This week in Wizards: COVID halts momentum

By Zach Rice

Another week, another stretch of Washington basketball that was affected by COVID. For the second time this season, Bradley Beal was forced into health and safety protocols, although he thankfully missed just two games. However, Wes Unseld Jr missed the entire week due to protocols, and after one game as interim head coach, Pat Delaney was forced into protocols as well. That left Washington with former Harlem Globetrotter Joseph Blair, who fans may blame for a 1–2 record over his short tenure as head coach. 

After Beal was ruled out against the Magic, Kyle Kuzma stepped up with another phenomenal all-around performance. Kuzma was just an assist away from his first career triple double, as he led Washington in points (19), rebounds (10) and assists (9). Washington took a 17- point lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back in what became their third straight victory.

Their next game looked like a cakewalk on paper: A struggling Portland Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum coming to town. The win streak hitting four seemed highly likely. 

The game was just about the furthest thing from easy. In one of the Wizards’ ugliest losses of the season, they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 35 free throw attempts. On the bright side, Dinwiddie dropped 27 points, his most in two months to go along with seven assists. Side note on the Blazers: Anfernee Simons can hoop

Thankfully, the Wizards bounced back and rallied around Blair in the return of Bradley Beal. The ‘Zards extinguished the flaming hot 76ers, who had won nine of their last ten games. The Wizards had seven double- digits scorers and took advantage of a finally healthy roster to take down Philly. After Daniel Gafford stumbled into foul trouble early guarding MVP candidate Joel Embiid, Montrezl Harrell and Thomas Bryant stepped up and combined for 33 points to lead Washington.

Washington’s next contest came against the Nets; every time these two teams play, it seems to come down to the last minute. Unfortunately for Washington, they lost this exhilarating battle. In Kyrie Irving’s fifth game of the season, he dropped a season-high 30 points. Lamarcus Aldridge, who apparently doesn’t age, hit shot after shot, especially in the first half, for a season-high 27 points. Down eight points with five minutes remaining, Washington went on a run. Kuzma hit a clutch three with 36 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game. On the next possession, Harrell swatted James Harden, and Washington had a chance to win. Unfortunately, Kuzma and Dinwiddie both rimmed out open three-point looks as Washington suffered a devastating loss to the Nets.

Here are three takeaways from an erratic week for the Wizards:

Washington’s should do everything to keep their center trio intact

Before the return of Thomas Bryant, it seemed like Washington should’ve flipped him for anything they could get. However, considering how hungry teams are for anyone who can dribble a basketball in wake of COVID, especially tall guys, there is no need for Washington to let go of their centers. Having multiple three solid centers, especially considering Bryant’s injury-ridden history, can’t hurt Washington. Unless they trade for another big, such as Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner or Mo Bamba, the Wizards should hold onto the trio of Gafford, Harrell and Bryant.

The Wizards need to acquire a three point specialist before the trade deadline

One of the things many elite teams have that Washington lacks is a consistent three  point specialist…and the Wizards are currently paying one $16 million a year for four years, AND they just spent a top-15 pick on one in this past draft.  Davis Bertans and Corey Kispert have not shot the ball well at all from beyond the arc this season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been a great  player defensively for the Wizards, but he’s been struggling from three as well. Washington doesn’t have a single top 60 three point shooter in the NBA in terms of three point percentage. Whether it’s acquiring a sharpshooter at the trade deadline — possibly Buddy Hield from the collapsing Sacramento Kings — or having Bertans and Kispert stroke it more consistently, Washington needs to improve their three point shooting.

Time for a change of dynamic in the Wizards backup guards

Washington’s depth at center and forward has made their bench unit one of the best in the league, but adjustments need to be made at the backup guard position. First and foremost, Aaron Holiday’s talent is being wasted. He’s been very efficient from the field and has also been a rock solid good defender. Washington doesn’t take advantage of the sparks he can bring, and I believe he should be playing upwards of 20 minutes per game instead of often not even seeing the court. 

Secondly, it’s time to move on from Raul Neto. His defense has been average, and he’s been an inefficient shooter, especially from three. Free agent point guards like Quinn Cook could come into Washington and have a better impact than him. Thanks to Beal and Dinwiddie, Washington doesn’t need a stud guard off of the bench, but some average backup guard play would be nice.

Hot Take: Washington trades for Sabonis and avoids the play-in

Three cheers for foreshadowing! Despite a pretty well-rounded roster, the Wizards aren’t really a threat come playoff time against the top teams in the East. They’re streaky and capable of winning a playoff game or two, however, they’re another star away from being really dangerous. I think Sabonis would fill that void incredibly, especially if Washington gives up Bryant instead of Gafford or Harrell to go along with some draft capital. Before analyzing Sabonis’ game, it’s evident that the struggling Pacers could very likely knock the house down and rebuild. Sabonis unfortunately just suffered an ankle sprain, but should return around the heat of trade talks. Sabonis is a versatile big who can score at all three levels. Despite average defense, he has what it takes to take Washington to the next level and gives the Wizards a second All-Star.