The Washington Wizards were at a crossroads. Keep Russell Westbrook or trade him for the best possible package on the market. One year ago, the Wizards looked like magicians by turning John Wall’s horrid contract into the 2017 MVP and triple-double machine. One year passed by and the Wizards had to play their way into the playoffs before getting dumped by the 76ers in the first round.
Westbrook is a future Hall of Famer, but the Wizards never looked like a contender despite having Bradley Beal play alongside him, who finished as the league’s runner-up in scoring. In the end, the Wizards decided to trade Westbrook for more depth on the team. Will the depth over Westbrook’s greatness help Washington finally be successful?
Point Guard - Spencer Dinwiddie
Dinwiddie played just three games last year before tearing his ACL which forced him to miss the rest of the Brooklyn Nets’ season. The year before, Dinwiddie looked like a potential Sixth Man Of the Year candidate. He averaged 20.6 points, 6.8 assists, and shot 41.5% from the field.
His outside shooting is not elite, shooting 30.8% from the field, but Dinwiddie proved that he can be a true swingman at the point guard position. Dinwiddie may not score 20 points per game, but he has true playmaking ability without gobbling the ball 50% of the time.
Shooting Guard - Bradley Beal
Before Steph Curry went full historic mode, it was Beal that led the NBA in scoring for most of the season. Beal completed his second straight season averaging at least 30 points per game, averaging a league-runner up 31.3. That included 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists to go with a 48.5% shooting percentage.
Beal could clean up his outside shot, which is 34.9% from last year. However, Beal was taking a top-2 margin of attempts. The offense has heavily relied on Beal since John Wall’s injury three seasons ago. Beal has more of a supporting cast than just a dynamic duo partner and parts. Let’s see if the depth will impact his chances of scoring 30 per game for the third year.
Small Forward - Kyle Kuzma
Wizards fans have to be excited about a 26-year small forward that has flashes of being a true offensive package. In his second season, Kuzma averaged 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Then, the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis and a plethora of other players that shifted his role to the bench. With that said, Kuzma was a top player coming off the bench the last two seasons.
Last year, Kuzma averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds. Kuzma is entering his prime years and could be a potential 20-point scorer. This will be the first time in two seasons that Kuzma will play starter’s minutes and that should excite Washington natives about the possibility of what could happen.
Power Forward - Rui Hachimura
The 23-year old has been producing his first two seasons in the league. The former 2019 No. 9 overall pick just needs to stay healthy. In his first season, Hachimura averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Last year, Hachimura played just 57 games but averaged 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. Assuming he stays on the floor, he is a starting-caliber power forward in this league.
The team needs Hacimura to average closer to what Richaun Holmes averaged last year, 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. The Wizards are not necessarily a big team, so their true rebounders need to pull in more of the glass to help their smaller lineup.
Center - Montrezl Harrell
Again, the Wizards are a smaller team in the league. Harrell is going to be the team’s starting center and has never averaged more than 7.1 rebounds in a season. Last year, Harrell averaged 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in what could be seen as a down year. The 2020 Sixth Man of the Year did not fit well in the Lakers’ system, which made him more expendable to trade in the Westbrook deal.
With that said, Harrell is just one year removed from a season that saw him average 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. We believe that Harrell will get the starting nod over Daniel Gafford, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be the worst possible rotation idea thrown around.
Aaron Holiday, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Raul Neto, Cassius Winston, Deni Avidja, Corey Kispert, Davis Bertans, Anthony Gill, Isaiah Todd, Daniel Gafford, Thomas Bryant
There are pieces on the Wizards bench that makes this a deeper bench in the Eastern Conference. For starters, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, along with Kuzma, led the Lakers in three-point field goals. Pair KCP with Davis Bertans, who shot 39.5% from three-point range, should give the second unit plenty of shooters.
What the Wizards decide to do with Gafford will be interesting. Will he start or not? In 23 games, Gafford averaged 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds after coming over via trade. Gafford’s play will be a nice plug-in as a former starting center, Thomas Bryant, is expected to miss most, if not all, the regular season. Other players to keep an eye on are the team’s first-round pick Corey Kispert, a former All-American, and last year’s first-round pick Deni Avidja, who was once heralded as a top-5 prospect in the 2020 draft.
Will Depth Over Talent Be Successful?
This question is pretty loaded because it could sound like a shot taken at the likes of Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, and Harrell. All we are saying is that Westbrook is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Is the combination of these three players alone enough to make up for the triple-double production you got last season.
The easy answer is yes, but by what margin? For starters, Westbrook had the ball in his hands too much with little to show for. Westbrook’s usage percentage was 30.2%, which means nearly one-third of the time the Wizards were on offense, he had the ball. Yet, despite this high volume, he finished with 0.5 offensive win shares, which was the lowest in his career since his rookie season with the Thunder.
Since Kevin Durant left the Thunder in 2017, Westbrook has been unable to make the first round consistently. He has made the second round one time and that was his one-year stop with the Houston Rockets. What we have learned is that Westbrook’s historic triple-double seasons are entertaining basketball clips, but it’s not good enough for team success.
That allowed the Wizards to make a tough decision. Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope were one and two for the Lakers in three-point field goals. Give Avidja and Kispert some time, they might join the train for solid secondary scoring options. The Wizards have true depth in the first and second unit, which was something the team lacked last year.
Beal returns as the lone No. 1 option and there are stipulations with that. While the surrounding cast looks good on paper, what exactly has Beal proven to us? In two years without playing with Wall due to injury, the Wizards failed to make the playoffs, winning a combined 57 games. Westbrook came to town and the Wizards still finished below .500 with a 34-38 record.
The depth chart with Dinwiddie, Beal, Kuzma, Hachimura, and Harrell should make the overall team better, but how much? The team could win six more games and be just 40-32, which might get the Wizards the No. 6 or 7 seed. The Wizards will be a playoff contender in the East, but we shouldn't expect much more than a back-end playoff spot.
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