Analyzing the Wizards’ 2022 roster: strengths, weaknesses, question marks

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Analyzing the Wizards’ roster: strengths, weaknesses, question marks originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Washington is gearing up for the 2022-23 NBA season and once again faces a familiar question: how good will it be this year?

The Wizards’ biggest roster move this offseason was unquestionably re-signing Bradley Beal to one of the largest deals in NBA history; a 5-year, $251 million extension. With their star player locked in, general manager Tommy Sheppard added a few Robins to Beal’s Batman in trading for Monte Morris and Will Barton, signing Taj Gibson and Delon Wright and by drafting Johnny Davis out of Wisconsin.

Washington’s roster looks settled as the season draws nearer, but that doesn’t mean the squad has an answer to every question. In this article, NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes and Bijan Todd take a deep dive into the 2022-23 Wizards and go position-by-position to analyze how the depth chart could, and should, shake out.

*players listed with an asterisk indicate they could play a part in multiple position groups

Point Guard

Depth Chart: Monte Morris / Delon Wright / Johnny Davis*

Todd: There’s really no debate that the Wizards got better at point guard with the moves they made this offseason. Morris was a rather large fish in the trade market, and in him Washington gets an effective shooter and creator who is comfortable playing his role next to the team’s superstar (Beal) as he did in Denver (with Nikola Jokic). Wright provides bench defense in the backcourt, which could complement that of Davis nicely during their time on the floor together.

Here's a stat I saw recently that bodes well for Washington’s point guard room this season: Morris had the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.2) in the entire NBA last year among qualified players, trailing only Tyus Jones and Chris Paul. Washington, surprisingly, already had the league’s eighth-best turnover rate in the league last season, so Morris’ arrival will help further stabilize the backcourt. Pairing Beal with arguably the best shooting point guard he’s played with in his career is a welcome sight for the veteran, as Morris shot a career-best 48% from the field in 2021-22 (min. four games played) and 39.5% from three.

Chase, though the Wizards improved at the point guard spot, what question marks still appear when discussing the incoming class?

Hughes: Defense. While I think there is a chance the Wizards got better in that regard, we saw last year how you can't count eggs before they hatch. I thought they had a solid defensive trio in Spencer Dinwiddie, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday and they ended up being a collective liability on that end of the floor. I believe Morris has a chance to give them league average defense, specifically when it comes to stopping the ball off the dribble, which is really what they need most from that spot. But you get mixed opinions when you ask NBA scouts, opposing players and people who watched a lot of him in Denver. Wright, on the other hand, should be a standout on that end of the floor. He's got excellent size for the position and a long track record of being a disruptive player who forces plenty of turnovers.

Among the positives, however, would be their shooting. Neither Morris or Wright is likely to make 200 threes next season, but both have proven they can shoot at a league average or above percentage from long range. Your point about having more shooting next to Beal than he's used to is an astute one, as Morris in particular could shoot upwards of 40% with decent volume. That's an element John Wall and Russell Westbrook, great as they were, never provided. One other question I could point out is their depth at point guard, as they don't really have an obvious third option. Sheppard has mentioned both Beal and Davis in that context and I could see it more with Beal, as Davis had more turnovers than assists in college and will likely take some time to uncover what are some fairly obvious flashes of brilliance as a passer. Beal would also have to protect the ball if he plays some point, but the rest of the package is there for him to be a plus at that position.

Shooting Guard

Depth Chart: Bradley Beal / Corey Kispert / Johnny Davis / *Will Barton

Hughes: While the Wizards have been in good shape at starting shooting guard for a decade with Beal, depth has been an issue for them at many times along the way. That is no longer the case, as each of the Wizards' last two first round picks - Kispert (2021) and Davis (2022) - can be counted in the mix. Barton could also be factored in, though his experience and history with head coach Wes Unseld Jr. should give him a leg up to start at the three. They should have impressive strength in numbers, at least when it comes to the offensive end. Defense, on the other hand, will be an area to watch as always. Beal and Kispert are more offense-oriented, while Davis is likely going to have a learning curve initially.

