Another Washington Wizards season closes with widespread disappointment for the fan base. For the second consecutive year, the club finished twelvth in the Eastern Conference, with a 35-47 record. The Wizards missed both the play-in and the playoffs with their 5th consecutive season under .500.
The last time the Wizards made the playoffs was in the 2020-21 season, where a Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook led squad was eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wizards have not made the Conference Finals in forty-four years, last appearing in the 1978-79 season led by Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes. With the longest active Conference Finals drought in the NBA, would this season change their fortune and bring the Wizards back to relevance?
The Wizards were expected to at least reach the Play-In Tournament this season, and potentially compete for a top six spot in the Eastern Conference. With Beal signing his supermax extension in the offseason and the Kristaps Porzingis mid-season acquisition last year, the talent was secured. To further improve the roster, the Wizards traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith to the Denver Nuggets for Will Barton and Monte Morris. With Barton coming off the bench and a new starting point guard in Morris, Washington added to an already talented core.
The Wizards hoped that this squad would return to the playoffs. This wasn’t the case. The team struggled to find consistency all year, and had difficulty beating quality opponents. The Wizards put forth a putrid 14-30 record against over .500 teams this season, and went 21-17 verses everyone else. Beal played only 50 games and in those games averaged less than 25 points per game. Beal seems to have lost a step since his All-NBA 3rd team selection in 2020-21.
The Wizards continuing mediocrity plagues them even within their own division. The organization can’t get out of the purgatory they have put themselves in. There were some positives this season, but overall it was a very disappointing and frustrating 82 games.
The Wizards offensive metrics this season were, in a word, average. The Wizards ranked 21st in points per game with 113.2, and were 22nd in offensive rating with 113.7 points per 100 possessions. The only positive from this squad’s offensive output this season was their field goal percentage, which came in as the eight best in the league at 48.5%. Beal and Porzingis lead the team in scoring with each contributing 23.2 ppg. Beal shot a career high 50.6% from the field and Porzingis played in 65 games, a career high total since the 2016-17 season.
Kyle Kuzma proved to be a reliable third scoring option as well, averaging 21.2 ppg while shooting 44.8% from the floor. Corey Kispert improved his production across the board, posting new career highs in points per game and field goal percentage. Kispert raised his three-point shooting from last year’s 35% to 42.4% this season. These improvements showed up in their 142-127 win over the Timberwolves on November 28th, their highest scoring game of the season.
As a team the Wizards were poor from beyond the arc, shooting at a 35.6% clip which was eighteenth in the NBA. Deni Avdija failed to take a step forward offensively in his junior campaign, as his game averages stagnated and his three point percentage declined from last season. Will Barton was such a disappointment that he was waived on February 21st, and Rui Hachimura failed to develop. This led to a trade that sent Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.
The overall unit was mediocre and has issues that must be addressed in the offseason. There were some positives this year though including more efficient shot selection and continued development of their young talent.
The Wizards defensive metrics were below average across the board. The Wizards were slightly below the middle of the pack in opponent points per game, allowing 114.4 per contest which was 17th in the league. In terms of defensive rating, the Wizards were 21st in the NBA, allowing 114.9 points per 100 possessions. Opponents also shot 47.3% from the floor against the Wizards and 36.6% from three, which were 14th and 20th in the league respectively. Porzingis and Daniel Gafford both finished top twenty in the league in blocks, but Porzingis’s interior defense besides this was lacking.
Delon Wright’s 1.8 steals per game would have placed him second in the NBA had he played enough to qualify for the league leaders list. Deni Avdija continued his solid perimeter defense and notched a new career high in steals per game. The main hole in the Wizards’ defensive game was in transition. According to advanced statistics, the Wizards allowed 1.19 points per possession on transition plays, which was the third-most in the league.
Simply put, the Wizards allowed too many easy buckets in transition instead of forcing teams to score in their half-court sets. The Wizards allowed 130 or more points eight times this season, most notably in their 141-128 loss to the Denver Nuggets in December.
Overall, the Wizards’ defensive effort was below par and hurt them against teams that could score the basketball at will.
The 2022-23 season was an abject failure for the Wizards. With expectations to make the playoffs and potentially win a series, missing them is not acceptable. This led to the firing of general manager and team president Tommy Sheppard, leaving an important front office vacancy. This offseason looms large for Washington and their future, as two major contract decisions must be made in the cases of Porzingis and Kuzma. Both have player options in their contracts for next season and can test free agency in the summer.
Do the Wizards pay both and keep the same core that failed to make the postseason? Or do they move in a different direction? The Wizards sit at eighth in the draft lottery with a 29% chance at a top four pick, and a 6.7% chance at Victor Wembanyama. The Wizards are going to have to get lucky to move beyond their typical middle of the pack pick to draft a franchise-altering talent, but past results indicate they will enter this upcoming offseason with more questions than answers.
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