The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz]
Where were the Washington Wizards?
Place: Ninth in the East
The Washington Wizards were terrible all season, and they have no business being in the bubble. Too harsh? After all, they are within two games of forcing a play-in series against either the Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff seed, if only because invitations to Walt Disney World came with new rules that allotted every participating team some hope of playing for a reason. In reality, the Wizards were closer to last place in the Eastern Conference than they were to the playoffs.
They were so bad that Bradley Beal became the first player ever to average 28 or more points per game and fail to make the All-Star team, partly because his commitment on defense mirrored that of his porous teammates, but mostly because the Wizards were irrelevant. (That did not prevent Trae Young from being named an All-Star starter, but that is another conversation.) Beal scored 30.5 points per game this year.
There is some hope for a better future, as All-Star point guard John Wall is expected to return from an Achilles injury next season, the Wizards would like to re-sign sharpshooting forward Davis Bertans this summer, Rui Hachimura enjoyed a promising rookie campaign, and another lottery pick is on deck. But ...
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: John Wall (Achilles), Bradley Beal (shoulder), Davis Bertans (opt-out), Gary Payton II (COVID-19)
The three best players on the roster have not joined the Wizards for the restart. Wall is “110 percent” healthy. Beal did not miss a single game this season with the rotator cuff injury cited for his absence. And Bertans is rightfully prioritizing his free agency over the risk of injury in Orlando. That leaves journeyman Ish Smith as arguably the team’s best active player. The Wizards also signed G League players Jerian Grant and Jarrod Uthoff to substitution contracts. Again, why is this team invited to Walt Disney World?
NBA Finals odds: +20000
Championship odds: +50000
The Wizards will be auditioning several players for roles on what they hope to be a retooled playoff-contending roster next season, including potential starting centers Thomas Bryant, Mo Wagner and Anžejs Pasečņiks. None of them cemented himself as a favorite to man the middle when Ian Mahinmi’s deal finally comes off the books at season’s end. Wagner is the most well-rounded prospect of the trio.
More importantly, the Wizards should be using the season restart to maximize Rui Hachimura’s development. The ninth overall pick missed almost two months in the middle of his rookie season due to a groin injury sandwiched around flashes of offensive brilliance. He averaged 12.5 points on 47/40/81 shooting splits upon returning in early February, while using a lower percentage of his team’s possessions than Beal, Bertans and Shabazz Napier. Dialing that up should give us a broader look at how he might fit as a forward next to Wall and Beal next season, and any improvement from Hachimura on defense is vital.
(All times Eastern)
July 31: Phoenix Suns, 4 p.m.
Aug. 2: Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m.
Aug. 3: Indiana Pacers, 4 p.m.
Aug. 5: Philadelphia 76ers, 4 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 7: New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m.
Aug. 9: Oklahoma City Thunder, 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: Milwaukee Bucks, 9 p.m.
Aug. 13: Boston Celtics, TBD
Is there a chance the patchwork Wizards and decimated Brooklyn Nets meet in a wildly underwhelming play-in series for the right to get trounced by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round? Sure. Anything could happen, especially if Washington wins its season-reopening game against a Phoenix Suns team that has only a slightly greater reason to be in Orlando, and then beats the Nets head-to-head to follow.
But the Wizards should want no part of a playoff spot, and based on their approach to the restart, they are well aware of that fact. By failing to make the playoffs, Washington would own the ninth-best lottery odds, owners of a 20.3 percent shot at a top-four pick. Finishing two games better than the Nets over the eight-game reboot and beating an equally bad Brooklyn team twice in a row would mean losing all those pingpong balls and falling at least six slots in the draft. That would be devastating to a team in desperate need of young talent around two stars who will make a combined $70 million next season.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Ninth in the East
Finish: Failure to make the playoffs
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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