What should the Wizards target at the NBA trade deadline?

What should the Wizards target at the trade deadline? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

If we can say anything for certain about the 2022-23 Washington Wizards, it is that they are extremely streaky. Their 24-28 record is not far away from .500 and in fact, they would be .500 if they had held onto 20-point leads the last two nights. But getting to this point has been like a cruise ship riding 15-foot waves. They have proven too sturdy to capsize, but you might want to hold onto something.

The Wizards this season have lost 10 straight games, their longest losing streak in a decade. They have also won five consecutive games two different times. Washington has lost 10 straight on seven different occasions in their franchise history. Not once before this season had they also won five in a row in one of those years, much less done it twice.

In spite of that chaos, the Wizards are well within striking range of a playoff spot as they approach Thursday’s trade deadline. They are tied for the 10th-best record in the East, the final play-in spot. They are two games back from the No. 8 seed and four games behind the No. 6 seed. 

Ever since Dec. 20, when head coach Wes Unseld Jr. put Daniel Gafford in the starting lineup right as the team was getting healthy, the Wizards are 13-8 with the fifth-best net rating (3.9) in the league. During that stretch, which amounts to a quarter of the season, they rank ninth in offensive rating (117.5) and 11th in defensive rating (113.6).

While it has been a topsy-turvy ride, if you take a step back it looks like legitimate momentum. It also may be sustainable, in part because the Wizards have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule based on win percentage after so far enduring the second-most difficult. 

Still, the Wizards have more work to do and they will have their final opportunity to make substantial changes to their roster this week ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Whether major changes are needed, or just minor tweaks, it’s safe to expect them to do something. In the last two years, they have added significant pieces; Kristaps Porzingis and Gafford. Another move like that could be the final piece they need for a playoff push.

With all that in mind, here are some areas they could target in deadline deals…

General depth

A central reason why the Wizards have had split personalities this season is because they are good when healthy and not so good when injuries occur. During the 10-game losing streak, Unseld Jr. and his players expressed confidence in the bigger picture because they felt they would improve once key players came back. That is indeed what happened, but it’s also possible they will have to compensate for injuries again. Considering they only have 30 games left in the regular season, they can’t afford to have a 10-game slump to any degree. 

The Wizards already made one trade that shifted their depth around. They solved what they admitted was a logjam at power forward by trading Rui Hachimura and in turn, added reinforcements at guard with Kendrick Nunn. But depth is generally an answer for withstanding injuries, so it would make sense if they tried to add more. One factor, though, could be Jordan Goodwin. The Wizards are expected to convert his two-way deal into an NBA contract but need a roster spot in order to do so.

3-point shooting

Arguably the most glaring weakness for the Wizards this season has been their outside shooting. They made the fewest threes of any team last year and this season they have been better, but still rank in the bottom-third of the league in threes made (11.3/g), attempted (31.9/g) and in percentage (35.4). Corey Kispert has emerged as an elite 3-point shooter and they have a few others knocking them down at a high clip like Goodwin and Monte Morris, but collectively it has been a problem.

That could be one way for the Wizards to raise the floor of their team and protect against injuries. The more nights they get a lot from long range, the greater margin for error they will have. Exactly where they should add 3-point shooting is not an obvious answer, but more shooters would probably suit them well.

Wing defense

Another way the Wizards could create more stability would be by improving their defense. They jumped from 25th in defensive rating last season to 15th this year, so they are already moving in the right direction. But perhaps they could find a way to go from the middle of the pack into the top 10 of the league. They are above average defending the 3-point line and also feature two of the NBA’s better rim-protectors in Porzingis and Gafford. Still, something is holding them back from going from average to elite.

Despite having Porzingis and Gafford, the Wizards still rank 20th in paint defense (51.0 ppg). And despite showing up well in 3-point defensive metrics on the season overall, they let the Blazers and Nets light them up from three on back-to-back nights. The answer to both could be a capable wing defender to help tie it all together, someone to help Deni Avdija’s cause. Finding one, though, could be easier said than done.

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