The Washington Wizards are halfway through the 2019-20 season and sit at 13-28, 12th in the Eastern Conference and 5th best lottery odds if the season ended today. General manager Tommy Sheppard preached patience and development well before the start of this season. Even though veterans like Bradley Beal and Isaiah Thomas were hoping for a playoff push, it was quickly clear that those desires were out the window. Despite Beal’s recent frustrations calling out the team’s culture, which for the most part were blown out of proportion, Washington’s season has had a few bright spots, too.
This offseason, the Wizards made another investment in their organization by hiring Dr. Daniel Medina to lead Monumental Basketball’s medical team. Washington has several trainers that work tirelessly players to keep them healthy, but unfortunately, that has not completely translated so far this season. I am willing to chalk most of it up to bad luck and cautious timelines. Bradley Beal (7), Davis Bertans (9), Rui Hachimura (16), Jordan McRae (16), Thomas Bryant (20), Isaiah Thomas (9), Moe Wagner (20), and C.J. Miles (31) have missed a ridiculous number of games with various injuries.
Despite the injuries to several rotation pieces, Washington has had some impressive stretches. In a week to end 2019 and start 2020, they defeated the Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, and Boston Celtics. All three of those wins were without Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Moe Wagner, C.J. Miles, and John Wall. No, that does not mean that the Wizards are better without Beal or Wall. The more likely explanation is they are a team that hustles and plays a bit harder because that is all some of the young players know how to do. Couple that with the opposing team probably not taking them as seriously and you get some upsets.
Despite Bradley Beal currently averaging a career-high in points (27.2) and assists (6.4), I would say he is having a worse season than last year. He is shooting the ball at 43.7 percent from the field, his worst clip in the last five years, and shooting a career-worst 31.3 percent from beyond the arc despite taking a career-high 7.9 attempts per game. A lot of that probably stems from him needing help. Defenses are always going to be willing to double and triple Beal at other times and make one of his non-household name teammates beat them if they can. Beal’s frustrations boiled over after the recent loss in Chicago with a big-time blown lead, but I bet he also remembered letting the Bulls game slip away at home a month before, too.
At the end of the day, Washington is on pace for a mere 26-win season because their defense is absolutely pathetic. Washington reps the worst defensive rating in the NBA at 115.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. This is worse than the 112.9 defensive rating they held last season, good for 4th worst in the NBA in 2018-19. For some reason, the organization decided it was smart to hire Mike Longabardi as a defensive coordinator type to replace Ryan Richman (now Go-Go head coach) at the front of Scott Brooks’ bench. Longabardi came from Cleveland where he led a defense that had the worst defensive rating ever since the stat was tracked in 1996 at 116.8. Now Longabardi is on pace to claim he coached the two worst defenses in the last quarter-century.
Certainly, not everything lands at the feet of Longabardi, there is plenty of blame to go around. Scott Brooks has not even sniffed the level of defense that Randy Wittman got out of the Wizards. The roster is also filled with players who are below average defenders. The Wizards leaders in defensive rating are Garrison Mathews (103.8), Anzejs Pasecniks (106.3), Admiral Schofield (109.2), and Isaac Bonga (109.5). All four of those players are young and raw so they hustle and play hard. Rui Hachimura (123.6), Bradley Beal (120.7), Thomas Bryant (120.2), and Isaiah Thomas (120.1) all have atrocious defensive ratings and they are supposed to be 80 percent of the starting lineup.
Despite the demoralizing defense, there are small storylines that Wizards fans can get excited about. Sheppard traded the draft rights of Aaron White who may never play in the NBA to acquire Davis Bertans who has proven himself as an elite 3-point shooter despite his recent slump. Rui Hachimura was a solid draft selection at the No. 9 overall pick. Gary Payton II and Anzejs Pasecniks are mid-season additions that David Adkins and company will continue to develop. Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga have each shown flashes and the Wizards were given a second-round pick to take them.
I would not expect much more besides the status quo from Washington the rest of the season. I think they will be mostly quiet at the February 6 trade deadline even though every contending team will be calling about Bertans. Hopefully, Beal’s frustration remains its regular annual occurrence and nothing more. Maybe the most interesting aspect will be if John Wall plays in an NBA game this season.
Wall, 29, is now more than 11 months, the short end of the initial recovery timeline, removed from surgery to repair his mostly ruptured Achilles tendon. He is playing in 4-on-4 scrimmages with the team’s development staff, but it is unclear if that is actually considered full contact. There have been flashes of speed and athleticism that we have not seen from Wall since the 2016-17 season because of various injuries in his knees and heel. Ted Leonsis is making back approximately 80 percent of Wall’s $38.2 million salary this season with the franchise point guard sidelined. Sheppard has maintained for months that Washington will not rush Wall back or set a target date for his return. The only reason for the five-time All-Star to step into an NBA game over the next three months would be for all parties involved to see what he has left in the tank. That and letting him knock off the rust of missing 131 games and counting over the last three seasons.