How good can Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma be as a trio? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With the busy part of the NBA offseason in the rearview, the Wizards’ roster has taken shape in the form we will likely see on Opening Night in October. Barring a surprising late summer move for someone with an arachnid-related nickname, like say Spida or Durantula, their offseason is complete.
Washington made a litany of moves to plug holes in their roster, particularly at point guard with the trade for Monte Morris and the free agent signing of Delon Wright. But the big takeaway from their summer is that their biggest offseason move was effectively made in February when they acquired former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline.
The Wizards are now moving forward banking on the potential of their three core players; Bradley Beal, Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. Porzingis, 27, did not play a single game with Beal after arriving in Washington and he only played six games with Kuzma. What the Wizards can accomplish with all three of those players on the court at the same time remains a mystery until we see it in action.
Certainly, though, there appears to be a fairly high ceiling for that group, particularly on the offensive end. Beal led the Eastern Conference in scoring for both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and carries a 22.1 point-per-game career average. Porzingis has averaged 20-plus points per game in his last four seasons. And Kuzma averaged 17.1 points per game last season, including 21.0 points over his final 35 appearances.
When Beal is healthy and in peak form, he’s a borderline unstoppable scorer, able to average 30-plus points per game while attacking all three levels. Porzingis is a unique matchup problem because of his versatility and size, while Kuzma can be an unusual challenge as well because of his mobility at 6-foot-10. Porzingis can get hot and take over for extended stretches and Kuzma has shown a knack for timely shots late in games.
Having three players who can score as they can could be beneficial for the Wizards as they inevitably aim to withstand injuries over the course of a long season. It also may come in handy on nights where one or several of their core players are out of rhythm.
At least in terms of volume, the Wizards’ ‘Big 3′ could be among the better scoring trios in the league. Only 10 NBA teams last season had three qualified players (min. 58 games) each average 15 or more points per game. Five of those teams had three players averaged 18-plus.
Zero teams had three 20-point scorers, as that feat has not been accomplished since the Celtics did so in 2019-20 (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker). The Wizards have never had three 20-point scorers in a single season in franchise history. But they have had two 20-point scorers and five out of the last six times that was the case, they made the playoffs. That includes the 2020-21 season (Beal and Russell Westbrook) and 2016-17 (Beal and John Wall).
Porzingis arguably has a chance to be the best scorer Beal has played with. Wall and Westbrook may have been more complete offensive players because of their passing, and better players overall, but Beal has never had a teammate average at least 20 points with an effective field goal percentage above 50. Porzingis over his last four seasons has averaged 20.8 points with a 51.0 eFG%.
Now. there are some variables which will decide the true potential of Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma. For one, the health of Porzingis will be a major determinent for how well the team does this year. He has not played more than 57 games in a season since returning from ACL surgery in 2019.
Beal’s availability is also going to factor in, as he has missed nearly a third (30.5%) of the Wizards’ games over the past three seasons. And then there are the two variables which apply to the team as a whole; efficiency and defense.
The Wizards were 30th in threes made last season and 21st in offensive rating, per Basketball Reference. For this group to really work, ideally all three would shoot fairly well from three. Beal last season made a career-low 30% of his threes, while Porzingis wasn’t much better at 31% and Kuzma led the way at 34.1%.
When it comes to defense, all three were part of a team that ranked 25th in defensive rating last season. While there are some encouraging signs one could point to, ultimately the Wizards have to prove they can defend before it can be counted as a strength.
Those encouraging signs would include the fact Kuzma had the best defensive field goal percentage margin (-2.7%) last season among Wizards regulars. Put another way, opponents shot 2.7% worse when guarded by him than they did on the season as a whole.
Kuzma was 28th in the NBA last season among qualified players in that category, tied with Joel Embiid, one of the league’s best defensive players. Porzingis (-0.9%) and Beal (-0.5%) were among only four Wizards rotation players to be in the negative (negative is good), the other being Deni Avdija.
Porzingis also had the best defensive rating (110) on the team, per Basketball Reference. Porzingis was also the Wizards’ best defensive rebounder (23.3 def reb%) and the team was +4.3 in defensive rebounding percentage when he was on the floor.
That is in addition to his rim protection, which could stand out and change the calculus for other defenders on the court like Beal and Kuzma, who will have some security behind them. Daniel Gafford can also help that cause.
There are also some factors that are harder to define by numbers. Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma will have to find on-court chemistry and how to complement each other offensively, ideally without overlap in terms of shooting spots and also with an equal share of the offense.
Kuzma could be an interesting case there. On one hand, he’s proven he can thrive as the third option, having won a championship alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis in that role. However, he was also much better last season once injuries and trades made him a primary scorer.
If it works as designed, Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma may give the Wizards a similar dynamic to the mid-2000s teams built around Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. They had one elite scoring guard plus two versatile, offense-driven frontcourt players. They had one top-shelf star and two borderline All-Stars. They also wore the blue and bronze jerseys the Wizards are set to revive as throwbacks this season.
While that team never made it out of the second round of the playoffs, injuries were the biggest reason for their downfall. When they were at their peak, it worked pretty well, especially when they surrounded those three with defensive players (DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywod) and depth on the bench.
Maybe history will repeat itself, this time with better luck in the injury department.