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 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.
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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