Twenty-four games remain in the Washington Wizards’ regular-season slate. At 27-31 on the year, they sit at 11th in the Eastern Conference, one game out of the play-in tournament.
Without a doubt, Washington’s starting lineup will be a chief concern in getting over the hump and into the postseason. So, who should they start after making some moves at the trade deadline?
“(Raul) Neto, [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] at the two, [Kyle Kuzma] at the three, (Kristaps) Porzingis at the four, (Daniel) Gafford at the five,” Justin Kutcher, Wizards broadcaster for NBC Sports Washington said on a recent edition of Wizards Postgame Live. “You have your second unit of Ish Smith, Corey Kispert, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant. I think that’s a really good ten to roll out there.”
Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 rim protector and adept outside shooter, arrived last week at the 11th hour of the NBA’s trade deadline from Dallas in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Ish Smith, who makes his return to D.C. after playing here each of the last two seasons, arrived along with Vernon Carey Jr. from Charlotte in a trade for Montrezl Harrell.
With fresh faces in both a potential starting lineup and bench rotation, Wes Unseld Jr. has the flexibility to play nearly a dozen guys each game and see how they mesh together on the court. Does Ish Smith, a seasoned veteran, have a legitimate case for starting?
“You need a cool, calm, collected leader — somebody who’s gonna keep pace and keep the game under control. I’m not saying Neto can’t do it, but you know what you’re gonna get with Ish Smith,” Wes Hall, host of Wizards Pre and Postgame Live said. “The floor’s not gonna fall out beneath him.”
Porzingis at the power forward spot is also an intriguing case. Yes, he’s 7’3”, but just looking at him, you can see that he’s not very bulky. He might have trouble guarding the Karl Anthony-Towns, the Joel Embiids, the Bam Adebayos of the league at center. Where does he belong?
“I think he can guard forwards better than he can guard centers,” Drew Gooden, former Wizard and current color commentator for Wizards’ broadcasts, said. “Remember, you’re not married to these lineups. You gotta coach the flow of the game, it can switch… I hate when they say, ‘[Porzingis] can’t guard fours or he can’t guard fives.’ Well guess what, how many fours or fives can guard him?”
The Wizards’ broadcast crew seem to come to a consensus that Kutcher’s proposed starting lineup of Neto, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Porzingis and Gafford was the right one to field, at least for now. Unseld Jr. will see what pairings work and don’t work and move from there. Washington can take a few games to buckle down what their starting five will look like, but with 24 games remaining on the campaign, time is not on their side.