Wizards players seeing 'refreshing' change after deadline


WASHINGTON -- With their three trades ahead of the 2022 NBA trade deadline, the Wizards seemed to address concerns their players had vocalized publicy in previous weeks. They traded away four veterans, two who were on expiring contracts and all who were part of a logjam that proved all depth is not necessarily good depth.

Kyle Kuzma, for one, lamented how the crowded rotation affected role assignments. Following the team's 35-point collapse against the Clippers last month, Kuzma said he thought the Wizards were way too far into their season to not have designated roles.

Three games after those deadline trades were made and Kuzma is singing a much different tune. In fact, he basically said things are the complete opposite now.

"I think we're great chemistry-wise. I think we've got a pretty good understanding of roles right now on the team. Everybody's gelling, fitting in. Everybody's just doing what they're supposed to do," Kuzma said.

He went on to specify how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is doing a good job knocking down shots, how rookie Corey Kispert is emerging and how now-starting point guard Raul Neto is creating for others by dribbling into the defense. 

Second-year forward Deni Avdija is among Wizards players settling into a larger role. He has so far thrived, with double-figure scoring in each of the last three games and in Monday's win over the Pistons setting a career-high with 15 rebounds. With Spencer Dinwiddie now in Dallas, the Wizards only have two point guards by trade; Neto and Ish Smith. That has left more ball-handling responsibilities to Avdija, who sometimes serves as a point-forward.


"I feel like we're more engaged. This change also changed a little bit of our roles. Everybody needs to do a little bit more," Avdija said.

The Wizards have won two of the last three games while averaging 25.3 assists per game. That's a little bit up from their season average of 24.0 per game, which ranks 16th in the league. What is perhaps more notable, however, is the pure volume of passes.

The Wizards average 284.3 passes per game on the season overall, but that number has ballooned to 314.7 over the last three games, which would lead the league if it were carried the entire year.

"We just keep sharing the ball, as I said. I think we can do great things," Avdija said. "I think the change, we needed a change and it's a process. It's going to take some time and I believe in this team."

Perhaps it is just a honeymoon phase. Again, it has only been three games. The two wins they got were against struggling teams; the Nets who have lost nine in a row coming in and then the Pistons, who hold the NBA's worst record. The game they lost was against the Kings who are 15 games under .500.

The Wizards know better than anyone how good vibes can be short-lived. This is the same team that began the season 10-3, only to go 14-26 before a major shakeup at the trade deadline.

But in addition to the ball movement and role changes, Kuzma believes another intangible could make the recent positive momentum sustainable. It also runs perfectly counter to what we heard at the lower points of this Wizards' season.

"Everyone is just accepting positive criticism well. Any time you can do that, that means you can hold people accountable. And that's for everybody, not just me. If I'm messing up, Deni or anybody can say something to me and I hear them and understand it and we're going to change things. I think that's the No. 1 thing," Kuzma said.

"Obviously that and just the commitment to playing the right way. That's super, super important and for most of the season we haven't necessarily done that for multiple games. I think over these past three games it's been really refreshing to play this way."