DimeMag

Washington Wizards X-Factor: Wing Depth

Peep the Washington Wizards’ rotation from their opening night, 98-83 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Look who saw the floor. There are a whole lot of guards: Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Holiday, Raul Neto, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. There are also a whole lot of big men: Kyle Kumza, Daniel Gafford, Davis Bertans, Montrezl Harrell, and Deni Avdija.

Squint and you can call Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, and Avdija wings, sure. But the boundaries of that general classification are being stretched. This team is quite oddly constructed, with two excellent creators in Beal and Dinwiddie, and an assortment of play-finishers, both beyond the arc and at the rim, alongside them.

While the importance of “wings” to high-level basketball has probably been overstated in recent seasons, a balanced roster is still prudent. How Washington chisels together minutes on the wings remains a looming question mark for the year. Perhaps the 15th overall pick from July’s Draft, Corey Kispert, fights his way into the rotation. Maybe, Caldwell-Pope can truly assume those duties on a nightly basis. Is Avdija primed for a sophomore leap that sees him ready to handle more perimeter responsibilities defensively? Strength, ironically enough, is not a strength for this club.

Three-guard lineups appear to be expanding in popularity as of late. The Wizards frequented them last year and look as though they’ll do so again this season. But poor wing depth buried them in their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. They had no avenue to upsize their lineups and compete against the Sixers’ jumbo trio of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons.

Any team that marries offensive juice with brawn will pose issues for Washington’s current rotation. Alleviating this hole in their approach could help differentiate them between a squad struggling to tread water on the heels of the play-in and a squad whose offensive firepower has it vying for one of a top-eight seed. The latter outcome is assuredly on the higher end, but seems plausible with a little bit of good fortune because there is clearly talent across the roster.

Beal, for all his defensive gaffes, is a borderline All-NBA guard. In his last healthy year, Dinwiddie was just on the outskirts of All-Star contention. Gafford looks poised to expand his second-half breakout into a full year of exceptional rim-running and viable defense. Caldwell-Pope is a good 3-and-D role player, and spearheads a cast of useful role players.

Projecting them to be good enough to rise above the play-in is far-fetched, but hosting a play-in game is not unreasonable in the rosiest of circumstances. That, however, can skew closer to reality if legitimate wing depth emerges and incorporates more stylistic diversity into the Wizards’ day-to-day possibilities.

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