The Washington Wizards were 16 games below .500 when the NBA suspended play back in March. Yet, they will be one of nine Eastern Conference teams heading to Orlando for the league’s restart.
Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal continued to play at a high level for Washington, but the team desperately missed their second star, John Wall, and the roster was filled with inexperience.
The Wizards were actually one of the stronger offensive teams in the league. Washington ranked sixth in scoring and 12th in offensive rating, with Beal stuffing the stat sheet and serving as the team’s do-it-all playmaker.
But the inexperience showed on the defensive side of the floor. The Wizards ranked 29th in opponents scoring average and dead-last in defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.
Despite the defensive deficiencies, however, the Wizards have a fighting chance at reaching the postseason.
Here are the three biggest questions for Washington going into the NBA restart.
3. Can they even reach the play-in tournament?
The Wizards are 5.5 games back of the Orlando Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
If this were a standard format, they would have essentially no chance of making the playoffs given the 22 teams will be playing just eight games to conclude the regular season.
But there is a wrinkle to the restart: the team that finishes ninth in their respective conference will advance to a play-in tournament, pending they are no more than four games back of the No. 8 seed. The No. 9 seed will then have to win consecutive games to proceed into the playoff bracket.
Naturally, this is great news for the Wizards, because it means they are really just 1.5 games out of earning the chance to participate in this play-in tournament.
This might not seem like much of a deficit. Then again, it might look like more of a mountain to climb depending on who the Wizards play in their final eight games.
According to Tim Reynolds of the AP, Washington could face a tough slate.
If the NBA goes with a plan of playing the next eight Disney/ESPN bound teams on your schedule – capping each team at 8 games – this is what the matchups for those 22 teams COULD look like:
– Heat and Magic each need 1 game
– Lakers and Blazers each need 2 games pic.twitter.com/UgYSiITidq
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 3, 2020
This template is purely hypothetical. But even if it is somewhat accurate, the Wizards are in for a pretty rough ride.
Four combined games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics would be tough enough. But adding a pair of potential contests against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers might be enough to sink the Wizards.
Of course, nobody knows how teams will respond after such a long hiatus. Perhaps the Wizards could surprise against elite competition, but it seems unlikely.
In this case, just getting to the play-in tournament would be a major win.
2. Who will defend?
Regardless of who the Wizards play, they need to be stingier on the defensive end of the floor.
Scott Brooks’ team loves to get up and down the court. The Wizards rank sixth in pace. But perhaps Brooks should consider slowing things up if it means Washington has more opportunities to set its defense and preserve some energy.
Troy Brown is probably the team’s strongest wing defender, and has also been surprisingly effective at clearing the boards. The 20-year-old has taken a big step forward in his second year, and it might be worth giving him additional minutes in the restart.
Brown averaged close to 25 minutes per game during the regular season. But he could stand for a minutes bump, particularly because he can also shoot at a decent clip and handle the ball.
The Wizards are going to need more effort from Rui Hachimura. While Rui has shown flashes of potential, he has been a far cry from the sort of versatile defensive playmaker he was at Gonzaga. Much like center Thomas Bryant, he lacks awareness at times.
Speaking of Bryant, he has to be a more assertive interior presence. The Wizards clearly cannot rely on Davis Bertans to lock down the paint, and Bryant needs to make cleaner rotations and become a more dependable help defender.
In reality, the Wizards need improvement from a holistic perspective in terms of team defense. But some slight adjustments and strides from a select few players could make a world of difference.
1. Will Wall return?
This has to be the biggest question.
Time and again, the Wizards have denied Wall will play this season. Wall himself said earlier this month he would not take part in proceedings (per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington):
“I won’t play at all. I will wait until next season. The decision has been already made. No, I’m not,” he said.
Wall also said on Tuesday he has no interest in taking part in the restart given the current social climate, per Hughes.
At the same time, this is the same man who declared himself “110 percent” healthy after missing over a year and a half due to a ruptured Achilles.
Additionally, some of the teams in the Eastern Conference had already begun preparing as if Wall would indeed join the Wizards in Orlando.
Washington still owes Wall a tremendous amount of money over the course of the next few years, and they absolutely want to protect their investment in the franchise point guard.
But there is always the chance Wall could pull off a shocker and take the floor as the Wizards scrap to get into the playoffs.