Oct 13, 2019 12:30 BST

This time last year we were looking at the Washington Wizards thinking they might become an interesting playoff contender. After making the playoffs as the 8th seed the previous year, it certainly looked like they’d improved. The signing of former MVP candidate Dwight Howard (as damaged as he may have seemed) still at least brought rim protection and rebounding to a team with an incredibly talented backcourt.

It seems strange to be looking at this team ahead of this season a little confused by their direction and what the plan is moving forward. With their star asset John Wall in the midst of rehabbing a torn Achilles, and fresh off of inking a contract that pays him over $171 million until 2023, times are tough in the nation’s capital. Bradley Beal is the obvious high spot, and there’s a few young players of interest, but there’s an overall talent gulf that can’t be ignored on this squad.

Last Time

The Playoffs looked a likely destination for the Wizards this time last year with the formation of the Wall-Howard-Beal trio, however, somehow it all fell apart during the season.

They started the season 1-6, not getting their first win until late October, and it didn’t get much better from there. Howard barely got going, not playing his first game until November and only playing 9 games in total all season. With quite.. erm… unusual off court problems contributing to Howard eventually sitting out most of the season. It will no doubt pain Wizards fans to see Howard arriving in Los Angeles this Summer in tremendous physical condition.

The big hit came as the Wizards record was 12-22. Team captain and focal point John Wall was sidelined for the rest of the season in December, for what was expected to be six to eight months, after choosing to undergo a procedure to remove bone spurs from his left heel. This was done in an attempt to prevent a more serious injury. However, later on that month, Wall “stumbled inside his home” and managed to rupture his left Achilles tendon – exactly the type of injury Wall and the Wizards were trying to avoid with his first procedure.

Although tragic for Wall, this enabled Beal to take-over and he really shone. In the 47 games after Wall went down last season, Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals, was again selected for the All-Star game and made a strong case to be selected on one of the All-NBA teams, but narrowly missed out to Kemba Walker.

Before the trade deadline and out of playoff contention, the Wizards traded Otto Porter Jr. in exchange for two players who have since left the team and a protected 2nd round pick in 2023. Markieff Morris was also sent to the Pelicans for a second-rounder and Wesley Johnson (who has also since moved on and is now playing in Greece). Kelly Oubre also departed for Phoenix, to complete the removal of players that had contributed to a playoff run the year prior. They ended the season on a disappointing 7-14 run, finishing 11th in the East and outside of the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season.

Despite the poor season overall there were some bright spots that included the emergence of Tomáš Satoranský as a starting calibre NBA point guard, the arrival of Trevor Ariza mid season, a look at Jabari Parker and young Thomas Bryant showing flashes of dominance inside.

This Time

The Wizards have re-tooled this offseason, but it looks like the biggest move they made was firing GM Ernie Grunfeld. After a decade of mismanagement the Wizards got rid of the man who oversaw the franchise through the following:

  • The 5-year $35M Andray Blatche extension in 2010
  • Drafting Jan Veselý in 2010 over Kwahi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Vuevic or either of the Morris twins. Veselý is now back playing in Europe for Fenerbahçe
  • Trading the #5 pick in 2009 for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. That pick could have been Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, DeMar DeRozan or 3x NBA Champion, 2x MVP, 6x All-Star and 5x All-NBA Guard; Steph Curry
  • Gilbert Arenas’s 6-year, $111M contract. Arenas and the Wizards failed to move past the first round of the Playoffs

It’s safe to say that many Wizards fans will rejoice at the fact that this man is no longer running their franchise.

On the court, through trades and free agency, the Wizards have lost Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, Tomáš Satoranský, Jeff Green (and others). They also decided not to bring back former No 2 overall pick, 24-year-old Jabari Parker. On the flip side, they have brought back Thomas Bryant on a fairly team-friendly deal, along with bringing in Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas to fill the point guard minutes vacated by the absent John Wall.

