Wizards season preview: Will Bradley Beal stay or do they blow it up?
While still carried by Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards enter the upcoming season as a much deeper team than they were in 2020-21.
Beal is the sole lifeblood of the organization for the Wizards. Instead of sharing the floor with the likes of John Wall or Russell Westbrook, he will be surrounded by more role players in Washington than he had in previous campaigns. As such, Beal is a clear favorite to win the NBA’s scoring title. But will that be enough to help them make any noise in the playoffs?
Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Wizards campaign.
Returning: Deni Avdija, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant, Daniel Gafford, Anthony Gill, Rui Hachimura, Raul Neto and Cassius Winston
Additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (LA Lakers), Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn), Jaime Echenique (Donosti Gipuzkoa Basket 2001), Jordan Goodwin (Saint Louis), Montrezl Harrell (LA Lakers), Aaron Holiday (Indiana), Jay Huff (Virginia), Corey Kispert (Gonzaga), Kyle Kuzma (LA Lakers), Jordan Schakel (San Diego State) and Isaiah Todd (NBA G League Ignite)
Subtractions: Isaac Bonga (Toronto), Caleb Homesley (Hamburg Towers), Chandler Hutchison (Phoenix), Alex Len (Sacramento), Robin Lopez (Orlando), Garrison Mathews (Boston), Ish Smith (Charlotte) and Russell Westbrook (LA Lakers)
* Beal is poised for his best season yet… Although he is already a three-time All-Star, Beal has made All-NBA consideration just once. While he was named All-NBA Third-Team this past season, it is easy to imagine a world in which he takes another step forward now that he will not be sharing so many shots with Wall or Westbrook. He has led the Eastern Conference in scoring two years in a row and next year, it wouldn’t be a shock if he ends up as the NBA’s scoring leader. He has the runway to take off and soar in an offense fully built to complement his skill set. Plus, he is putting a stronger emphasis on defense while playing for a defensive-minded coach in Wes Unseld Jr.
* They are a much deeper group without Westbrook… For the first time in a long time, the Wizards will not have a big-name star playing point guard for their organization. They went from Gilbert Arenas to Wall and then to Westbrook. But the front office has exchanged a flashy floor general for a deeper rotation, bringing in Kyle Kuzma as well as Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in exchange for Westbrook. Even though they had someone capable of serving as a one-man wrecking ball on offense in Westbrook, the additional depth will serve them well in the long-term.
* This is a team that knows how to play fast… The Wizards played at the fastest pace in basketball this past season. They averaged 104.7 possessions per game, which was the most of any team in the league. They took just 8.8 seconds to shoot the ball after a defensive rebound, per Inpredictable, which was the quickest in the NBA. Westbrook obviously played a huge role in the pace and so, too, did former head coach Scott Brooks. But new coach Wes Unseld Jr. has said the overall concepts of the offense will “stay the same” and Washington will continue to play with pace.
* Their young guys are only getting better… There will be some legitimate improvements on the floor due to the natural growth of players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura. Both have shown some excellent flashes while on the floor for Washington. Unseld, meanwhile, is credited for a lot of the player development for players like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray during his time as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets. Even though Avdija and Hachimura are still both very young, if they take a step forward earlier than expected and have breakout campaigns, Washington will be in a great place next year.
* Washington has the constant threat of rebuilding… At any given moment, Beal could decide that he has had enough of being on a sub-par team. While he has insisted that he is with the Wizards for the foreseeable future, there is the looming potential that some more losses could ware on him enough that he demands a trade. This isn’t a superteam and as he looks around the league and sees teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, he may want to form his own version somewhere else. That has to weigh on the shoulders of everyone associated with this team.
* There is a lot of uncertainty due to injury… The Wizards made a huge splash by signing Dinwiddie from the Brooklyn Nets. The guard, however, missed all but just three games last season due to a partially torn ACL in his right knee. Thomas Bryant, who could be a key contributor if healthy, is also coming off a torn ACL and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. Avdija suffered a fractured ankle that forced him out near the end of the season as well. The sharpshooting Davis Bertans missed significant time due to a calf injury, too. As a group, Washington might not be fully ready for game action.
* They still need improvement on the perimeter… The Wizards averaged just 0.96 points per possession on jump shots when playing in their half-court offense, per Synergy, which ranked as the third-worst mark in the league. They scored just 26.7 points per game when shooting off the catch, via Second Spectrum, which was the second-worst in the NBA. Westbrook’s shooting woes burdened them and he is no longer a part of their team. But even Dinwiddie, who is shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc in his career, may not be much of an improvement while replacing him. They will need Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma and Corey Kispert to step up as three-point threats.
* The Wizards became very flexible for the first time in many years after trading Russell Westbrook. By essentially liquidating John Wall’s supermax deal into three team-friendly contracts, Washington no longer has issues filling up their roster within the luxury tax threshold and have opened up a ton of trade possibilities. Just about every player on their roster is on a solid-value deal and can be combined together to trade for a more expensive player, or can be traded individually to teams needing role players. They currently have $8 million remaining in their mid-level exception and a small $2.16 million trade exception, but they’ll likely go unused for now as the Wizards are just $1.7 million below the luxury tax with a full roster.
* Bradley Beal is currently eligible for an extension worth up to $181.3 million over four years. It can be signed throughout the season and would run through the 2025-26 season, with a $40.5 million salary replacing his $36.4 million player option amount in 2022-23. While Beal not extending could lead to speculation about his future, rejecting the extension would be a financial decision. He can earn slightly more money annually and add on an additional year if he re-signs with the Wizards in free agency. The projected five-year maximum contract the Wizards can offer Beal, currently projected at $241.6 million, should give them a massive advantage in re-signing him next summer.
* The Wizards are going to have to make decisions on some of their young players soon. Daniel Gafford is extension-eligible this season for up to four years, $55.6 million. It would make sense for the Wizards to lock up their potential starting center if Gafford can build off his breakthrough 2020-21 season. Aaron Holiday is also extension-eligible through October 18 but will probably need to make the most of his fresh start in Washington before his next contract. Rui Hachimura becomes extension-eligible next offseason. With so many forwards on the roster fighting for minutes, he has a great opportunity this year to improve and stand out from the rest of the rotation.
— Yossi Gozlan