Before the NBA landed on a 22-team format for its restart of the 2019-20 season in Orlando, much was made about the criteria for entry. For the Washington Wizards, it may seem to be a difficult sell as to why the franchise was included, especially when glancing at a 24-40 record that doubles as the worst mark of any team invited to the bubble environment. Still, Washington is within relative striking distance of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to the play-in format that triggers a competition for the final spot if the ninth place team gets within four games of the 8-seed, and, by virtue of several teams landing behind the Wizards in the standings, Scott Brooks’ team got the call in pursuit of a playoff berth.
The sledding may be difficult, however, with Washington’s top two players, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, set to miss the on-court action, and the Wizards will be fighting an uphill battle. On top of the absences of Beal and Bertans, Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II are not currently in Orlando after reported positive tests and Garrison Mathews did not travel for personal reasons, and whether those three eventually will join the team is unknown at this time.
Thomas Bryant (status uncertain)
Gary Payton II (status uncertain)
Garrison Mathews (status uncertain)
Friday, July 31 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Phoenix Suns
Sunday, Aug. 2 – 2:00 pm ET – vs. Brooklyn Nets
Monday, Aug. 3 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Indiana Pacers
Wednesday, Aug. 5 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Friday, Aug. 7 – 8:00 pm ET – vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Sunday, Aug. 9 – 12:30 pm ET – vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Tuesday, Aug. 11 – 9:00 pm ET – vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Thursday, Aug. 13 – TBD – vs. Boston Celtics
1. Milwaukee Bucks: 53-12
2. Toronto Raptors: 46-18 (6.5)
3. Boston Celtics: 43-21 (9.5)
4. Miami Heat: 41-24 (12.0)
5. Indiana Pacers: 39-26 (14.0)
6. Philadelphia 76ers: 39-26 (14.0)
7. Brooklyn Nets: 30-34 (22.5)
8. Orlando Magic: 30-35 (23.0)
9. Washington Wizards: 24-40 (28.5)
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
Even under ideal basketball circumstances with Beal and Bertans available, the Wizards would be unlikely to crash the eight-team party in the postseason. Washington only has to climb within four games to force a play-in tournament but, even if that takes place, the Wizards would need to win back-to-back games (at a neutral site) against a comparable opponent, further decreasing the likelihood. Still, there is a lot that can be accomplished, even if Washington plays only eight games.
More than anything, this should be a development scenario for the Wizards, who have a couple of young players to evaluate. It can be perilous to take too much from an eight-game sample but, much like a high-level Summer League experience, Washington can inform their future decision-making through this process. With their top two players out, bigger roles will be in store for the young Wizards, and getting experience in that role against quality NBA competition could be a very good thing — forcing a play-in series would be icing on the cake.
As noted above, this process should be development-focused, and the team’s best young prospect is Rui Hachimura. The 2019 lottery pick posted solid counting stats and quieted doubters during his rookie season, at least to some degree. At the same time, he struggled as a long-distance shooter (27 percent from three-point range) and Hachimura still faces questions about his ability to fit into a team context on both ends of the floor. Alongside him, 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown could flourish in this environment, and the 20-year-old showed real flashes during his second NBA season. Both will get ample opportunity in the bubble, and could boost their standing with the club with strong showings.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
Every team in the bubble faces questions related to overall uncertainty, but that doubly applies to the Wizards. Washington was entering the process with a roster that produced a 24-40 record and, in removing the team’s top two pieces, the roster is a bit of a mess. A case could be made that the Wizards still have a deeper unit than the Brooklyn Nets as the teams battle for positioning but, in short, the Wizards have to prove they can defend. Washington was easily the worst defensive team in the NBA this season and, while Beal and Bertans didn’t necessarily help on that end of the floor, Brooks and his staff have a real challenge in coaxing quality defense out of this group — and to make matters worse, they don’t figure to replicate their offensive output without their leading scorers.