The Washington Wizards have not won 50 games or more in an NBA season since 1979. That not-so-fun fact almost feels made-up, but it’s true. Beyond that, the Wizards have only one playoff appearance in the last five seasons, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2021 postseason, and Washington has not finished a season above the .500 mark since Marcin Gortat appeared in all 82 games for the 2017-18 squad. Needless to say, the operating mindset of “aim for the play-in” did not bear considerable fruit for the Wizards but, beginning with the 2023 offseason, everything appears to be different in the nation’s capital.
For one thing, the Wizards will likely enter the 2023-24 season with the NBA’s lowest projected win total, with oddsmakers generally placing Washington’s projection in the mid-20’s. That is a far cry from back-to-back 35-win performances in 2021-22 and 2022-23, but the dip in the forecast coincides with the Wizards (finally) acknowledging the landscape under new front office head Michael Winger. Rather than play for the middle, Washington blew things up this summer, sending Bradley Beal to Phoenix as the headliner of a group of moves designed to pivot the entire organization. The results may be ugly in 2023-24 specifically but, for the first time in a long time, Washington appears to have a coherent long-term plan.
Biggest Question: Who Are The Building Blocks Of The Next Great Wizards Team?
At first blush, Washington’s rotation could be quite respectable in 2023-24. The high-end talent isn’t really there for the Wizards, but Washington may field an entire 10-man group on opening night that is filled with real NBA rotation players. The issue is that most of them are probably best suited for reserve roles, with only Kyle Kuzma and maybe Jordan Poole bringing the pedigree associated with highly productive starters. Of course, Washington could also lean into the void during the season, playing young guys more and more in search of information and ping-pong balls, and there are many reasons why the Wizards are projected for the league’s lowest win total.
The big question stemming from that jumbled landscape is, essentially, who “the guys” are for Washington. Kuzma is the team’s best player, but the 28-year-old is likely miscast as one of the top two or three players on a real playoff team, and when he re-signed in Washington, it almost came with an immediate countdown to trade eligibility. Poole was essentially salary dumped by Golden State and, while he likely is better than he showed during a brutal 2022-23 season, the former Michigan guard may be ideally cast as a high-usage sixth man type on a good team, much as he was with the Warriors.
Kuzma and Poole will almost assuredly sit atop the team’s pecking order when it comes to scoring and usage, but this is also an information gathering season. What is former lottery pick Johnny Davis? What about former first-round pick Corey Kispert, who has shown himself capable of a rotation role but may be looking for more? How ’bout Daniel Gafford, who has plenty of highlights and flashes at the center spot? Finally, there should be quite a bit of attention paid to Bilal Coulibaly. For a lot of teams, the 19-year-old probably wouldn’t be ready for a rotation role, but Coulibaly was the No. 7 pick for a rebuilding team and, even if he is clearly a long-term play, Washington will want to see him on the court at some point soon. In the end, it’s all about identification and evaluation because, with all due respect to a bunch of really respectable veterans in Delon Wright, Tyus Jones, Taj Gibson, Mike Muscala, and Landry Shamet, this season isn’t really about them for Washington.
X-Factor: Deni Avdija
Deni Avdija fits snugly alongside Davis, Kispert, and others with regard to Washington’s biggest question, but he gets his own section for a few reasons. For one, Avdija is extension-eligible before his fourth season, and the former No. 9 pick remains something of an enigma. The pitch on Avdija as a draft prospect centered on his abilities as a versatile connecting forward that every team seeks and, in some ways, he has shown signs of being that. On the other hand, Avdija can be a tough fit on offense, shooting 31 percent (on few attempts) from three-point range in his career and settling into a very low-usage role.
On defense, the 6’9 forward is an effective cog, but he isn’t dominant. He also overlaps a bit with Kuzma positionally, and the two don’t make the greatest tandem at the forward spots given some overlapping limitations. It would be fair to project Avdija as a long-time NBA player, and he has proven to be a rotation-caliber entity through three seasons, but Washington was undoubtedly looking for more from a top-10 pick. While it is too early to close the book entirely on Davis from the 2022 Draft, that pick isn’t looking fantastic and, as noted above, Kispert is probably bound for a life as a pure role player. Washington’s Draft history is checkered at best but, independent of that, it could be a revealing year for Avdija and how the franchise views his long-term future.