Under new coach Wes Unseld, Jr., the Washington Wizards fell short of playoff expectations last season, finishing with an underwhelming 35-47 record. But with a healthier team, veteran acquisitions and a young college stud ready to take the court this October, the team should be able to return to the postseason and fight for a long playoff run.
“I think we have a tougher and grittier group of players; it’s an exciting time right now for the team,” assistant coach Ryan Richman says. “It’s important for our team to have a collective goal, first and foremost. On a general level, that’s competing night-in and night-out and playing with an edge every time we hit the court.”
The offseason started on a good note when three-time all-star Bradley Beal inked a new five-year, $251 million max contract with the club, showing his commitment to the team and his belief in its future.
While Beal injured his wrist last year, playing only 40 games and averaging a career low of 23.2 points per game, he did see an uptick on his assists average (6.6 per game). He is now healthy and should have no problem getting back to his elite level.
Beal should have more talent to work with than before. Washington brought in 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porziņģis at the trading deadline last season, and forward Kyle Kuzma took over solidly as the number one option during Beal’s absence.
Kuzma posted career-best numbers in rebounds, assists and blocks last year and averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Porziņģis showed his value with his new team by averaging 22.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists, also adding 1.5 blocked shots and 1.7 three-pointers per game. His problem has always been staying healthy, but if he can give Washington a full season he should pair nicely with Beal and Kuzma.
“Our front office has done a great job of surrounding Brad and Kristaps with a team to help them flourish,” Richman says. “Our mini-camp in LA was great. Starting the chemistry both on and off the court is important and everyone is getting ready to hit training camp hard.”
Fans are also excited about the addition of rookie Johnny Davis, who the Wizards selected 10th overall in the last NBA draft. The two-way wing brings defensive grit and will add some valuable minutes to the team.
“I’m excited for him to keep growing,” Richman says. “This is going to be a great opportunity for him. He can do a bunch of things on and off the ball, and defensively it will be a great place for him to shine. Defense is a place we need to improve and he’s going to really help us there.”
The Wizards lost both Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky to free agency and sent Ish Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Denver for Will Barton and Monte Morris, and added Taj Gibson and Delon Wright in free agent deals.
“Bringing Monte and Will in to help is big,” Richman says. “Looking at their backgrounds — being in Denver and on a high-level team with some big-time battles late in the playoffs — that’s where we want to be.”
“Then Taj has been in the league for so long and is well respected,” Richman continues. “He’s a great veteran who will help out from a leadership and toughness standpoint. And Delon has been really good on a number of teams. We’re excited to have him.”
Unseld will rely on returning forward Deni Avdija and 2021 first-rounder shooting guard Corey Kispert, as well.
“We have a very well-rounded group of players that I am personally excited about,” Richman says. “When you mix the returners with the guys we’ve brought in, it’s a good recipe for success. The playoffs are something we all expect.”
Before the regular season kicks off on October 19 with an away game vs. the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards will play two preseason games in Japan on September 30 and October 2 against defending champion the Golden State Warriors. To view this season’s full schedule and get tickets, visit nba.com/wizards or follow them on Instagram at @washwizards.
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