The Washington Wizards probably didn’t want to be in the NBA Draft Lottery for the third time in four years, but the team would like to continue its recent run of selection success.
Rui Hachimura in 2019 and Deni Avdija in 2020 were both lottery selections, and have received significant playing time and sent a strong message that they belong in the NBA. In addition to his skills at power forward, Hachimura has become a consistent 3-point shooter; Avdija, arguably the team’s best defender at multiple positions, has become more aggressive and effective on offense.
In Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery, the Wizards will most likely get somewhere between the 10th and 12th overall pick — they have an 86.1% chance. They’ve got the 10th-best odds – 13.9% — at a top-four pick.
The draft itself is set for June 23 at Barclays Center in New York.
It’s pointless to speculate on whom the Wizards will select until after the lottery, of course, but it’s clear what they need. Washington finished ranked 16th in points allowed this past season. They need to get better on defense, and that means getting a player who adds physicality.
The Wizards had an interesting journey to a 35-47 record in 2022. They added free agent point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to play in a backcourt with Bradley Beal and were expected to compete for a playoff spot. That didn’t happen: Dinwiddie did not seem to fit in with the Wizards, and Beal sprained his wrist at the end of January and missed the rest of the season.
By the trade deadline on Feb. 10, the Wizards were busy making moves, trading Dinwiddie to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for center Kristaps Porzingis. With Beal out, the Wizards closed the season with four starters who were not with the team a year ago: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, rookie Corey Kispert and Porzingis.
“Collectively, by the end of the season I thought we were playing the right way — playing hard, and playing for each other,” said first-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr. “I think those are three metrics that there is no qualitative number for, but when we do those things, our overall efficiency moves forward and we can build on that. Of course, we need to get healthy.”
The Wizards are counting on the return of a healthy Beal for next season. General manager Tommy Sheppard has repeatedly said he expects Beal to stay with the Wizards. Beal has a player option in his contract, but his decision will have to wait until at least July 1.
Even after his injury, Beal stayed involved in team meetings and was active in mentoring younger teammates and working with Unseld. Beal has also repeatedly stated his desire to stay with the Wizards, and previously signed a contract extension he did not have to. None of that guarantees Beal’s long-term future in D.C., but Sheppard is optimistic.
“Put Beal on the court with the additions we have made for a full season and we are going to be a very tough team to guard,” said Sheppard. “I also expect us to be better defensively and Bradley will be a big part of that. Not only is he an elite scorer in this league, but because we have other offensive options, he will have the energy to showcase his defensive skills even more.”
Beal never got to play with Porzingis, and it’s exciting to think about the options the Wizards will have with both on the floor. There should be more space for Beal to operate. In 17 games with Wizards, Porzingis delivered, finishing the season as one of six players in the NBA to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and one block per game.
“We knew Kristaps would fit in,” said Sheppard. “He is an excellent offensive player and I think he’s very good at the rim defensively as a shot deterrent. From 3-point range to the rim, there is not anywhere on the floor he cannot score. He is a good passer. We can take advantage next year of the mismatches that he will present.”
While Hachimura and Avdija will compete for playing time in the frontcourt, the Wizards were pleased with Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope in their first year in D.C. after coming over in a trade with the Lakers. Kuzma averaged more than 17 points a game and posted career highs in rebounds and assists, and when he was sidelined by an injury, Caldwell-Pope emerged as an offensive threat, shooting better than 39% from 3-point distance during an 11-game stretch.
“When you think of KCP’s profile in the NBA, it’s always defensive minded,” said Sheppard. “But he is an excellent three-point shooter, an excellent mid-range shooter; he makes plays, and he’s tough. And Kuzma showed us he could do so many things, including becoming a leader with the game on the line, which he did not have to do in Los Angeles.”
Beal’s injury gave Kispert an opportunity for significant playing time in his rookie season. Kispert started the final 29 games of the season, averaged close to 12 points per game and shot better than 47% from the field and 37% from 3-point distance. Kispert also displayed a feel for the game with his movement off the ball and cuts to the basket.
“Corey Kispert wasn’t expected to play as many minutes as he did,” said Sheppard. “Circumstances forced him into the lineup and he’s done a great job growing with those minutes. Next year, he is going have to adjust because he is probably not going to have the same amount of minutes. But we want to make sure he takes the same number of shots.”
Regardless of what happens in the lottery, or the draft for that matter, the Wizards will need their current veteran players to continue to produce and avoid injury, and a corps of young players need to take another step forward — along with their head coach, who will enter his second season in charge of the Wizards.
“I can’t wait for next season,” said Unseld. “I have seen progress and growth not only in the players, but in myself. That is not to say I have it all figured out, but then, just like anything else in life, the more you do it the more comfortable you get.”
Editor’s Note: WTOP’s Dave Johnson is the radio voice of the Washington Wizards.