Wizards enter offseason with high hopes
The Washington Wizards 2019-20 season was all about growth and development in first year of the Tommy Sheppard era. The team was good enough (thanks to some lenient requirements) to qualify for the NBA restart in Orlando but with a different lineup, they were there for the experience and getting playing time they otherwise wouldn't have had. The past season can be broken into three parts: before the bubble, inside the bubble, and the future in the 2020-21 season.
Before the bubble
The Wizards were 24-40 before the season was suspended in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Of those 24 wins, the Wizards had plenty of exciting games and individual performances. Leading the way was Bradley Beal who averaged 30.5 points per game, second-best in the NBA. Beal had another breakout season as he seemingly takes a new step each year. His points per game were a career-high and he went into another level after being snubbed from his third All-Star game. We will wait and see if the media also snubs him from All-NBA.
Beal's career-year was highlighted by a couple of stellar games on back-to-back nights. He had 53 points at Chicago against the Bulls and then scored 55 points at home the next game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Beal was the first player in over a decade and since the late Kobe Bryant in 2007 to have 50-points in back-to-back nights. The elite shooting guard also had a running buzzer-beater, laying the ball up in the final 1.8 seconds of the game to beat the Dallas Mavericks.
Another player who we got to witness turn into a weapon before our eyes was Davis Bertans. The Latvian Laser averaged 15.4 points per game including 42.4 three-point percentage. His best game came when the Wizards were in Charlotte against the Hornets as he dropped 32 points including eight three's. He's one of the best three-point shooters in the league and the Wizards want him back next season.
Inside the bubble
In their eight seeding games in the NBA restart, the Wizards dropped seven of them before winning their season finale against the Boston Celtics. Beal and Bertans weren't there, Beal sat out in an abundance of caution to rehab a shoulder injury and Bertans opted out for fear of injury just before he hits the free agency market. This gave the younger Wizards an opportunity to gain experience and allow the organization to take stock of their talent.
The Wizards drafted Rui Hachimura with their ninth overall pick in 2019 and he enjoyed a solid rookie season. He averaged 13.5 points per game while adding 6.1 rebounds per game all while creating new Wizards fans in the Japanese community.
Another player who had an impact was Moe Wagner. He averaged 8.7 points per game and 4.9 rebounds, but struggled in Orlando. The Wizards also got to see Troy Brown Jr. at point guard where Sheppard imagines he will play more going forward. The second-year player averaged 10.4 points per game and his best game came against the Brooklyn Nets in the second game where he dropped 22 points. We also got a behind the scenes look at the life in Disney World thanks to Brown's "Ballin in the bubble" vlog.
We also got to see the development of Thomas Bryant after he dealt with injuries and COVID-19 before entering the bubble. He had a breakout game in the second game of the restart against Brooklyn with a season-high 30 points. Bryant averaged 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in his 8 bubble games including 40.5 percent shooting from deep as teams dared him to shoot. The development that took place in Orlando is a competitive advantage that other lottery-bound teams did not have the luxury of.
The 2020-21 season should be much brighter for the Wizards compared to the last two years when they failed to make the playoffs. John Wall says he is the healthiest he has ever been in his NBA career now fully recovered from an Achilles tear and bone spurs. If the five-time All-Star is able to return to his 2016-17 form, as he vows to, and you combine that with the guard Bradley Beal has developed into, then you have what is arguably a top-3 backcourt in the East. Sheppard seems confident he can re-sign Davis Bertans and may have another trick up his sleeve in free agency. Add in Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., and you have the makings of a decent rotation.
Ownership has high expectations in the last year of Scott Brooks' contract and it will be up to the team to live up to it.