Predicted finish: 7th in the East (2nd in the Southeast, 15th in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 10th in the East
The Washington Wizards come into this season one of the NBA’s most interesting teams. After being League Pass/Illegal Stream must watches last year with their love for offence and aversion to defence, the franchise made the move of sending John Wall to Houston for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is a lot of things and he gets criticized fairly for the most part but people seem to forget that prior to the shutdown, he was an easy selection for the All-NBA team. Pairing him with Bradley Beal and a ton of shooting should be flat out fun. For Beal, it gives him a reputable teammate after two Wall-less years left the franchise and his career feeling like it was stuck in the mud. Now with Russ, this team should be right back in the playoff mix if they can play any semblance of defence. Though they may not be contenders for an Eastern Conference title, just the fact this team is improved and will be fun to watch should be enough to keep Beal and the fanbase happy for now.
The big question for the franchise: Can the Westbrook trade keep Beal happy?
I have no doubts the two will be happy playing together this year. After two years of Ish Smith and Tomas Satoransky, the fact Beal gets to play with an All-Star instead of a blackhole at that position has to be of note. Also, as the known worker, competitor Beal is, I just can’t imagine he and Westbrook’s personalities won’t mesh. As much as people wanted to criticize the Beal and Wall duo, they were a playoff mainstay that no one wanted to play and Westbrook is an inarguably better player than Wall was. All of this skirts by the real point though. Will one or two good Westbrook seasons in Washington keep Beal happy enough to stay? Frankly, I kind of doubt it. At some point for a guy as competitive as Beal, I feel like it’s going to hit him his prime is coming and going without a real title shot. The good news is he’s only 27 so the Wizards should have at minimum a year before he feels that. To me though, regardless of how much I like Russ and Beal together in 2021, this feels like a temporary fix more than the long term answer for why he’d stay. Who knows though, as the guy in the Nation’s Capital, maybe that’ll appeal to Beal more than being the second or third option on a real contender. Stranger things have happened in this league, that’s for sure.
One move I want to see them make: Improve their wing depth
The front court with this team is fun with Thomas Bryant, Mo Wagner, Robin Lopez, Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans and rookie Deni Avdija. On the wing though is where they need some help. I like Avdija a ton but I’m not sure he’s ready to fill the hole they have at small forward, particularly defensively. None of Bertans, Bryant, Beal, Westbrook or Hachimura as starters are plus defenders so a three and D wing for this franchise would be huge. Troy Brown Jr and Isaac Bonga have potential but I’d feel a lot better about this team if they added that one extra piece to fill that issue at some point this season.
Offseason Grade: B+
As I said, the small forward spot is a big hole for them so the Avdija pick makes a ton of sense. If he can find a way to shoot the ball better, as he showed when the lockdown ended in Israel, maybe he’s the answer but for now his pick feels more like a true benefit in 2022 and on than 2021. Otherwise, the Bertans deal was a ton of money for sure however, he fills such an important piece on this team, especially with Westbrook now in his ability to stretch the floor that few could fill. If he could just get to league average defensively then I’d really love this deal. Finally, I like the Westbrook trade. We have no idea what Wall will be over the course of a full season so getting a guy who can actually help you is a massive win. Overall, if I was a Wizards fan I’d be happy with this offseason.
Young player I’m excited for: Rui Hachimura
Hachimura showed some real flashes last year. People were worried if he was the potential bust of the lottery but it’s hard to say that after the positive things he did last year. The two areas he really needs to improve are foot speed so he can at least be passable defensively and three-point shooting. If he gets reasonable at both, the defence will get him more minutes and then the three will open up his midpost, midrange game that’s already tough to guard as is. You have to love dudes like this that are slight tweaks from really something and I’m so excited to see if he took a step towards making those improvements.
This team has a quietly fun young core around Beal and Westbrook. If they can add a piece or two to fix their bench depth, Washington should be flat out frisky in 2021. Obviously they’re not winning the East but they should be a firm playoff team if everything breaks the right way. As a Washington fan that should ease your Beal worries because he just wants to win and right now this should be a playoff team at worst. Still though as I said earlier, Westbrook feels like a temporary solution and that has to be acknowledged. If this younger core takes a bigger step than we expect though, maybe just maybe this franchise is closer to convincing Beal than we all realize. Only time will tell but one thing is for certain: the Wizards will once again be one of the kings of League Pass.