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: Defensively, where must the biggest improvement come from? Will that be enough?
CH: It would be on the wing where the Wizards struggled for the better part of last season. Deni Avdija showed flashes and has considerable upside defensively, but with him and Rui Hachimura at forward the Wizards struggled to defend the three-point line. Once Avdija got hurt, Raul Neto helped them cover more ground but he was also at a size disadvantage and the Wizards got killed by big scoring wings like Jayson Tatum and Tobias Harris.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma should help that cause. Avdija will also be a year older and more experienced, perhaps most importantly, when it comes to NBA officiating. I also really like what they have defensively in their point guard rotation with three capable defenders (Spencer Dinwiddie, Neto and Aaron Holiday).
The hope would be that they don’t drop off dramatically in terms of rim protection. Montrezl Harrell and Thomas Bryant are upgrades offensively over their predecessors in Robin Lopez and Alex Len, but the latter two made a huge difference defending the paint before Daniel Gafford showed up and made the Wizards’ defense even better. Now, Gafford is the only one who remains and he can’t protect the rim all by himself. There will also be some games where he’s in foul trouble.
AG: General manager Tommy Sheppard was adamant that the Wizards needed to improve defensively, and get more athletic on the wing this offseason. After all, it was pretty clear what needed to be done this offseason.
Now, with KCP and Kuzma back in the fold, with Avdija returning from injury, with Hachimura entering his third season, with Dinwiddie and Holiday and Neto at the point, it feels like they’ve got a solution to their problems. How much of a solution it’ll turn out to be, who knows. But it’s going to help.
The Wizards allowed the most points per game last season in the NBA, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see that a brand new coach (who specialized in defense) and a handful of roster additions will boost the roster to defensively respectable levels. With how much scoring this team still has, you don't need to become the Bad Boys defensively.
Will it be enough to make them a top 10 defense? No, but I think it’ll be enough for a marked improvement, which should help get them into the playoffs.