This Week in Wizards: Flashes of hope

By Zach Rice

It was a slow start coming out of the All-Star break for the Wizards, but every game was promising in its own way. Kristaps Porzingis made his Wizards debut at the end of the week, and Kyle Kuzma continued his dominance as the number one option on offense.

In the first game back from the break, a thriller against the Spurs ended in a tragic Wizards loss. The 157–153 final score was reminiscent of the past couple of seasons, where offense wasn’t the problem, but the defense was a complete letdown. The Spurs scored 75 points in the first half, but a simple defensive adjustment from Wes Unseld Jr was able to slow up the Spurs offense a little bit. In the first half, the Spurs were lethal from behind the arc and they capitalized on opportunities to drive. To counter, Unseld had his players go over screens instead of under. By going over screens and playing help defense, this prevented the Spurs from having open three-pointers and layup opportunities and forced them to rely more on the midrange game. While San Antonio scored 20 less points in the second half, it wasn’t enough for the Wizards to prevail, as they lost in double overtime.

For a second consecutive night, Kyle Kuzma dominated, but the Wizards fell short. This game, however, was the polar opposite from Washington’s last contest against San Antonino from an offensive perspective. Before talking about the players who had worse offensive nights than I would have in the 92–86 defeat, let’s praise Kuzma, who had one of the best shooting performances of his career. He made 8/11 threes and shot nearly 60% from the field. Daniel Gafford, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Rui Hachimura, also contributed with double-digit scoring, however, the team would’ve been better without everybody else showing up. Corey Kispert, Raul Neto, Deni Avdija, Thomas Bryant, and Ish Smith shot a combined 11–38 and 1–10 from three point range, along with a staggering 10 turnovers. Yikes. 

The Wizards ended a two-week stretch without a win by defeating the lowly Pistons, in a game that finally saw balance and effort on both sides of the basketball from Washington. After a game with a lack of quality role player production, eight Wizards tallied double-digit points. The Wizards also hit 50% of their threes while the Pistons shot below 30%, helping the Wizards get a much needed win.

The positive vibes unfortunately could not carry over to the next game, which was a close loss to the Hawks. The Hawks dominated the interior all night paint and also made temporary homes at the free throw line. The Wizards did a good job in the second half of limiting open shots at the rim, but the Hawks utilized their positioning in the paint to get to the line 34 times compared to nine attempts from the Wizards. The pick and roll game by Trae Young and Clint Capela freed up opportunities for Young to draw fouls at ease. The turnover ratio was also atrocious. The Wizards turned it over 14 times, which isn’t unbearable, but the Hawks turned it over just four times. Therefore, the Hawks were able to overcome a bad shooting night by getting to the free throw line and not turning the ball over. 

The next game against Indiana saw Kristpas Porzingis make his Washington debut, and boy was he good. In his first game as a Wizard, Porzingis scored 25 points in just 21 minutes to help power the Wizards to a 133–123 win. Kuzma had his fifth consecutive game of 20+ points, and stellar efficiency from the bench helped the Wizards erupt for 76 second half points.

Here are three takeaways from a promising week for the Wizards:

Kyle Kuzma is a star

If somebody told me Kuzma would be the best player in the Westbrook trade this summer, I would’ve laughed in their face. However, it is clear as day that Kuzma was an absolute steal for the Wizards. This week, he averaged 27.2 points, eight rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. From a meme in LA to a star in D.C, Kuzma’s revelation in Washington has been a delightful surprise for Wizards fans.

The Future is bright

Aside from Beal and Kuzma, young talent is emerging in D.C. Porzingis is only 26 and, when healthy, is a star. Even though he is one of the most criticized players in the league, he’s a unique talent who can be a cornerstone of a franchise. Corey Kispert is also finding his form as an NBA player. Kispert has been starting for the past month or so and has averaged double-digit points by improving his versatility. He has a deadly three-pointer in his arsenal and is becoming a decent slasher. Avdija is improving offensively as well. The defense has always been there, but he’s starting to gain confidence in his shot, which is all Wizards fans could ask for.

The Porzingis trade was great for both sides… hopefully

Well, it’s safe to say that the trade panned out for the Mavericks, but that doesn’t mean the Wizards lost the trade. Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans both needed new beginnings, and both are playing to their potential in Dallas. Dinwiddie has re-discovered his groove as a high-level scorer, and Bertans has been efficient in minimal minutes. Porzingis is an All-Star caliber player, and hopefully the Mavericks regret handing him over to the Wizards.

Hot Take: The Wizards make a play-in push

Nearing the end of the season, the Wizards find themselves just two games back of the Hornets, Nets and Hawks for a spot in the play-in. With the way Kuzma is playing, the Wizards are somewhat dangerous, and even though they aren’t hot, their schedule is manageable and they are capable of putting together a winning streak. The Hornets have been struggling, and even though the Nets and Hawks are better teams than the Wizards, it isn’t impossible for them to snag one of their spots.