The Washington Wizards beat the Detroit Pistons 99-96 on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down.
Wizards fans no longer need to envision what Russell Westbrook looks like playing for their team, as on Saturday he finally suited up in the red, white and blue and played in a game.
Westbrook wasn't out there long, just over 17 minutes. But his impact was noticeable right away, as the Wizards looked like the better team for much of the night after two preseason games in which they were overmatched, including one against these same Pistons. This time, they had Westbrook, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, who also made his preseason debut. And, not surprisingly, they made a difference.
Westbrook ended up with eight points, seven rebounds and three assists. He went 4-for-10 from the field and 0-for-3 from three. It wasn't his best shooting night, but the offense moved nicely with him in charge. They outscored the Pistons by 11 points while he was on the floor.
Bryant is in a good spot
With Saturday being our first glimpse at what the Wizards will be this season, it was quickly made clear that Thomas Bryant is going to benefit quite a bit from playing with Westbrook, Beal and Bertans. He has a game that is well-suited for the role he will be tasked with, as a secondary scoring option.
Bryant is an accurate three-point shooter and he's got solid touch around the rim. Those two traits bode well for his ability to be effective off-the-ball.
We already saw signs on Saturday of how he can make defenses pay for forgetting about him. Westbrook found Bryant on a series of plays where drove into the lane, drew Bryant's man towards him and then dished the ball to Bryant down the baseline. Bryant was also left wide open on the perimeter a few times. Given he shot 40.7 percent from three last season, teams might want to be careful doing that.
Bryant is going to most often be the fourth or fifth scoring option on the floor. Not many teams have a guy as good as he is in that spot, and it speaks to the Wizards' scoring depth. They could have a truly elite offense this year.
Is Avdija the starting three?
Head coach Scott Brooks had rookie Deni Avdija in the lineup as the starting small forward for the second time in three preseason games. It was a surprise for the opener, but Avdija has only helped his cause with the way he's played.
Brooks insists the starting three-spot is likely to evolve over the course of the season, but as of now Avdija might be considered the favorite going into the year. Isaac Bonga would be the other most likely candidate, as he started 49 games last year for the Wizards and was the starter in their second preseason game, with Avdija on the bench.
In this game, Avdija went for nine points (2-for-4 3PT), 10 rebounds and three steals. His defense has been a pleasant surprise throughout the preseason. Avdija is an aggressive defender and has strong instincts for contesting shots without fouling.
Neto has stood out
Raul Neto was one of the Wizards' best players this preseason, which is a development very few probably expected. He took advantage of Westbrook sitting out two games and in this one seemed to be taking some of the backup shooting guard minutes away from Jerome Robinson and Garrison Mathews.
Neto was brought in for his defense, but he did a nice job scoring the ball in the Wizards' three exhibition games. He scored 17 points in the first game, seven points in the second and 10 on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see how they use Neto once the season starts. He looks like he can provide some decent two-way value, yet they have two guards in Westbrook and Beal that will play a lot. Plus, they have Ish Smith who is the clear No. 2 point guard. Neto is going to be No. 3 at best on the point guard depth chart.
Hachimura didn't play
This game featured everyone on the Wizards except for second-year forward Rui Hachimura, their starting four. Hachimura missed his second straight game as he continues to deal with irritation in his eye.
Brooks said before the game he doesn't know if Hachimura will be able to play in their opener on Wednesday against the Sixers. The Wizards have said it's a minor deal, yet Hachimura clearly must be bothered by it.
With him out, the Wizards turned to Anthony Gill, who finished with two points in 16 minutes.