The Washington Wizards finally parted ways with executive and head idiot Ernie Grunfeld last season, and that by itself is enough to preface this entire piece with optimism that the Wizards will be better both on and off the floor as a franchise, so let’s go ahead and lead with that, Wizards fans. Brighter times are ahead.
But man, that product on the floor last year was putrid. 32 wins, a salary cap nightmare draining any hope for the future, John Wall‘s albatross of a contract destined to soak up cash while Wall watches games in street clothes…yikes.
Wall played in just 32 games, but Bradley Beal played in all 82, leaving open questions about whether the Wiz will try to rebuild on the fly around the 25-year-old or whether they’ll trade Beal, go full Process, let Thomas Bryant become the cornerstone of the new Washington order, and stink for a few years.
Which way this goes will play a huge role in determining whether they beat their 28.5 win over/under.
Considering that’s 3.5 less than they won last year, it’s plain to see which way Vegas thinks this will go, but let’s examine more closely:
2018-19 record: 32-50
2019-20 over/under: 28.5
Shaka, When John Wall Fell
Wall’s injury is to his Achilles. That’s the same injury that caused this very publication to write that Kevin Durant‘s career is over, and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said during an offseason press conference (https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/john-wall-injury-update-wizards-owner-ted-leonsis-says-guard-probably-wont-play-next-season-due-to-torn-achilles/ ) that Wall probably won’t play at all in 2019-20.
So who do they have left?
Well, they’ve got Beal, a legit All-Star-level guard who posted a 3.7 VORP last season while leading the league in minutes.
Even though he played over 3,000 minutes, Beal’s per-36 counting stats (25.0 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.9 rebounds) put him in the elite echelon of shooting guards in the league.
But his 5-year deal signed in the Year the World Went Mad expires in 2021, and the Wizards have already seen what happened with Paul George and Anthony Davis in this new reality of NBA free agency. It’s not a matter of if he’s leaving but whether the Wiz can get any value back on him before he takes off.
When the Pelicans did, they got a bag full of the Lakers’ trash.
On the court, it will become a huge distraction by February when everyone’s wondering what the Wizards will do at the trade deadline, and that’s not going to be good for the morale of anyone on the team. That augurs badly in terms of preventing underachievement.
Otto Porter is already gone. What was supposed to be a Big Three is now a Big One.
On the other hand, Thomas Bryant, who the Wizards picked up in the 2018 offseason after he couldn’t stick with the Lakers, quietly became one of the most efficient inside scorers in the league.
Bryant was fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage and TS%, second in eFG%, and has hit a brain-bending 82.1 percent of his shots inside three feet in his career.
He even hit a third of his three-point shots, making 33 out of 99. The guy is a force of nature waiting to be unleashed.
Can the Wizards convince Beal to stick around by pointing at Bryant and first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura and showing the Real Deal that the future is brighter than it at first appears?
The Actual Basketball Problem
Count me optimistic that the roots of a great inside-out game will make the Wizards better than everyone thinks. Sure, there’s that cap hell that’s going to keep them from signing a big-time free agent until Beal is pushing 30, but then again, the Rockets got out from under Chris Paul‘s contract and got Russell Westbrook out of it, so anything is possible if a team is brave or foolish enough to eat Wall’s salary.
But like I said, the combination of Beal and Bryant looks to be one of the most electric young duos in the league, while Hachimura has by all accounts looked solid in workouts and Summer League, so why not point to the Wizards as a team with a ton of potential and two of the guys pivotal to that rise on rookie contracts?
I can just see Scott Brooks cobbling together a surprising 35 wins, never sniffing the playoffs after Thanksgiving but getting better as the season goes on as the front office waits until the offseason to make any kind of decision on Beal’s future with the team.
Vegas may see a disaster here, but I see hope in DC for the first time in years. Ernie Grunfeld got impeached. Now it’s time to show the NBA what a competently-run franchise looks like in the nation’s capital.
I’m giving them 30-35 wins this season. Still Busted in terms of whether the team is actually good, but enough to take the over on that 28.5.
NEXT: Charlotte Hornets.