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New Hoop Order in the Nation’s Capital

 

“My main focus is winning games and help this organization hold up a Larry one day. That’s my goal. That’s my goal, that’s my dream. You know I’ve shown I can score with the best of them. I’ve shown I can be an All-Star, I’ve shown I can be an All-NBA player. Checked almost every box so now I have to win and be a winner. So that’s my final box that I wanna check, I will check. That’s my main focus.” Just a couple of words from franchise superstar Bradley Beal’s response about his mindset and focus heading into his 11th season at the Washington Wizards official media day.

 

On opening night for the Washington Wizards, they started off the new campaign with a win over the Indiana Pacers 114-107. Bradley Beal led the way scoring 23 points, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out six assists. It was a good start for a team that’s starting off completely fresh and beginning a new era under Wes Unseld Jr. They followed that up with a 102-100 victory over the Bulls. Beal, who was relatively quiet, hit a leaner with 7.4 seconds left for the game-winner to move Washington to 2-0 on the young season. Beal finished with 19 points and Kyle Kuzma led the way with 26. 

 

Bradley Beal was held to only 40 games played last season after a season-ending surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. Just a year removed from a career year pouring in 31 points a game and making All-NBA third team. Over the past couple of years, Beal’s name has been lured in numerous discussions as one of the popular star trade targets despite being outspoken constantly about his commitment and loyalty to Washington. Beal as expected opted out of his player option in search of signing the self-evident super max contract offer to stay in D.C. On July 6, the three-time All-Star signed a five-year/$251 million deal which includes a no-trade clause to stay put in hopes of building a formidable contender in the Eastern Conference. Now with Wizards general manager, Tommy Sheppard improving the surrounding personnel around Beal and head coach Wes Unseld utilizing his defensive philosophies this current Wizards roster may turn some heads this year. 

 

Kyle Kuzma was part of the gigantic package in the Russell Westbrook trade last offseason. In Kuzma’s first season as a Wizard, he posted 17 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists (career high) on 45% shooting from the field. Kuzma never really got the opportunity to gel and adapt with the sidelined Beal but instantly showed his effectiveness in every facet of the game. For the 2019-20 NBA champion, Los Angeles Lakers Kuzma blossomed into a lovely 3-D/slasher role option off the bench. Kuzma at 6’9 220 has never been a slouch of a defender, especially with his promised frame. He isn’t your stereotypical volume ball-handling wing or shot creator but he has a great feel for the game. Since his arrival in Washington, he’s developed and blossomed. His selflessness at the position is very reminiscent of former superstar stretch four Chris Webber. Kuzma can run the floor and find open teammates fairly effortlessly for a power forward. Especially in the post where he can use his keen eye and stature to see over the defense and find cutters and shooters.  His constant movement off ball in traffic often leads to high-quality looks at the rim, skip passes to the perimeter, and dump-offs to bigs. On occasion, you can depend on him to initiate the pick and roll as the primary decision maker. As the roll man in such situations he has solid footwork, can pop out and hit the three, and can make a play for a teammate. Kuzma is also a solid physical rebounder, bringing down 13 boards in the W vs the Pacers on opening night. On defense, Kuzma has shown he can be a high-level defensive hybrid wing that can guard multiple positions. He can often be a mismatch nightmare because he’s taller than most small forwards and quicker than most power forwards. In small ball settings, he fits so well on both sides of the court because of his versatility and his ability to stretch bigs outside the paint. With Unseld Jr’s defensive-minded agenda and a healthy Beal to lean on don’t be surprised if Kuzma has a career year all around. 

 

Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard also brought in two role players via trade that may rise even more in Washington in G/F Will Barton and PG Monte Morris. Both newcomers were exchanged in the swapping for SG/F Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and PG Ish Smith in late June. Both Barton and Morris are reuniting with Unseld Jr. who was an assistant with the Denver Nuggets from 2015-2021. The previous history and familiarity with Unseld Jr. should only help both Barton and Morris get more acclimated and comfortable in their new environment. Barton is a 6’6 scrappy all-around forward that has evolved into an everyday starter since coming into the league. When the Denver Nuggets entered the season last year without G Jamal Murray and F Michael Porter Jr. Barton by default had his name called upon to be a dependent on a running mate to the reigning MVP C Nikola Jokic and Barton didn’t disappoint. Over the course of the regular season, Barton averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and four assists and shot 36% from downtown (2.2 3PM/game). Similar to Andre Iguodala, whose intangibles have helped add some jewelry to his resume Barton impacts the game similarly in a multitude of ways. His versatility to play on/off ball, defend multiple positions, and knock down the three ball will help the Wizards compete at a playoff level. 

