Is ESPN selling Wizards short with a 34-win prediction for 2022-23 season?

Is ESPN selling Wizards short with 34-win prediction? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It may soon prove to be a premature exercise if Kevin Durant gets traded, but ESPN has revealed their 2022-23 NBA predictions and they see a difficult road for the Wizards in a much-improved Eastern Conference.

ESPN has the Wizards projected to win 34 games, one fewer than they did last year, and finish 12th in the East. That would put them two spots outside of the play-in picture, which is certainly not how the organization hopes things will go this year.

Here is the reasoning, per ESPN’s illustrious Jamal Collier: 

“Missing the playoffs and play-in tournament altogether, would be a massive disappointment for both Washington and Charlotte, but the Eastern Conference continues to get stronger and deeper while neither team made convincing enough offseason moves for our panel to consider them serious play-in contenders….

The Wizards, meanwhile, are hoping the duo of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis will be productive enough to keep them out of this group and give the team some direction after a meandering over past few seasons.”

Indeed, it would be a disappointment. The Wizards didn’t re-sign Beal to one of the largest contracts in NBA history to then just miss the postseason entirely. They may not be set to pay the luxury tax, but they are in line for the 12th-highest payroll in the league, per Spotrac. That level of investment makes the playoffs an obvious goal.

Granted, as ESPN notes, the East is much, much better than it was just a few years ago. And there are some clear variables that will determine the Wizards’ success this season like, for instance, the health of Porzingis who has only played in 61% of his team’s regular season games the last two years.

Washington is also banking on Beal returning to his All-Star form and general improvement both in 3-point shooting and defense. They ranked in the bottom-third of the league in threes made and defensive rating last season, which was not ideal.

Other variables would include the development of their young players. If Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert and Daniel Gafford, in particular, come back the same players, the Wizards may not improve much overall. But if any number of them make leaps forward, it could drastically change their outlook.

For what it’s worth, ESPN has been fairly accurate with these things in recent years. Last season, they projected the Wizards to win 36 games and they won 35. In 2020-21, ESPN was also just one win off, predicting 35 when they won 34. While their 2022-23 projection may seem harsh, each of the last two years they forecasted one more win for the Wizards than they ultimately achieved.

ESPN has been eerily precise with their Wizards predictions, but naturally, they have gotten other ones wrong. Last year, they had the Cavaliers winning just 26 games and they won 44. They thought the Timberwolves would win 31 games and they won 46.

Can ESPN make it three years in a row hitting the Wizards’ win total nearly on the nose? Or will the Wizards be one of the teams that bucks their expectations this time around? Stay tuned.

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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