2019-2020 Record: 25-47

Key Returning Players

Key Free Agents

 

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Outlook

The big news last season for the Washington Wizards was the shuffle at the top, as Tommy Sheppard replaced team president Ernie Grunfeld as the key personnel decision maker for the team. Since then, Sheppard has been busy. In the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Wizards were involved in six trades and twelve signings. That doesn’t even include all the Exhibit 10 contracts they executed to get a look at young talent.

But no contract was bigger than Bradley Beal’s 2-year, $72 million extension. Getting Beal to extend his contract was the team’s top objective for the season and his enthusiastic acceptance was their best case scenario. It was a “lost” year for the Wizards, as John Wall never returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon, so making sure they secured Beal for the future was the only good potential outcome.

Sheppard did a great job nabbing a lot of “no risk” gambles. Every player he signed or traded for had high potential at dirt cheap cost. Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga, Admiral Schofield, Gary Payton II, and Moritz Wagner all fit that mold. None of them panned out to be a monster given the opportunity, but with another year of development, one of them may surprise us. Bonga is the most appealing to me because of his 6’8″ frame combined with the rumors he has the court vision to be a “point forward.” However, he only managed 2.2 assists per 36 minutes this past season. I’m quickly losing faith in NBA scouts.

This upcoming season, John Wall makes his return to Capital One Arena. Wizards fans seem convinced that Wall will return to his top-5 guard form, and that the moves made this past year were all about seeing who might be a good fit beside him. I’m not so convinced.

I firmly believe Wall will have a significant dropoff in his production. In an analysis I performed of seven key players who suffered the same Achilles rupture injury (Brandon Jennings, Wesley Matthews, DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Elton Brand, and LaPhonso Ellis), players saw an average decrease of 21.6% in points and 11.5% in assists. In fact, nearly every statistical category saw significant dropoff.

However, there are outliers to this data. Dominique Wilkins and Rudy Gay not only recovered from their injuries, they played even better. Of course, video of John Wall has surfaced recently showing flashes of his speed in 1-on-1 and 5-on-5 scrimmages.

These players were exceptions to the rule, and video of practices isn’t enough to convince me that he can do it when everyone is giving their best effort. The way that management has quietly loaded the roster with low-cost, low-risk guys leads me to believe they don’t think Wall will return the same player. Unfortunately for the Wizards, Wall is signed through 2024 and is due a massive amount of money. The contract looks worse and worse as COVID will undoubtedly have negative impacts on the upcoming season’s salary cap. They’re stuck with him for a few more seasons as teams will be reluctant to take on that exorbitant contract.

The further development of Rui Hachimura and the addition of the 9th pick in the upcoming NBA draft should be developing stories all year for a team in minor turmoil. Bradley Beal had a career year from a statistical standpoint but was snubbed from the all-star game and became very verbal about his dissatisfaction with the early losses his team was piling up. Will John Wall’s return be enough to right the ship or will they become sellers at the deadline?

Point Guard

I talked a lot about John Wall above. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m steering clear of the five-time NBA All-Star in all my leagues. If he slips towards the early middle rounds, I’d consider snagging him for his top 5 or top 10 potential (depending on your format.) Otherwise he’s too risky, given all the evidence stacked against his return to being elite.

Behind Wall is 32-year-old Ish Smith. Ish played decently for the team and is earning a pedestrian $6 million dollars next season. He’s been solid his whole career and is a very capable backup who can step into a larger role if Wall has to skip games or gets injured again. Ish Smith is one of my favorite targets for daily fantasy sports, and he might be worth a late draft pick in your league for his steady low-end production in money categories like assists (4.9 per game last season), steals (0.9 per game), and blocks (0.4 per game at the guard position). Even with Wall back, he should be able to match his usual 20-25 minutes per game, assuming the Wizards don’t pick up another point guard.

Shabazz Napier could throw a wrench in Ish Smith’s opportunities if the Wizards decide to re-sign him. He only made a shade under $2 million last year and, if he’s willing to sign on for close to that amount, we might see Napier return to the Wizards. If he is signed, the amount of playing time he’ll get will be reliant on his play compared to Ish Smith’s. Scott Brooks is likely to go with the hot hand. Napier can be safely ignored in all formats unless he signs with a team that will give him ample playing time.

