Wizards

Wizards poised to be one of fastest, highest-scoring teams in NBA

Wizards

The Wizards have new players and it will take time for us to know how good they will be this year, but they are likely to establish an identity very early as one of the fastest and highest-scoring teams in the league. 

The Wizards last season ranked seventh in points per game and seventh in pace, according to Basketball Reference, and that was without Russell Westbrook. Now they are adding one of the fastest players in the sport, and one of its best scorers. Westbrook has two scoring titles and averaged 27.2 points per game last season, good for seventh in the NBA.

When it comes to speed, they have it at every position. Westbrook will start at point guard and behind him is Ish Smith, who may be even faster. They have Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, all of whom can run the floor.

Rookie Deni Avdija can push the pace both with his speed at 6-foot-9 and his quick passes in transition. Davis Bertans can speed up possessions with his long-range, quick-release three-point shooting.

Add it all up, and the Wizards can really push the ball.

"Our pace is going to be unbelievable," Jerome Robinson said.

Westbrook will be tasked with hitting the gas for the Wizards' offense. He's the point guard and leads the team into transition.

Through three weeks of practices, the Wizards are already seeing the difference he can make.

"His pace is crazy," Beal said. "It's crazy because I don't want to compare him and John [Wall], but he's very fast with the ball. He pushes the pace. He loves to get up and down the floor and he looks for his shooters."

 

"Speed is important and that's our advantage; getting up the floor," Westbrook said. "It's definitely one of the best parts of my game, in transition."

The Wizards hope the pace leads to points. Last year, they ranked 15th in offensive rating despite being seventh in scoring. Those numbers may improve, however, if the team stays healthy and with Westbrook's scoring added into the equation.

They could more closely resemble the Wizards from 2016-17, head coach Scott Brooks' first year in town. Back then, the Wizards were fifth in points and seventh in offensive rating.

This year's team may be deeper, though, and is arguably more versatile scoring the ball. They have perimeter shooting with Beal, Bertans, Bryant and others. They can attack in the midrange with Hachimura and also Beal and Westbrook. And they can make you pay around the rim with multiple guys that can drive, plus Bryant who last year shot 74.9 percent on shots within five feet of the basket. Two years ago, he led the NBA in two-point percentage.

"We can score at all three levels," Beal said.

The Wizards, in fact, seem to have a collective scoring goal offensively, as it was mentioned by more than one player in the lead-up to the season. 

"This year, I think we can score over 115, 120 points a night. We have that ability," Beal said.

"We're trying to score in the 115-120 [range]," Smith said. "The pace Russ is going to bring, the pace I'm going to bring to the second unit; that's how we want to play."

For some context, only five teams averaged 115-plus points last season. The Milwaukee Bucks led the league with 118.7. Only 22 teams in NBA history have averaged at least 120 per game, and none since the 1984-85 Denver Nuggets. The 1981-82 Nuggets hold the NBA record with 126.5 points per game.

Not long ago, the Wizards tried their ill-fated 'pace and space' experiment, which infamously included Kris Humphries as a converted stretch-four. They didn't have the personnel to play that style back then, but now it may be inevitable.

They have a lot of fast players who like to play up-tempo and they also have shooters to open up the court. Whether it leads to wins or not, it should be fun to watch.

Defensive is a much different question, of course. The Wizards were 30th in defensive rating last season, though they did improve after the trade deadline.

The Wizards will have to make strides defensively to get where they want to go, but there doesn't seem to be any doubt they will be able to score.

 

"Offensively, I think the sky's the limit," Smith said.