Wizards

Unseld Jr. has rotation to sort out with players returning

Wizards

Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans returned to the Wizards' lineup on Sunday night for their win over the Magic, leaving just three players on the injury report. Montrezl Harrell and Anthony Gill should be back very soon from health and safety protocols, while Thomas Bryant is roughly a week away from making his season debut following a year-long rehab from ACL surgery.

This may cause the superstitious to knock on wood, but the Wizards' roster is nearly complete. All those debates from the offseason about how head coach Wes Unseld Jr. would sort through all of their veteran depth will soon be put to the test.

As he said on Sunday night, there will only be about 9-to-10 spots to go around and that won't cover everyone on a given night. Some guys are inevitably going to be playing less than they are used to.

"I think we'll look at it and we'll have to narrow it down. You can't play 12 guys," Unseld Jr. said. "The challenge is for guys who aren't necessarily in that rotation that night to stay ready because you never know, whether it's fouls or match-ups or things just aren't going well and you need to inject another body; I trust those guys to be ready and respond. It's not always going to be the same group every night."

That effect was seen in their 102-100 win in Orlando. Even with several players still out, backup point guard Aaron Holiday did not see the floor. Hachimura played only 14 minutes and Bertans was only out there for 10, while second-year standout Deni Avdija played a season-low 12 minutes.

 

They all played less than they are generally accustomed to and that was without Harrell and Bryant in the mix, two frontcourt players who figure to play key roles once they are back. Their returns could indirectly affect Hachimura, Bertans and Avdija.

The way Unseld Jr. described it, expect him to do some experimenting in the next several weeks to find out what works well. Last night, with the Wizards thin at center, Unseld Jr. had some interesting lineups, like one with Bradley Beal at point guard alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avdija, Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma.

There will be more mixing and matching as Unseld Jr. takes a look at what he has and adjusts as a new head coach working with a new-look roster.

"I think you have to kind of get guys in to get them a look and keep them locked in at times, and with all these guys coming back from COVID, see where they are. So, it's not always clean and a hard nine, but I think as we get into the midpoint of the season and beyond, that 9-man rotation or 9 1/2 is kind of where we want to be," he said.

For Hachimura, and also Bryant when he is ready to return, Unseld Jr. will need time to get to know them better. Though they have been with the Wizards for several seasons, Unseld Jr. took over as head coach this past summer. They will also be playing with many new teammates after a summer of significant roster turnover.

Unseld Jr. specifically mentioned Hachimura's power as a finisher on offense and his defensive versatility, but he needs to see more.

"To say I know exactly how he fits this new roster, I'd be lying to you," Unseld Jr. said.

The hope would be that Unseld Jr. can find a way to utilize the Wizards' depth to build an elite second unit. Lately, they have had some trouble when it comes to bench scoring. They were outdone 43-21 in the category on Sunday night and 52-29 the game before, in a loss to the Bulls.

The positive is that Unseld Jr. should have a lot of options to turn to. The trick will be figuring out who are the best players to rely on and which combinations bring out the best in their abilities.

Injuries and other circumstances have a way of solving supposed roster logjams. But for however long the Wizards are whole, Unseld Jr. may have some tough decisions to make.