The Wizards X Factor For 2021-22 NBA Season, And It’s Not Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards are coming into the next NBA season after a very unusual past couple of years. The squad from the capital has been in disarray for a couple of seasons now, with increasing rumors about trading star guard Bradley Beal surrounding the team constantly.
Additionally, now-former Wizards guard John Wall completely failed to live up to his huge contract extension, leading the team to trading him to the Houston Rockets for guard Russell Westbrook before last season began. However, Westbrook was traded away to the Los Angeles Lakers after one year in the capital, despite another triple-double average on the season.
The Westbrook trade brought Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell to the Wizards. While some of these players had disappointing years, they still have major chips on their shoulders and should have a productive bounce-back year, playing in a much more relaxed environment in Washington. Additionally, the team added Spencer Dinwiddie from the Brooklyn Nets in a sign-and-trade. The point guard has only recently recovered from a partially torn ACL and he will definitely be an important piece going forward.
While Bradley Beal remains the star of the team, should the Wizards decide against cashing in on him, other players will need to step up in a major way if the squad wants to make an impact in the upcoming season. Thankfully for the fans of the franchise, there is a lot of talent on this roster and, even more importantly, much room for improvement.
In this article we will look at the Wizards x factor for the season.
Most of the focus will be on how Beal and Dinwiddie work together in the backcourt, which is completely understandable. However, as was mentioned above, this team is full of talent and full of guys with major chips on their shoulders, meaning that there could be some surprises coming out of Washington this year. Two players that could have a huge impact on the upcoming season and its success are Kyle Kuzma and Rui Hachimura.
Starting with the Japanese international, Hachimura is a very peculiar prospect. Taken with the 9th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hachimura failed to raise eyebrows in a huge way but was still a solid addition to the team. Overall, he has averaged around 14 points in both of his seasons in the league, without much improvement from the rookie to the sophomore year. That will have to change and there is no time like the present.
At six-foot-eight, 230 pounds, Hachimura still has ways to increase his frame and become an even bigger threat on the defensive end. His defense already received praise from coach Scott Brooks and he has shown that he is willing to work to improve even further. His offensive game has been good ever since Hachimura came to the Wizards, but it would not hurt if he was able to take more shots. Somewhat peculiar, but Hachimura actually has the absolute same average in both shots made and shots taken across his first two seasons in the league. However, now is the time to really step up and take more responsibility on the offensive end.
Of course, this all depends on how Brooks plans to play, but all signs are pointing towards a larger role for both Hachimura and sophomore Deni Avdija, who had a quiet first year. Hachimura is definitely going to need to take a huge step forward and if that happens, the Wizards can look at the postseason as an achievable goal.
On the other hand, coming from Los Angeles, Kyle Kuzma has possibly the biggest chip on his shoulder in the league. Criticized on a daily basis while on the Lakers, the forward will definitely enjoy being outside of the LeBron James-caused spotlight. Kuzma was the only prospect left from the crop of talent the Lakers had before James arrived and the consensus opinion was that he was kept outside of the Anthony Davis trade because he could help immediately, rather than down the line like much of the other guys.
Unfortunately for Kuzma, even though he does have a championship ring to boast, his development disappointed the coaching staff and the fans of the Lakers. Career-lows across the board this season caused the former Utah prospect to be the scapegoat for many fans who were not happy that the team was out in the first round, which put additional pressure on the front office to appease the fans and trade the young player.
While he does not share a locker room with one of the best players ever, Kuzma now has a unique opportunity to show his worth to the league. While it is clear that the focus will be on Beal, Hachimura, and possibly Avdija, Kuzma can still be a productive wing that scores in bunches when needed. Most likely, he will be the starting forward, with Hachimura on the other wing, and that could be a very potent attacking line-up where Kuzma can thrive.
Regardless of all drama around Beal, it is impossible to underestimate the Wizards. If they can completely shut off the outside noise and focus simply on basketball, the Brooks-led team might ruffle some feathers in the volatile Eastern Conference.
This is obviously a very risky year, in terms of the personnel. As was mentioned in previous sections, a lot of guys have serious chips on their shoulders and they are looking to show the world that they are not trading fodder. Harrell had a poor year in Los Angeles, just like Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope, and their familiarity might be a welcome thing for the Wizards to incorporate into their roster chemistry.
Dinwiddie is returning from an injury, but also from a team where he was not performing to his usual standard. Before Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined, Dinwiddie was the hero and had great chemistry with the rest of the roster. However, all of that soon disappeared and Dinwiddie clearly did not gel well with the rest of the roster. Now, he has a fresh challenge in front of himself and his experience will be valuable for the other members of the roster, many of which are very young.
One thing is for sure – this Wizards team will not roll over for any team in the league.