Wizards offense stands out in loss to Rockets in preseason opener

Wizards offense stands out in preseason opener: Observations originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Wizards lost to the Houston Rockets 125-119 on Tuesday night in their preseason opener. Here are five observations from what went down…

Lots of scoring

The Wes Unseld Jr. era promises to have a heavy focus on defense, but in the first preseason game of his head coaching tenure, it was the offense that stood out most. The Wizards lost to the Rockets, but that was despite six players reaching double figures. Bradley Beal still led the group with 18 points in just 22 minutes, proving the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Wizards didn’t get off to a great start initially, as they had to knock off some rust. They missed their first six shots from long range. But soon after, they heated up collectively and made 12 total shots from deep, a strong indication they have indeed improved their outside shooting, which was arguably their biggest weakness last season.

The Wizards looked the part of a team many have praised for adding shooting and shot-making in the summer. At least for one night, they had a lot of scoring depth, and that was without some regulars in the rotation. Rui Hachimura (personal reasons), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (dental procedure), Thomas Bryant (ACL) and Deni Avdija (ankle) were all out.

Dinwiddie-Gafford combo

The early returns were good from the Wizards’ new point guard-center combination with Spencer Dinwiddie at the one and Daniel Gafford at the five. They appear to already have some chemistry, with Dinwiddie finding him on some smooth plays around the rim. In the first half, Dinwiddie drove right off a screen to set Gafford up with a lob dunk.

Gafford kept hurting the Rockets on pick-and-rolls and second-effort plays around the rim. He had 10 points, six rebounds and a block, though he did get into foul trouble with four fouls in 18 minutes.

Dinwiddie had a solid game with 14 points and five assists. Most importantly, he looked quick and agile coming off his ACL surgery, as this was his first live game action since the injury which happened just over nine months ago.

Harrell stood out

For as much depth as the Wizards appear to have, it’s going to be tough for Unseld Jr. to keep Montrezl Harrell off the floor. The guy is just a relentless worker around the rim and that is especially clear in the preseason when everyone is just trying to get their footing. He is in attack mode constantly, whether it’s going up for a layup in traffic or going after a loose ball. 

Like Gafford, Harrell was a force on pick-and-rolls. He is going to be a major weapon in the second unit. Harrell had nine points, 11 rebounds and a block in 24 minutes.

Holiday made plays

There were some positive early signs from backup point guard Aaron Holiday who was the first replacement off the bench for Dinwiddie in the first half. He had his shot falling early with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half. Holiday ended up with 15 points, three assists and a steal on 4-for-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from three.

The base-level expectation for Holiday this season would be scrappy defense and reliable execution of the offensive playbook. But he has flashed the ability to score so far in his career, especially from the outside. If he can knock down outside shots, he should help himself plenty in what will be a contract year.

Kispert got the start

With a host of forwards missing from the Wizards lineup, rookie first round pick Corey Kispert got the starting nod at the three. Unseld Jr. explained the move before the game as also a product of Kispert having a “great” training camp so far. And, either way, he was going to play quite a bit in this game, as Unseld Jr. wants to get a good look at what he has in the 22-year-old sharpshooter.

Kispert had 12 points (5-8 FG, 2-5 3PT) in 28 minutes with a series of nice plays. He had a couple of midrange pull-up jumpers, a pair of catch-and-shoot threes and had a heads-up steal on Daniel Theis under the rim. His threes helped bail out Beal and Dinwiddie, who had dribbled into the defense and made the Rockets pay for leaving Kispert open.

Kispert also had a welcome-to-the-league moment when Kevin Porter Jr. fooled him on a stepback three. But overall, he looked a bit more comfortable and assertive than he did in the Summer League, which is good. He seemed to know where he was supposed to be in the offense and fit well into the flow of the game. It probably helped having NBA point guards running the show, as the Wizards had a glaring hole at that position in Las Vegas.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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