NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Washington Wizards
They say that in basketball, for that matter all sports, that talent trumps all. In trading for Kristaps Porzingis at this seasons deadline, the Washington Wizards made their talent play.
They’ll look to combine a healthy Bradley Beal with the tantalising but so often disappointing Latvian giant, then build around that pair. There certainly is talent on this roster, but with a precarious cap situation, how can the Wizards and their aggressive general manager Tommy Sheppard keep a rebuild that has moved in fits and starts going in the right direction?
Since Sheppard took over in 2019, he’s orchestrated 14 separate trades, leaving only Beal and free agent centre Thomas Bryant as holdovers from the previous regime. Sheppard isn’t afraid to take monstrous swings. He’s already traded for and traded away Russell Westbrook – realistically winning both trades – before making a move for Porzingis a few months back.
That manoeuvring sees talent all over the roster, headlined by Beal. Still just 28 years old, the three time All Star suffered quite the letdown from his career year of 2021. Injuries – Beal made just 40 appearances – surely contributed to his relatively poor campaign, but his 23.2 points per game was over eight points off his 2021 tally, with his three point shooting falling to a career low 30%. He’ll be looking for good health and a bounce back campaign.
Porzingis put up 22/8 with 1.5 blocks after coming over from Dallas. That said, he’s yet to appear alongside Beal and as such was the primary option for a Wizards side that fell away sharply through the back end of the season. How he fairs as the Robin to Beal’s Batman is the $64k question in Washington. He struggled in Dallas when former coach Rick Carlisle heavily featured Luka Doncic. Whilst he performed better under new coach Jason Kidd in a more central role, the team itself suffered, recovering only once the Latvian was traded. Beal has proven that he can be an offense unto himself, so Porzingis will be the one who will have to make the bigger sacrifices. How he and Porzingis gel could be the bellwether for these Wizards.
Elsewhere, the team has a phalanx of solid forwards led by Kyle Kuzma. The former Laker quietly put up career best play as a Wizard, giving his new team 17.1 points and 8.5 boards with close to a block per game. His defense was by far the best he’s played as a pro. He was also the man that emerged as Washington’s late game closer, hitting an array of clutch shots.
Alongside him is a trio of fascinating youngsters in Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura and the sharp shooting Corey Kispert. Alongside Kuzma they form a young, talented and versatile quartet. Kuzma aside, each have quite a bit of growth left in them, as well.
Bryant was seen as the Wizards centre of the future just two years ago, when he tore his ACL. Since that injury, he’s seen the team trade for Daniel Gafford, Vernon Carey and Porzingis. There’s no room in this rotation for Bryant, but the Wizards depth at the pivot is nonetheless very strong.
At guard, however, the cupboard is just about bare.
Beal is a star, but there is precious little in the back court alongside him. The delightfully named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who, if he weren’t a pro athlete would surely be a 17th century British land owner) was solid and whilst his contract for next season is non-guaranteed he’ll surely be retained.
At the point, the play three veterans, all with contract questions. Ish Smith is on a fully non guaranteed deal whilst Raul Neto and Tomas Satoransky are both free agents. It’s unlikely the team will retain all three.
You can certainly quibble over the quality of the Wizards forward and centre rotations, but they seem to be set a those positions for the time being. Porzingis could be a star. Kuzma is an elite role player. Avdija hasn’t developed as an offensive player to the level the club would have hoped, but that’s countered by a defensive acumen that is well beyond what was expected. Gafford is a shot blocking pogo stick. Hachimura’s current range of outcomes falls somewhere between future All Star and playing in Europe by 2025 – he could be anything. One way or another, they’ve got something to work with at the bigger positions.
Beal aside, though, that guard rotation is non-existent.
One of the many advantages of Bradley Beal is that he’s just as effective as a lead ball handler as he is an off the ball scorer. That means that the team doesn’t need to focus on acquiring a genuine point guard as Beal’s back court running mate. Rather, given how Beal struggled next to Spencer Dinwiddie, the Wiz would be wise to look at a combo guard to start alongside their star man.
Even beyond the starting role, though, Washington need to flesh out that guard rotation. As mentioned above it’s expected that the team ink Caldwell-Pope to a new deal, or at the very least guarantee the final year of his deal. They’ll also more than likely re-sign one of those three free agent point guards on the roster. The favorite to return is Satoransky, who is one of those special players that seems to only be able to perform in a particular uniform. Everywhere else he’s popped up on his NBA odyssey, he’s under performed. As a Wizard, he’s a solid rotation piece.
The Cap Sheet
Assuming the team pick up all of their current team options and guarantee Caldwell-Pope, the Wizards sit right on the salary cap of $122 million; their first round pick will put them over by about $4 million.
Which ever point guard the team choose to bring back will bring them closer to the luxury tax, though not nearly enough to truly threaten that $149 million line. They also have their $10.3 million mid-level exception to use on another signing.
What could really alter the Wizards cap sheet is any potential new deal for Beal. He has a player option for the 2023 season, though he’s expected to opt out with the intention of signing a long term deal with the team. If Beal signs the maximum available deal, his current $36 million deal would be replaced by a $42 million cap hit.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on what happens with Hachimura, who is in the last year of his rookie deal in 2023.
The Wizards will pick at 10 in the first round of the upcoming NBA draft. Given their depth at forward and centre it makes complete sense that the team will focus on drafting a guard.
At the point, the only real option is TyTy Wahington. Should they decide Beal is their de facto point guard, opening up the option of drafting a two-guard, then the board opens right up.
The impressively athletic Ochai Agbaji is one option. He could be this drafts Desmond Bane. They could also look at the versatile Johnny Davis, a player that seems to be able to shape shift to way his team requires. For this writer, the option has to be Dyson Daniels, a player that allows them to have their cake and eat it, too.
The Australian combo guard projects as the perfect compliment to Beal. A natural point guard, Daniels is perfectly comfortable playing away from the ball where his spot up shooting should give Beal space to cook. Defensively he’s got all the tools. At 6’7” with long arms, quick feet and excellent anticipation, he could develop into a genuine defensive ace who could grant Beal the luxury of marking a lesser player each and every possession. He’d make this Wizards team dangerously long and lithe.
Daniels is the son of a (albeit lower level) former pro, so knows what it takes to survive as a professional athlete.