Shooting Guard

Bradley Beal returns for the Wizards at shooting guard. Despite his frustrations early in the season, it looks like Beal is content to stay in D.C. and try to play alongside his buddy Wall for the forseeable future. Beal had an insane statistical year last season, averaging a whopping 30.5 points per game on shooting averages that were on par with his career averages. He’s going to go highly in drafts and I’m here to tell you that he’s worth reaching for in your drafts. If you can snag him at the end of your league’s first round, you’re doing well.

Beal wound up being #10 in Yahoo! 9-cat rankings by the end of last season. I don’t see his raw stats being as good upon Wall’s return, but his efficiency could be the best of his career next season. He really struggled to adjust without Wall at the start of the 2019-20 campaign, but by the middle of the season he was steamrolling teams at will. His usage will drop from an insane 34.4% back down to the 27-28% range where he’s comfortable, but I fully believe he’ll be able to improve on his career 45/38/80 shooting splits. Specifically, he could shoot above 40% from beyond the arc again. He’s already accomplished this feat in three separate seasons.

The other major reason I’ll be reaching for Beal is that his name consantly pops up in the rumor mill. While staying put is absolutely fine for his value, a move would be equally fine. He’s a really safe bet to produce value, even if he gets traded. Beal is only 27 and is reaching the pinnacle of his basketball playing career. The next 3-4 seasons will likely be his best, so reach away.

Behind Beal is another intriguing player in Troy Brown Jr. TBJ will most certainly reprise his role as the team’s 6th man and is worth a late round flyer you should consider stashing. With Beal on the floor, TBJ only managed a 13.9% usage rate. With Beal on the bench, his usage jumped to 20.2%. If Beal gets moved, Troy Brown could step into a very lucrative hole to fill. His per-36 minute stats have climbed from his rookie season and he has the potential to provide elite level steals while putting up double digit points on 44/34/78 shooting splits. He’s not going to wow you, but the Wizards put the ball in his hands a lot when Beal isn’t on the floor.

Jerome Robinson rounds out the guards, but I would look elsewhere. Unless he makes a significant leap, the 6’4″ sharpshooter hasn’t looked comfortable at the NBA level.

Small Forward

The small forward position is easily the weakest position on this Washington Wizards team. Troy Brown saw some time here, but mostly it was Isaac Bonga holding it down. The second-year forward was so underwhelming that he only played 18.9 minutes per game despite being the starter. Admiral Schofield was somehow even worse, managing just a 38% field goal percentage.

These guys are both easy to avoid on draft day. The Washington Wizards could slot Brad Beal into the swing spot and go with some two-guard lineups. It’s something Scott Brooks toyed with down the stretch last season and to start the season with Isaiah Thomas. If they go this route, expect Ish Smith to produce marginally better results. They don’t seem the least bit interested in playing defense, so this is a real possibility.

The more likely scenario is that the Wizards use their draft pick to snag a true wing. If they can’t, Troy Brown will enter the lineup and play more minutes. I’m not super keen on this latter solution since TBJ plays best with the ball in his hands.

Power Forward

Rui Hachimura will be returning for his sophomore season. He played pretty well in his rookie season and it will be interesting to see how he fits beside Wall and Beal. He averaged 13.5 points per game on 46/28/82 shooting splits. He’ll need to improve that efficiency, specifically beyond the arc as the Wizards have made re-signing Latvian Lazer, Davis Bertans, a priority this offseason.

On paper, Bertans fits the team better alongside Wall and Beal with his elite ability to catch and shoot. Bertans scored 15.4 points per game on 43.4% shooting from beyond the arc. He had a historic streak from November 17th through December 18th where he hit at least four three-pointers in 12 of the 16 games in that span. He ended up second in the entire league in three-pointers per 100 possessions.

