Wizards

Wizards struggle in preseason home debut loss to Knicks

Wizards

The Washington Wizards lost to the New York Knicks 117-99 on Saturday night in their second preseason game. Here are five observations from a rough start ...

Avdija and KCP debuted

The Wizards had two key rotation players back on Saturday as second-year forward Deni Avdija played in his first live game since breaking his ankle in April and veteran wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returned from a one-game absence due to a dental procedure.

Caldwell-Pope didn't shoot well (1-for-4), but did have three steals. Avdija made a few standout plays and also some mistakes. He had four points, including a breakaway slam assisted by Bradley Beal (14 points). 

We didn't get to see a ton of the play-making from Avdija that head coach Wes Unseld Jr. is trying to unlock, but there were some moments, both good and bad. He had a smooth drive to the rim to find Montrezl Harrell for a contested layup that Harrell missed. He also, though, tried to force a pass to Harrell in the post that resulted in an ugly turnover.

Gafford is ridiculous

There may be a day in the future where it becomes less remarkable when Daniel Gafford does something amazing or something that hasn't been seen from a Wizards player in years. Eventually, all of us will get used to it. 

But we aren't there yet because he continues to do some truly incredible things on the basketball court. In Saturday's game he had three blocks during a 23-second span in the second quarter. Two of those blocks came on the same possession. Not long after that, he brought the fans to their feet with a monster alley-oop dunk fed by a lob pass from Beal.

 

Gafford ended up with seven points, four blocks and two steals, this time staying out of foul trouble, which he wasn't able to do in Tuesday's preseason opener at Houston. Gafford didn't get his first foul until the third quarter against the Knicks. The more he can avoid fouls, the more he will play and the more secure his role will be.

Three-point defense

Despite Unseld Jr.'s emphasis on defense and an offseason that infused the roster with wing defenders, perimeter defense was still a major problem against the Knicks. The Wizards allowed New York to pop for 24 threes, including 12 in the first half. That surpassed their per game average of 11.8 last season. In fact, 24 threes would have been a franchise record for the Knicks if this was the regular season.

New York made some tough ones to beat good defense, like Kevin Knox who sank a three with Davis Bertans all over him. But there were also plenty of breakdowns that led to open shooters, especially early as R.J. Barrett was able to get free off miscommunicated switches. 

The Wizards are trying to rely less on switches, but it puts more responsibility on the on-ball defenders and they appear to be working out the kinks right now. Avdija also bit badly on a pump fake from Evan Fournier in the first half that left him with an eternity to shoot and he knocked it down.

Kispert got bumped

There was a domino effect of Avdija and Caldwell-Pope being back, as rookie first round pick Corey Kispert didn't play until the 4:49 mark of the third quarter. Kispert started and played well against Houston on Tuesday, but the Wizards have a lot of depth at his position and only so many minutes to dole out. 

Kispert at this point is probably a safe bet to begin the season on the outside of the rotation looking in. He's competing with a lot of established veterans and more recent first-round picks like Avdija for playing time. Saturday may have been a hint of more to come and it will be interesting to see how Kispert is handled in the final two preseason games, which Unseld Jr. has indicated will be dress rehearsals for the regular season in terms of the rotation.

Dinwiddie solid again

The early returns on Spencer Dinwiddie continue to be encouraging. He has shown no signs of spending the last nine months recovering from ACL surgery. He has done a nice job getting to the rim off the dribble and staying in front of his man on defense, two trademarks of his game before he got injured.

What has stood out the most so far about Dinwiddie is his feel for the game. For instance, he's excellent at passing out of double teams. Against Houston on Tuesday, he found Kispert for a wide-open three. And against the Knicks, he was trapped close to halfcourt, but he patiently waited for a window and found Harrell under the rim on a tough pass for an easy basket. Being a tall point guard helps, but Dinwiddie doesn't allow the defense to rush him and has good timing to pass out of trouble.

 

Another way his instincts and feel for the game have shown up is around the rim. He's got impressive touch when he attacks the basket with the ability to score from different release angles and without jumping above the rim. He's got a strong upper body and isn't fazed by contact when he's driving.