 

Monte Morris’ road to becoming a starting point guard in this league has been quite the path. After being selected mid-second round in the 2017 NBA Draft, Morris has been sharing point guard duties mainly with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Morris also has had to share ball volume with other perimeter playmaking shot creators like Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Austin Rivers, and Bones Hyland during his time as a Nugget. The former Iowa St. Cyclone has hit nearly 40% of his three-point shots in his career. Morris isn’t a product of this generation’s current flashy score first upbeat playstyle that continues to be modified in all different types of guards nowadays. Instead, Morris is more of the point guard of old. A game that’s more relied on patience, efficiency, getting teammates their proper touches, and dictating the pace of the game. Morris is the most ideal type of point guard for this current Wizards roster because of his ability to quarterback the offense and lead the ship as the game unfolds. Morris showed that moments aren’t too big enough for him in last year’s Western Conference first-round vs the Golden State Warriors. Averaging 14 points and 5.4 assists, shooting 49% from the field, and 42% from deep. Morris distinguishes himself from other point guards in the association because he does an exceptional job taking care of the basketball. Morris last year was fifth in the NBA last year in Assist to Turnover Ratio (4.2) just behind Suns’ Chris Paul. With the addition of Morris, Beal can seep back into the off-guard scoring role that he gained notoriety early on besides John Wall and continued t with Russell Westbrook. Now with an even more pro pass first ball-handler in Morris, Beal will still be one of the most potent 3-level offensive forces in the NBA. 

 

Rui Hachimura is another jewel on this Washington Wizard squad that looks to battle in a very deep Eastern Conference. With a very similar athletic frame and make-up as fellow teammate forward Kyle Kuzma, they’ll both be one of the unsung wing duos in the league. A very similar dynamic to wings Pascal Siakam and O.G Anunoby who both have taken leaps forward in their respected versatile multifaceted playstyles as the Toronto Raptors continue to be a formidable team in the East. That same blueprint can come alive in Washington with Kuzma and Rui once they’ve adapted to each other on the court. After only appearing in 42 games last season Rui regained momentum in the preseason and has impressed his teammates. Thus far Rui’s putting up 13 points this preseason shooting 48% from the field. “Rui has been taking his game to a new level. He has also opened up. He’s got his swagger going now. He’s feeling good. He’s really finding who he is on the court.” A couple of statements from Wizards F/C Kristaps Porzingis who’ll look to be building a solid rapport with Rui as he enters his first full season with the Wizards. Porzingis in the Wizards most recent preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets sprained his left ankle and didn’t return but early indications have led us to be optimistic it’s fairly minor. Porzingis a vital piece to this Wizards team, being one of the few bigs that can expand the floor from the three-point line. His three-point shot will open up plenty of lanes for aggressive wings in Kuzma and Hachimura and add additional space for superstar scorer Beal to operate. Porzingis is a very dangerous pick-and-pop threat as well and Morris will get him the basketball in his comfortable go-to spots on the court. Porzingis won’t be looked at to be the physical, enforcing big as we all imagined him to evolve into but his NBA profile is dependent heavily on skill, finesse, and of course the three-point line.

 

Teammates like Daniel Gafford will gladly play the bruiser and interior intimidating force role on defense challenging shots and rebounding. Deni Avidja and Delon Wright round out the major pieces in the rotation for Wes Unseld Jr. Deni Avidja appeared in all 82 games last year and averaged 8.3 points in 24 minutes of play. This past summer at Eurobasket Avidja put up 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists for his national team Israel. Advidja is a creative skilled wing that’ll provide a spark off the bench. Delon Wright is a defensive-minded point guard who’ll only thrive under Wes Unseld Jr. The current East landscape: Celtics, Nets, Sixers, Bucks, Raptors, Heat, and Cavaliers are all certain locks to be playoff teams in 2023 if they’re healthy. Now even with as spectacular of a scorer and player Bradley Beal is, through the thick and thin of the East the Wizards are a premier scorer/shot creator short of really being taken more seriously in the East. The Wizards will always be able to maintain a competitive edge with their main contributors either entering their young primes (Morris, Kuzma, Hachimura, Avidja, Gafford) or in the midst of their primes (Beal, Barton, Porzingis). Even in the loaded East, the Wizards don’t just possess the players that’ll make them one of the better all-around teams in the East but also will benefit from the same youth within those contributing pieces. Under Wes Unseld Jr. they’ll have the self-awareness to understand what will be asked of each of them in their specific role in order for the Wizards to fulfill those playoff aspirations.  

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