In all my fantasy drafts, I’m taking Bertans over Hachimura if he re-signs with the Wizards. I fully expect him to re-sign as he’s been very vocal about how happy he is in D.C. 65.4% of his three-point attempts came off a catch-and-shoot. He shot 43.1% in those scenarios. When he has to put the ball on the floor, it costs him 3 percentage points on accuracy. John Wall and Bradley Beal should be able to draw the defense, letting Bertans shoot in his comfort zone. I expect him to have an even better year. I would consider reaching for Bertans in the middle rounds, earlier if you’re in need of three-point shooting. Yahoo! ranked Bertans 64th in 9-cat leagues and I think he can reasonably provide that same value.

I wouldn’t draft Rui Hachimura unless he’s still available in the final rounds. Someone is bound to see he’s starting, which is highly valued by some managers. Starting isn’t a good indicator of value though. He’ll probably come off your board towards the end of the middle rounds and into the late rounds. Let him go. The only way he can hit his value and see decent floor time is if he improves drastically on his 28.7% three-point shooting.

Center

It’s a big year for Thomas Bryant. The fourth-year big man struggled to stay on the floor last season, suiting up for just 46 of their 72 games. He’s shown a lot of promise, but he also missed a lot of crucial development last season, as he struggled with a recurring stress reaction in his right foot.

Feet problem in big men is always scary, but TB still managed to improve on his per-36 points per game from last season. He averaged 19.1 points per 36 minutes to go with 10.4 rebounds. His real value is in his sky-high field goal percentage. He was at the top of the league in 2018-19 and saw a minor dip to 58.1% in 2019-20. I’m not overly concerned though and he should be able to reproduce a number somewhere those two seasons.

There’s growing concern about his ability to protect the rim at the center position, but let’s be honest: That doesn’t mean lick in fantasy basketball. He’ll produce some nice numbers with a nice upside, so he’s someone to consider reaching for at the beginning of the middle rounds. It wouldn’t be suprising to see him go in the early rounds in many competitive leagues. He doesn’t really have any competition for the starting gig and he’s on a fairly team-friendly contract. That makes him very safe to stay in his current spot with ample opportunity to produce. He just needs to stay healthy.

Moritz Wagner is behind Thomas Bryant on the depth chart. The 23-year-old big man is one of my favorite daily fantasy sports targets. Check out these per-36 numbers: 16.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.2 spg, and 0.8 bpg. Those are truly great numbers for a reserve, but he’s never averaged more than 18.6 minutes per game. He’ll be someone to stream if Thomas Bryant misses time. Scott Brooks has been reluctant to play him extended minutes, but if that changes you’ll see some nice stat lines. Perhaps this is the year that Scott Brooks finally turns him loose.

Biggest Storylines

  • Will John Wall be the same player?
      John Wall probably won’t be the same player, but he’ll still be very good. I hope he proves me wrong because he is a very fun player to watch. The Achilles rupture is a notoriously devastating injury, as Kobe fans will remember. John Wall is locked in to be the franchise player all the way through 2023 at the bare minimum. He’ll be making upwards of $44 million by then with a player option worth $47 million in the 2023-24 season. If he is the same player, they’re still lacking the pieces to truly compete for a title. John Wall is 30 years old, so his window is closing. If the Wizards truly believe they can compete, expect them to be very active at the deadline.
  • Is Scott Brooks the right fit?
      Scott Brooks has been a decent coach his entire career. His teams have made the playoffs in seven of his eleven seasons as a head coach in the NBA. You could say he’s benefited from having Kevin Durant and John Wall, but give the guy his due. However, the team’s poor defensive performance all last season didn’t sit well with some Washington Wizards fans. The calls for Scott Brooks’ job are constant and this season will be a big one since John Wall’s return means there are actual expectations. If they’re struggling by the midway point, expect a change.
  • Who will the Washington Wizards draft at number 9?
      The Wizards will look to add another developing piece to this already young roster through the draft. Obi Toppin would be an idea fit next to Wall and Beal, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll go somewhere in the top 5, as the lastest reports say the Cavs are very interested in the young scorer. Sharpshooting guard Tyrese Haliburton is a real possibility and his addition would make this Wizards team super deadly from deep. Onyeka Okongwu would be a nice fit on the wing and he really fits the mold of the type of player Tommy Sheppard likes. If any of these guys is added, it won’t really affect the opportunity for other players. There’s plenty of potential value here.