Wizards have been different team after All-Star break originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Some teams welcome the All-Star break as time off to rest and heal their injuries. The Wizards may have been better off if they kept playing, as after entering the break winners of 10 of 14, they have lost seven of their last 10 since.
That includes a blowout loss to the Sixers on Sunday night, as the Wizards’ offense fell completely flat. Even the always reliable Kristaps Porzingis couldn’t get going. He failed to reach double-figures for just the second time in 75 games since he was traded to the Wizards. Yeah, it was that bad.
The Wizards have looked like a different team over these last 10 games and that’s despite the fact they are currently fully healthy. On the season overall, their success has often paralleled their health, but not lately. Everyone is available and it’s not leading to wins.
Over the last 10 games, the Wizards rank 20th in the NBA in offensive rating (112.3), 23rd in defensive rating (117.5) and 24th in net rating (-5.3). That’s a far cry from what they were going into the All-Star break. From Dec. 20 until Feb. 16 when the break began, they were seventh in offensive rating (118.1), 11th on defense (114.0) and sixth in net rating (+4.1).
Those are title contender numbers if held over the course of a full regular season. But since coming back from their week off, the Wizards have devolved into one of the least efficient teams in the league.
It’s costing them dearly. With Sunday’s loss, the Wizards are now tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. That means they are currently outside of the play-in tournament. This is an unfortunate twist because less than a week ago they were only one game behind the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, set to host them in D.C. for two games.
The Wizards lost both of those games and then again on Sunday in Philadelphia. Now only 14 games remain and they have lost control of their play-in spot.
The flip side of it all is the Wizards’ draft lottery odds. This losing skid has left the Wizards tied for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. That would put them in line to not only keep their first-round pick but likely get a very good one if the season ended today.
Remember, the Wizards’ first-round pick this summer is lottery-protected. That means if they make the playoffs, they lose it and if they miss the playoffs they hold onto it. That pick is currently owned by the New York Knicks, though it was originally traded to the Rockets in the deal that sent John Wall to Houston and landed Russell Westbrook in Washington.
Whether the Wizards should want to keep that draft pick isn’t exactly straightforward and could become an interesting debate among fans. That’s because there are positives and negatives to both possible paths.
If the Wizards do make the playoffs, and the odds are looking less likely, the pick would convey and you never want to go into a draft without a first-round pick. However, by giving the Knicks the pick now, the Wizards would then free up future picks to potentially trade. The protections on their first-round picks for 2024 (top-12), 2025 (top-10) and 2026 (top-8) would be removed.
There’s another silver lining to that. While it would hurt to give up the 15th pick this year, it’s possible they would give up a lottery pick in the next three years, possibly as high as ninth in 2026.
In talking to some people around the league, rival executives and agents, there are some who believe the Wizards would be better off letting this year’s pick go rather than keeping it. That said, there are certainly some positives to keeping it.
If the Wizards had the sixth-best odds, for example, they would have a 9.2% chance at the No. 1 pick, i.e. Victor Wembanyama. They would have an 18.2% shot at the top-two, with Scoot Henderson the heavy favorite to go second. They would have 37.2% odds of selecting top-four in what is by most accounts a good draft, even beyond the top-two.
The salary cap could play a huge factor as well. The Wizards already have Bradley Beal signed to a supermax deal and have signaled they want to keep both Kyle Kuzma and Porzingis. Kuzma is a sure thing to opt out of his contract and receive a substantial raise. Porzingis could also opt out, though either way, he’s due quite a bit with a $36 million salary for next season.
Those three will be a very expensive trio and the best way to offset a top-heavy salary cap is with young players with upside on rookie contracts. Keeping their first-round pick would help the Wizards balance the books while also adding impact talent to the roster.
That could be especially important given their 2022 first-round pick, Johnny Davis, has been slow to develop. If he doesn’t come back much-improved next season, their rotation could be without their last two first-round picks. They also just traded Rui Hachimura, their 2019 first-round selection.
The good news for the Wizards is they have another 14 games to work with before the season runs out. They have done some real damage to their playoff hopes since the All-Star break, but they are still only a half-game out of the play-in tournament and three games back from the eight-seed.
What the Wizards hope to accomplish is still possible, they just need to get moving very soon.