Wall is not expected to return to basketball activity until May 2020 so the Wizards will once again be without him for the upcoming season with Bradley Beal expected to continue to hold the reins to this team.

A backcourt duo of Beal and Thomas (assuming health and form) is potentially exciting, along with the other team additions, including #9 overall pick Rui Hachimura, a powerful Forward from Gonzaga. Hachimura is undoubtedly the most talented prospect Japan has ever produced, and has already become a leader for the national team. Questions have been asked over his shooting from midrange and beyond, as well as over his upside at this level. But with little competition for minutes, he’ll no doubt have opportunities to show what he can do this season.

The aforementioned Thomas Bryant will also have all the minutes he can handle to continue his progression too. Completing project youth in Washington is a pair of youthful German prospects in Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga who will be looking to prove they have more to offer than they were able to show for the Lakers last time out.

Realistically, if everything went perfectly and given the weakness of the Eastern Conference, the Wizards could push for an eighth seed and sneak into the Playoffs. More likely however is perhaps if the team is offered a PG/AD-like trade haul for Bradley Beal (or should he ask for a trade) the franchise could enter a true rebuilding phase rather than the directionless transition the team currently appears to be in.

Key Points

1.At least the East is weak? 

With a lot of Stars heading out West (or already being there) and KD’s injury, the East is clearly the weaker conference and it will be easier for the fringe teams in the East to make a playoff push than those out West. Despite the turmoil that unfolded in Grunfeld’s last season, the Wizards still managed to win 32 games and if some of their new pieces perform to their ability or higher, along with the brilliance of Beal, the Wizards may just be in with a whisker of a chance at snatching a playoff berth.

2. Contract years

A number of key players on the Wizards roster are either on 1-year deals or entering the final year of their contract. They have a lot to play for in the hopes of securing a deal next year, be it with Washington or elsewhere. Nobody epitomises this greater than Isaiah Thomas who may feel he has a point to prove, that he can be a dominant force when fully healthy and hopefully get *PAID* next summer.

3.2020-2021 is only a year away 

With the Wizards set to have a difficult season, lacking depth at almost every position, they can still be excited about a few things a little ways down the line:

  • Most of their roster is young and will have the opportunity to develop this season. Previous high potential rookies/ sophomores such as Otto Porter Jr. & Kelly Oubre were not given opportunities to develop early (8.6 & 10.7 mins/ game respectively in their rookie seasons)
  • The team are likely to get a top-ten/ top-five pick in the 2020 Draft and Grunfeld will not be in charge of making the pick!
    Wall will come back in 2020 and *hopefully* be able to be the player he once was. The last time that Wall was really healthy, in 2016-17, he averaged 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, and 2 steals per game
  • Mahinmi ($15.5M) & C.J. Miles ($8.7M) will be off the books after the 2019-20 season and the Wizards will have over $30M in cap space next summer

Key Players

Bradley Beal | 25.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg

A dynamic, explosive guard who can create his own shot, shoot off the dribble, distribute the ball and has led the team in Wall’s absence. Truly *the* guy in D.C. right now.

Isaiah Thomas | 8.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.9 apg

A tough year for IT in Denver but this is a new year and another fresh opportunity to once again show what can do. A career average of 18.6 ppg is more reflective of the offensive beast he can be.

Dāvis Bertāns | 8.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg

A 6-10 Forward who can drill a 3 when needed – he shot 43 percent last year from behind the arc. Should expect a bigger role in D.C. and increased opportunities to show what he can do.

Rui Hachimura

Hachimura is a physical forward who shoots with great efficiency (19.7 ppg on 59.1 percent shooting in his final year at Gonzaga), and can get a bucket in many different ways. High hopes in D.C. for the No 9 overall pick this year.

Mortiz Wagner | 4.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.6 apg

A 1st round pick in 2018, the 6-11 big man showed flashes last year in LA but has plenty of potential and room to grow.