Like a snap of the finger from the almighty titan Thanos, rebuilds in sports are, as he’d growl, inevitable. There comes a time when every franchise must reshuffle their deck and begin planning for the future. And folks, the Washington Wizards’ time to tank is now. Does that mean losing games on purpose? No. That would be a violation of NBA rules and no team would ever tank blatantly and openly. However, it might mean letting center Thomas Bryant shoot 15 threes per game. It could mean allotting newly signed guard Isaiah Thomas the same number of field goal attempts he enjoyed before a rash of injuries depleted some of his athleticism.
Despite this truth, the season doesn’t have to be an auto-skip for fans. Unlike the pre-Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers or the year-in, year-out rotating door that forms the New York Knicks, this DC team actually has some entertaining NBA players worth watching. So while I’d love to throw a book’s worth of stats at you to try and convince you the Wizards will triumph and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, I’m too much of a realist. And as a realist and DC area resident, I’ll be keeping an eye on the following four players.
The Real Deal Beal himself, the team’s best player from last season returns to build off his breakout campaign from 2018-2019. The team’s shooting guard was the subject of a tremendous amount of trade speculation throughout the offseason, but instead of pushing his weight around and forcing his way out of town, he re-upped with the Wizards by signing a two-year contract extension through the 2022-2023 season worth $72 million. Coming off a scintillating season where he averaged almost 26 points per game, Beal is a bright spot for the team and a genuine source of optimism among fans. For Beal, outside of the max contract obviously, this season represents a chance for him to prove he can lead a team to unexpected heights. All of Beal’s playoff appearances occurred in seasons where he played second banana to the now-injured John Wall, and while he’s achieved individual accolades like All-Star appearances, he hasn’t shown the ability to elevate an average roster to the playoffs a la James Harden or LeBron James to this point. Beal is undoubtedly a tremendous talent, but is he an MVP-level player? This season, we could find out.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Wizards starting center. After missing out on Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason, the Wizards front office, then led by Ernie Grunfield, signed center Ian Mahinmi as their center of the future at a questionably high price point. That turned out to be a catastrophe as the Frenchman has failed to live up to the contract. Instead, the Wizards relied on veteran Marcin Gortat for a number of seasons, before bringing in future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard to start last season. Due to a butt injury, Howard’s reign never transpired and Bryant took the early opportunity for playing time and produced a career-best season average about 10 points and 7 rebounds per outing. At 22 years old, Bryant has showcased a ton of potential proving a solid defender with more shooting range than a typical five. Losing in the NBA isn’t fun for anyone, but low expectations provide ample opportunities for players looking to prove themselves and Bryant fits the bill.
When NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his name, a lot of people were skeptical of the Wizards’ most recent NBA Draft lottery pick, but Rui Hachimura has so far silenced his doubters. While it’s undeniably early in his career, three games at time of writing, he’s been incredibly impressive averaging 16 points per game. As with Bryant, bad teams provide young players the opportunity to step onto the court and experience a litany of game scenarios. So far, Hachimura has made the most of his reps, whether a young international prospect at Gonzaga, the leader of the Japanese national team or as a rookie for the Wizards, and he’ll only continue to make strides as a scorer.
Unlike the players above him on this admittedly shortlist, Isaiah Thomas’ time with the Wizards is likely a temporary marriage. The diminutive guard has had a strange career journey, peaking during his time in Celtic green and bottoming out last season with a not-so-successful stint for the Denver Nuggets. This doesn’t mean that Thomas’ days won’t provide some of the “wow” from yesteryear, but it’s likely his best days are ahead of him. Despite this, Thomas, who stands at about 5’9,” is one of the most entertaining players to watch when he has it going. The point guard may not be long for the District, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy him while he’s here.
For more information about the Washington Wizards, visit www.nba.com/wizards.
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