WASHINGTON -- During the Wizards' one-point loss to the Nets on Wednesday night, they played for some stretches featuring a lineup that nearly put all of their best young players on full display. Around veteran All-Star guard Bradley Beal were Corey Kispert, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant.
The latter four make up most of the Wizards' young core, sans Daniel Gafford. Hachimura (2019), Avdija (2020) and Kispert (2021) are the Wizards' last three first-round picks, all aged 23 or younger. Bryant is only 24.
The results were mixed in a small sample size, but the mere fact they played together was a good representation of the Wizards' relative youth and upside. While their team is most defined by veteran players like Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell, they have a collection of young players whose ceilings have yet to be realized.
Hachimura and Bryant both returned recently from long absences and have quickly made their presence felt. Against the Nets, Hachimura had a season-high 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 2-for-4 from three. He looks more decisive and assertive each time he takes the floor, now just six games back from missing roughly half the season due to personal reasons.
Bryant played less than Hachimura, but was efficient, scoring six points in 12 minutes on 3-for-5 from the field. Like Hachimura, he had five rebounds.
Neither guy is playing more than 14 or 15 minutes a night, as they continue to be eased into the rotation after their long layoffs. But already the Wizards are seeing an impact and continued progress from each. They have added scoring and athleticism to the Wizards' bench and have helped turn the second unit into an emerging strength.
The per-36 numbers for both players are intriguing. Bryant ranks third on the team in points per-36 minutes (19.1) and Hachimura is fourth (18.6). They are just behind Harrell, who averages 20.9 points per-36 minutes off the Wizards' bench.
Having three players who can score at that rate in smaller roles would be very valuable for the Wizards moving forward, especially if they can do so efficiently. Harrell and Bryant are already doing that with effective field goal percentages of 65.6 and 57.1, respectively. Hachimura, meanwhile, is recovering from a shaky first few games, shooting 8-for-15 overall and 3-for-6 from three in his last two.
When asked about Hachimura's game against the Nets, Wizards acting head coach Joseph Blair made a point to remind everyone the third-year forward is playing like this all while adjusting to a new playbook. The same applies to Bryant, for that matter, as both played previously under Scott Brooks before he was replaced by Wes Unseld Jr. as head coach.
"I think he's constantly taking steps ahead. He's still getting into the flow," Blair said of Hachimura. "I still believe and I think we all know he can still play better, the more comfortable he is out there and the more in-rhythm [he gets]. It's just learning our offense, learning spacing and those types of things. He's going to continue to thrive and improve. I was pleased with his performance."
Purely based on their scoring numbers, Hachimura and Bryant appear to be nearly up-to-speed in terms of the players they were before their long absences. But given Hachimura is 23 and Bryant is 24, there is a very good chance they prove to be better over time. For Bryant, it could take longer given he's coming back from major surgery to repair a partially torn ACL.
But their trajectory already is encouraging and a reminder of the importance of having young players on team-friendly contracts. The Wizards made a point to keep their draft picks and hold onto young players when they transitioned into a new era under team president Tommy Sheppard. Previously, when they favored more short-term goals of winning now, they dealt away a series of first-round picks to supply Beal and his former backcourt running mate John Wall with a veteran supporting cast.
In recent years, they have kept their picks and prioritized player development. Perhaps those plans will be altered by an evolving competitive timeline, but for now they are seeing the value in investing in youth. The same applies to Avdija, Gafford and Kispert, who have all shown signs of growth this season.
It is possible the Wizards decide to speed up their timeline in just a few weeks when the NBA trade deadline arrives on Feb. 10. Sheppard has insisted they won't take "shortcuts" in building their roster, but perhaps the timing will be right to deal from their group of young players for a more established veteran who can help more significantly in the short term. If that doesn't happen in February, it could be the case this summer.
Either way, the Wizards are seeing positive signs from their player development efforts and the duo of Hachimura and Bryant since coming back has been a highlight of that process.