It’s safe to say nobody is expecting much from the 2019-2020 Washington Wizards. Bovada Sports Book currently has the Wizards over/under win total for the year at a disheartening 27.5 games. Only the Hornets (23.5), Cavaliers (24.5), and Grizzlies (26.5) are predicted to lose more games than Washington this season.
In fact, with John Wall sidelined for the year, NBA 2K20 gave the Wizards the lowest overall team rating at an uninspiring 74.
After being a perennial playoff contender for the past five years or so, the Wizards have crashed back down to the cellar of the Eastern Conference. So with the national media paying no attention to the Wizards and fans’ optimism at an all-time low, why should you even tune in to watch the ‘Zards this season? Well, there are actually a few good reasons.
Bradley Beal’s Growth to Superstardom
Bradley Beal is not going anywhere this season. Not only is he the type of player you can’t afford to lose, but he’s also the type of person you don’t let walk out of your locker room.
One of the only bright spots of last year’s dismal season was Beals’ growth not only as a basketball player but as a leader.
Wall’s Achilles injury propelled Beal into team leader role for the Wizards. Beal realized that his position as frontrunner means he no longer can afford to have off-nights or give anyone reason to believe he isn’t on his A-game. He had to become a rock for an organization that epitomizes dysfunction.
Without much choice, Beal had to change the way he plays. With Wall gone, he could no longer rely on someone else to get his teammates going – and he embraced that. Now, with the offense flowing through him, Beal averaged a career-high 5.5 assists per game while having a career-high usage rate.
It’s clear that the young guys on the roster and the organization as a whole have responded to Beal’s command. I’m sure I don’t have to convince Wizards fans how important it is to have a stable leader who also puts up 25 per game.
However, Beal’s improving leadership is not the main reason to pay attention to him this year. What’s really impressive about him is the gaudy numbers he is about to put up this season. Since coming into the League back in 2012, Beal has found a way to improve his game at every level each season.
As the No. 1 option in 2018, Beal saw his overall offensive game flourish to new heights. He has become a jack-of-all-trades scorer with a niche three-point arc skill and an equally impressive slashing element to his game.
One explanation for Beal’s career numbers last season is his cutting back on midrange shots and getting inside the paint more. At one point in his career, Beal scored 31 percent of his points from the midrange; last season he saw that number drop to a career-low 14 percent.
Conversely, Beal scored a career-high 39 percent of his points from inside the paint. That allowed him to be more efficient with his scoring and helped him average a career-high in points despite only shooting a mediocre (by his standards) 35 percent from three.
Beal will play a lot of minutes this season and should expect a very high usage rate once again. If Beal’s game keeps developing at this rate and can bring his three-point percentage back up to around to the 40 percent where it’s been most of his career, don’t be surprised to see him average 27 plus points per game this season.
Developing Young Talent
For the first time during the “House of Guards” era, the Wizards have young talent to be excited about. Besides Beal, if you’re looking for a reason to be excited about the Wizards look no further then the Brown-Bryant-Hachimura trio.
Troy Brown Jr. has the not-so-illustrious honor of being the last draft pick made by Ernie Grunfeld. However, fans need to judge Brown for his playing abilities rather than the track record of his selector.
At only 18 years old, Brown flashed some special abilities during his limited playing time throughout his rookie year. His length and exceptional basketball IQ caused havoc on the defensive end. Additionally, he actually improved his three-point percentage from 29.1 percent in college to 32 percent in the pros.
During the Vegas Summer League, Brown showed why many people in the Wizards organization compare him to Andre Iguodala. Brown displayed crafty playmaking ability, good handles, and versatility overall. In the three games Brown played in, he lead the team in rebounds per game (8.3) and was second only to Hachimura in points per game (12).
With the starting SF position still up in the air for the Wizards, expect to see a lot more of the Oregon product in his second season.
When the Wizards claimed Thomas Bryant from waivers last year, only a few Wizards fans even knew who he was. Despite being relatively unknown, Bryant quickly emerged as a cornerstone for a franchise that has not fully committed to tanking quite yet. Throughout last season, Bryant and Beal formed a connection that should excite Wizards’ fans. The two seem to be genuinely close friends and successfully compliment each other well. After averaging 10.5 PPG and 6.3 rebounds while shooting an eye-popping 61.6 percent from the field, the Wizards gave Bryant a three-year, $25 million extension.
Bryant has worked hard this offseason to add more consistentcy to his three-point shot and become a better ball handler overall. One of his trainers sent a warning shot to the rest of the league, saying that Bryant is about to become “a fucking all-star.” While that could be just a bit overoptimistic, don’t be surprised if Bryant takes another massive leap during his second year in Washington.
Rui Hachimura was the ninth pick in this year’s NBA draft, and his stock has been soaring ever since. When you’re the first Japanese player to ever be drafted into the NBA, there’s going to be a considerable amount of hype — especially when you’re a top ten pick.
However, Hachimura isn’t just a feel-good story — the dude can flat-out ball. In the Vegas Summer League, Hachimura showed off his cerebral midrange, strong pick and roll ability, and defensive versatility that has many people comparing him to a young Kawhi Leonard. Hachimura’s impressive Summer League lead to him being selected to the NBA Summer League Second Team averaging 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds.
Hachimura has put himself in the position to be a quintessential part of the Wizards’ rotation this season. While Head Coach Scott Brooks is known to keep his rookies glued to the bench, Hachimura might just be too good to keep out.
A Potential Isaiah Thomas Resurgence?
Two years ago, Isaiah Thomas was an MVP candidate and a rising Celtics legend. “The King of the Fourth” was quickly becoming a folk-hero in Beantown. Who could ever forget his iconic 53 point performance in the playoffs mere days after the tragic death of his sister? I’m sure Wizards fans remember.
However, only two years later, Thomas has been chewed up and spit out by the NBA. After a forgettable year in Denver where Thomas played in only 12 games, he entered free agency considered damaged goods which made him a perfect match for the Wizards.
After signing a one-year deal with Washington in free agency, Thomas’ Wizards tenure is already off to a rocky start as it was recently announced he will miss six to eight weeks following thumb surgery.
The only good news here is that the setback is unrelated to a hip injury that has been plaguing him since the 2017 playoffs.
Hopefully, IT can make a full recovery from this injury. And with only Ish Smith as his primary competition, Thomas will have a chance to start immediately upon his return.
While Thomas is only on a one-year deal with the Wizards and probably won’t be back with the team once Wall returns, seeing him return to form would not only be good for the Wizards but for the NBA as a whole.
This season may not amount to many wins, but with a bonafide superstar, exciting young talent, and an intriguing post-hype point guard, the Wizards have the chance to turn heads in the 2019-20 campaign.