Column: Why are the Wizards in the bubble, and how can they make it work for them?
Previewing the Washington Wizards before the NBA restarts in Orlando
The Washington Wizards have the worst record of the 22 teams the NBA invited to finish its season in the bubble, an isolated zone at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, outside of Orlando, Florida. Washington will play without All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, who are sidelined with injuries. They’ll also miss breakout sharpshooter Davis Bertans who does not want to risk any major injury with free agency and a big contract offer looming.
The Wizards, currently five and a half games back of No. 8 seed Orlando Magic and six back of No. 7 seed Brooklyn Nets, have several obstacles in the way of a playoff berth. Over its final eight games, Washington will have to close its gap on the eighth seed to at least four games just to secure a play-in series for the playoffs. If the Wizards advance this far, they would still have to beat the eighth seed twice in a row to take their spot in the playoffs. Without all three of their best players, and facing a tough schedule that includes six probable playoff teams, the odds of earning a play-in series, let alone winning it, seem rather slim.
This begs the question: Why did the NBA even invite them to Orlando in the first place?
The NBA did not know that both Beal and Bertans would opt-out of Orlando when it decided to include the Wizards in the season restart. And it seems like the league wanted to give teams, like the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans, who were on the cusp of the playoffs back in March, a real chance at making a run at the eight seed.
But the Wizards are neither the Blazers nor the Pelicans. From the start of the season, with franchise player Wall expected to miss the full season recovering from a torn Achilles, it was clear this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Wizards. The team ended up being slightly better than expected during the season, largely because of great performances by Beal and Bertans.
However, they were still on pace for just a 30-52 record before the season was suspended. Washington is not a good team, and without Beal and Wall, it doesn’t have the star power the league wanted, especially when compared to the Pelicans and Blazers, who respectively employ Zion Williamson and Damian Lillard, and will have no problem drawing in viewers.
Regardless, the Wizards are in Orlando for the foreseeable future. And aside from winning games, their biggest goal should be the same as it was during the regular season: developing their young talent into solid role players to put around Wall and Beal once the pair is healthy and ready to return to playoff contention.
During their first exhibition game against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Wizards’ young talent was on full display. The team’s most recent first-round picks, Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr., both played well as they led the team in minutes and scoring. Thomas Bryant, who missed much of the regular season with an injury, just joined the team in Orlando after recovering from an earlier bout with the coronavirus. These three, as well as guys like Isaac Bonga and Moritz Wagner, are the most essential players on the Wizards roster in Orlando.
“He is going to get a great opportunity to have a bigger role,” head coach Scott Brooks said of Hachimura on a conference call with reporters. “Having a bigger role isn’t necessarily scoring more and rebounding, it’s about leading. He’s going to have to use his voice, that’s something he struggles with, but not just him, all rookies. It’s hard to have a voice when you’re just coming into the league, but this is a very unique situation.”
Obviously, winning is a priority. But the most important thing for the Wizards in Orlando is continuing the progression of its young core, turning them from projects into reliable playoff performers for years to come.