The Wizards kick things off in Orlando with their first game that counts against the Suns on Friday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Here are five questions for the Wizards as their season gets (re)started...
Can Rui be a primary option?
The most obvious area the Wizards need to compensate for with the absence of Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans is on offense where all of a sudden 45.9 points per game are missing from the equation. Their departures left rookie Rui Hachimura as the Wizards' best remaining scorer and most consistent offensive player. But now Hachimura has to do more, he has to take more shots and score more points and do all of that while being a greater focus of the opposing defense. It will not be easy.
But Hachimura could take many steps forward in his development by going through this experience. He gets to be the guy on an NBA team against real competition and in high-pressure games. It should only make him stronger, and it could put the Wizards in a good spot for next year. If Hachimura can come out of this capable of being a legitimate, reliable scoring option to put alongside Beal and John Wall next season, the Wizards will be better off. They have had some decent third options over the years, but no clear third star. Maybe Hachimura moves closer towards being that guy.
Can Brown and Robinson play with confidence?
The Wizards' trip to Orlando is all about setting them up well for next year. Yes, they want to make the playoffs, but this is about player development and helping young players take the next step in reaching their potential. Part of that, they hope, is those players building confidence going into next season when they will have to perform for a team with playoff expectations once Wall returns. Two players to watch in that regard are Troy Brown Jr. and Jerome Robinson. Both 2018 first round picks, Brown and Robinson will have the best opportunities of their careers so far to show what they can do at the NBA level.
For Brown, it's about decisive plays on offense and holding his own physically on defense. Ideally, he would use his increased play-making role to make it obvious he is so good at passing the Wizards have no choice but to utilize that skill next season. For Robinson, it involves stepping into his shot and playing downhill, not on his heels. But he also may have a chance to prove his worth defensively, as Robinson has shown flashes this season as one of the Wizards' toughest perimeter defenders.
Is Bonga a legitimate building block?
Much of the talk of Wizards camp so far has been centered around 20-year-old wing Isaac Bonga. Coaches and teammates have raved about him and he has impressed so far through the three exhibition games. But whether it is a mirage or a real indication he can be counted on as one of the team's pieces for the future is uncertain. He shows up well in plus-minus and has a well-rounded impact on the game. But he's very young and raw and it can be difficult to be a mainstay in a playoff rotation if you aren't much of an offensive threat.
Bonga profiles as a glue guy in the mold of a Moe Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu. The question is whether someone like that fits into their equation next season. The best way for Bonga to prove his worth is defensively, given the Wizards do not have much in the cupboard yet in terms of capable defenders to build around.
What are the strengths and weaknesses?
What we will see from the Wizards in Orlando is a glimpse at their future, but that future will very soon become the now as their young players won't be given anything close to the same leeway next season they have been afforded in 2019-20. Next year, the Wizards will have Wall back to join Beal and, they hope, Bertans. Guys like Hachimura, Brown and whomever else they keep will have to be ready to contribute to what is expected to be a better team.
That process really starts now, if you think about it. The Wizards will have some resources this fall to remake their roster with trades, a little bit of free agent money and the draft. But what we watch in Orlando could be the majority of Wall, Beal and Bertans' supporting cast. That means the strengths and weaknesses they convey will tell general manager Tommy Sheppard a lot about his offseason needs. Can these guys shoot threes? Can anyone be relied on defensively? These are questions that could lead directly to what the Wizards front office does.
What will happen to their lottery odds?
Add up everything that comes with the Orlando restart and the Wizards have a good likelihood of being able to consider their time there a success. If they win enough to make the playoffs, they can tout that the reset phase for the franchise is ahead of schedule. If they lose a bunch of games, but their young players show promise while they do, that too is a success.
As long as they stay healthy and some collection of their young players take steps forward, the Wizards will carry some momentum into the offseason. Really, it is a very unique and potentially valuable opportunity for player development. They basically get to use this as a summer league, but with their young players facing real NBA competition with high stakes.
So, in a way the results of the games themselves do not matter much. But they could matter plenty depending on what happens to their draft lottery odds. Remember, the NBA changed the lottery rules for the restart and left the Wizards in a situation where they can't improve their odds, they can only hurt them. The bottom eight teams in the league are locked in, which presents a worst-case scenario where if they bottom out, the Wizards could have worse odds than a team with a better record than them on lottery night. That would arguably put them at an unfair disadvantage.
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