marking the fifth time in the first nine games in which they've given up more than 120 points. They've held an opposing offense under 100 twice. 

After the loss, Scott Brooks said the team's defensive issues started with the scouting report. Players weren't familiar enough with the Celtics' tendencies so when Washington needed a stop, they couldn't get one. 

Rookie forward Rui Hachimura put it a bit more bluntly. 

“From the beginning of the season, our defense has been no good," he said. 

With Hachimura, Bradley Beal and Isaiah Thomas, the Wizards shouldn't have any issue scoring this season. They have the sixth-ranked offense in the NBA, but the fact that they still have a -4.4 net rating is telling to how bad they've been on the other end.

The Wizards are in the midst of a rebuilding year. The goals for teams like these are to acquire young talent and hope they develop into foundational pieces. As important as obtaining talent is, building good habits can make or break a young player's development, especially in the age of the one-and-done.

They'll have to commit more to the defensive end if they have any hopes of putting multiple wins together. The question is whether they have the personnel to do it.