With the NBA season approaching, Chase Hughes and Andrew Gillis dissect the biggest questions for the Wizards entering the 2021-22 season.
Today’s question: What is to be considered a success in Wes Unseld Jr.'s first year?
Hughes: For as much as general manager Tommy Sheppard said the results of last season wouldn’t cut it moving forward, I think a first-round playoff appearance would represent success for Wes Unseld Jr. in Year 1. To be fair, Sheppard made those comments when Russell Westbrook was on the roster. Obviously, plans changed and the Wizards had to alter their course.
There will be some obstacles to overcome. They have a lot of new players, a first-time head coach, plus they will be playing in what looks like an improved Eastern Conference. The team could end up in a similar tier in the East than they were last year, even if they do get better and better set themselves up for the future.
Ways that could happen would be if Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and their young players continue to ascend. Also, if any number of the veterans the Wizards got from the Lakers (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) flourishes with a fresh start. Those guys are proven, but also young enough to present upside and the Wizards could in some ways find a diamond in the rough or two between them.
Gillis: I can’t see how the bar for success is anything less than a playoff appearance. That’s not to say the year will be an abject failure if they finish as the 10th seed and don’t make the playoffs, but missing out on the playoffs could be an indicator of things gone awry if things don't break right.
For example: The goal for the Wizards, generally, is to improve defensively from a year ago and become a better 3-point shooting team. They finished dead last (118.5 points per game) and 22nd (35.1%) in those categories last season. Sheppard took steps to address those concerns this offseason, and added far more depth and 3-point shooting than the roster had during the season. If those areas get improved, even minimally, they'll be a more complete basketball team.
Additionally, they’ll be looking for the next step from young players like Hachimura, Avdija and Corey Kispert. It’s hard to imagine that, with improved play from the first two and aided by the veteran additions this offseason, the Wizards won’t reach their goals.
Now, there are a handful of other variables that could go wrong and add context to this. Injuries are always a threat, some of those veteran additions might not work out, trades could occur, and everything in-between. But the Wizards have already outlined their goals, both in their words and their actions, for where they need to improve on the floor. And if they hit their own marks for success, it’s hard to see how they miss out on the playoffs.