After making the playoffs in four out of the five previous seasons, the Washington Wizards took a collective hit as an organization last season, as they suffered through one of their most disappointing seasons of recent memory. The Wizards finished the 2018-19 campaign with a 32-50 record, which left them nine full games outside the playoffs picture in the East.
Nonetheless, it was a pretty productive offseason for the Wizards — all things considered — with much of their success coming from this year’s edition of the draft. In came highly-touted rookie Rui Hachimura, who is primed to take a crucial role for the team for years to come. Washington did lose point guard Tomas Satoransky (sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls) in free agency, but at least they were able to bring in veteran guard Ish Smith (two-year, $12 million deal) and former MVP contender Isaiah Thomas (one-year deal) to fill in the void.
It’s not going to be a pretty season ahead for the Wizards, but still, there are some bright spots this coming campaign that we should keep an eye on. Today, we take a loot at three Washington studs that are poised for a breakout season.
After averaging 19.7 points (on 59.1 percent shooting), 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.7 blocks last season as a junior at Gonzaga, 6-foot-8 forward Rui Hachimura was able to force his way to a Top 10 selection in last June’s draft. The Wizards took the highly-promising Japanese-American prospect ninth overall, with some experts saying that Hachimura might just prove to be one of the biggest steals in the lottery.
Hachimura also had a memorable stint with the Japanese national side in last month’s FIBA World Cup tournament, and although his team did not exactly fare too well in the prestigious competition, Hachimura still gained some valuable experience at the international level.
Hachimura is expected to start the season as the back-up to starting power forward Davis Bertans (arrived this summer as part of a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets and the San Antonio Spurs). Nonetheless, many expect team head coach Scott Brooks to give Hachimura a lot of minutes, thereby increasing his chances for a breakthrough rookie campaign.
As a rookie, 6-foot-11 big man Thomas Bryant made a bit of noise last season. The 22-year-old had his best game of the year against no less than the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, with Bryant catching fire to finish with 26 points (on 12-of-19 shooting), 14 rebounds, four assists, and a couple of blocks.
On the season, Bryant averaged 10.5 points (on 61.6 percent shooting), 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks in just 20.8 minutes of action. The former 42nd overall pick also possesses some potential from distance, as he averaged 0.5 three-pointers per contest last season.
Bryant is expected to fulfill a more significant role on the team this coming season, and if all goes according to plan, he should be one to watch for the Wizards. If coach Brooks is able to provide Bryant with upwards of 25 minutes per ballgame, then we should be able to get a good glimpse of this young man’s true potential.
It is worth noting that Bryant signed a three-year, $25 million extension with the team this summer, so he will definitely be eager to repay his employer with another outstanding season ahead.
At the end of the day, how well (or terribly) the Wizards perform this coming season will mostly depend on one man: two-time All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal. John Wall is not expected to figure significantly for Washington next season, as he continues rehabbing his Achilles injury, with some reports stating that the superstar point guard might be in danger of missing out on the entire year altogether.
Without his backcourt partner last season, Beal was simply amazing for the Wizards, putting up career-best numbers with 25.6 points (on 47.5 percent shooting), 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks, while also connecting on 2.5 three-pointers on a 35.1-percent clip.
Beal should be a shoo-in for his third consecutive All-Star nod this season, and in fact, it would not be surprising if he ends up increasing his production this year sans Wall. The 26-year-old has just two more years remaining on his current deal, and with some folks still able to overlook him as one of the best two-guards in the game today, Beal might just have something to prove this term.
As mentioned earlier, however, despite all the positivity surrounding this side, the bitter truth is that the Wizards are not expected to be competitive this coming season. Nonetheless, this could be the start of a new era for the franchise, and we all might just be in for a few surprises from a Washington side that will be playing with pretty much nothing to lose in the 2019-20 campaign.