The Washington Wizards currently sit at 13-26, just about where their fans expected upon entering the season. But while the results haven’t been surprising, the on-floor product has given a beleaguered fanbase something to cheer for no matter the score.
I attended the Wizards game against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 6, and I entered Capital One Arena expecting a blowout due to the Celtics’ current perch amongst the ten best NBA teams, even without star point guard Kemba Walker.
And that’s no disrespect. Starting in the league isn’t the bar for success, but with the injuries at essentially every position this season, an opportunity has opened for players that often wouldn’t get a chance for other teams.
Missing John Wall at point guard, we’ve been running with Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas at the position. And while IT hasn’t gotten back to his King of the Fourth Quarter days, he’s still fun to watch alongside Showtime Smith. Scoring 32 against a stout Denver Nuggets defense and 27 against the Celtics, Smith is one of the hottest guards in 2020, and he’s doing it with style. A shifty dribbling form and quick passes make him one of our most entertaining players.
With Beal’s recent injury, Gary Payton II, Garrison Matthews, and Jordan McRae have been divvying up minutes at the 2-guard spot. Payton has immediately made an impact upon his arrival in Washington, providing stout defense and hustle on a team missing most of their stars.
Matthews, out for a few weeks with a lower right leg injury, is a recent acquisition but has proven a surprisingly entertaining watch. He’s a sharpshooter that can heat up at a moment’s notice. McRae is no different, recording 25+ points on six occasions this season. The team hasn’t been winning too much, but they’ve been unearthing legitimate talent in the dearth of healthily high draft picks and flashy players.
Between the two forward spots, the Wizards have had a doozy of different combinations. Rookie Rui Hachimura came into the league hot, averaging about 14 efficient points per game before getting injured. The story is similar for sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who ranks No. 2 in the league in three-pointers per game. After missing several weeks, Bertans is back in action and hasn’t missed a beat. Troy Brown Jr. has managed to stay healthy and is showing signs of becoming a legitimate contributor off-the-bench for seasons to come with a slashing offensive style and tough defense, averaging 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in the last 30 days.
Mostly making an impact on defense has been newcomer Isaac Bonga who stands 6’ 7” with a 7-foot wingspan. With surprising quickness, he is able to envelop most opposing team’s scorers and slashers. He’s able to disrupt passing lanes with his length, and at the young age of 20, he’s only getting better.
For the first time in Ian Mahinmi’s much-maligned time as a Wizard, he’s finally been contributing. Racking up blocks at an impressive per-36 rate, Mahinmi has been an acceptable fill-in at center while key contributors Thomas Bryant and Mo Wagner are recovering from injury. It’s hard to write objectively about a player that’s been paid so damn much to do so damn little, but with many similarly horrible contracts given out at the same time as his signing as well as his status as an Ernie Grunfeld hire, it’s hard to pile on. Sending love to Mahinmi.
Swapping time with Mahinmi in the absence of Bryant and Wagner is Anžejs Pasecniks, a 7’ 2” big man that just signed a three-year deal with the Wizards. He’s an efficient low-volume scorer but hasn’t shown much heat on the defensive end. He has touch around the basket, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be relied upon when Bryant and Wagner return.
The Wizards might not be your first option for a night out in DC, but with tickets as low as $10, don’t hesitate to see your hometown G-League call-ups in action.