Their depth could pay dividends not only for the team as a whole, but for Beal himself as theoretically some of the scoring pressure should be taken away. Kispert should be ready to make a sizable impact as an outside shooter and Davis should develop as the season goes on to make an impact with his shot creation and defense. The Wizards also have considerable insurance in case of Beal missing time due to injury. That is especially worth mentioning given Beal has missed about 30% of the team's total regular season games the last three years.

Bijan, because things often don't work as they appear on paper, what would be some questions and concerns about this group to keep an eye on?

Todd: The biggest concern with this unit entering the season, Chase, could arguably be how long it will take the group behind Beal to get their sea legs. Slow starts have been an issue with Washington’s draft picks in the past—take, for example, Kispert. Before the All-Star break last season, the Wizards’ incoming first-round pick played just under 20 minutes per game and scored 6.8 points. After the break (granted, he saw the floor more in the wake of Beal’s injury), he dramatically increased those totals to 31.3 MPG and 11.4 PPG.

Does this mean Davis will need to see the court a ton in order to produce the same numbers he did in college? Maybe. His Summer League play left a lot to be desired, but hey, it’s just Summer League and there’s no reason to overreact to his slow start in Vegas just yet.

Still, even if Davis takes his time getting acclimated to the NBA, there’s a lot to like about the shooting guard depth in D.C. this year. Kispert looks to continue to blossom as a spot-up shooter off pick-and-rolls and could even begin to develop his own shot creation this season, given the spacing he’ll get alongside sharpshooters like Beal, Morris and Kuzma. Davis remains the biggest wild card, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to grow his game behind Beal and Kispert.

Small Forward

Depth Chart: Will Barton / Deni Avdija / Corey Kispert*

Hughes: We have Barton penciled in as the starter for a few reasons. One is, as mentioned above, Unseld Jr. is going to trust him quite a bit given their time together in Denver. And two is the similarities between Barton and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whom he was traded for. Amid a season that featured more roster turnover than any other in franchise history, the one thing Unseld Jr. never wavered from was Caldwell-Pope's role as the starting three. So, let's operate under the assumption that carries over with Barton. That leaves the Wizards with Barton as the starter and Avdija and Kispert behind him.

It's a decent group that could be much more than decent if Avdija and Kispert make leaps year-over-year. Avdija is coming back from his first full and healthy NBA offseason. Given he improved quite a bit last year without that luxury, he could be noticeably better this time around. Ideally, he will come back with a better outside shot and more consistency on defense. The latter is what the Wizards need the most because defense at the three is paramount and they have had trouble defending the more athletic and versatile wings. It remains a concern, but Avdija may be their best hope in that regard.

Bijan, do you agree Barton should be considered the likely starter with Avdija behind him, or do you see the small forward spot shaking out differently?

Todd: I do like Barton getting the lion’s share of minutes over Avdija, but there could be a bit of a potential surprise at this position here: could Unseld Jr. utilize Kyle Kuzma as the starting small forward and start Rui Hachimura at the 4? That could give the Wizards one of the biggest starting lineups in the league, and given Kuzma’s breakout as the team’s No. 1 scoring option last season after Beal’s injury, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched.

For now, though, let’s assume the depth chart shakes out as we assume it will with Barton-Avdija-Kispert in that order. Avdija’s best argument to snag minutes would be his defense. Early in the season last year, he played some of the best defense we’ve seen from a Wizard in years. If he can shore up his outside shot as you alluded to, Chase, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Unseld Jr. give the reins to the 21-year-old for the purpose of further developing him into a sure-fire starter.

However, it is tough to justify benching a guy who just put up 14.7 points per game as a team’s third-ish scoring option, as Barton just did in Denver. He could mesh nicely with the rest of Washington’s starters and his 6-foot-6 frame could allow him to defend positions 1-4 depending on his surrounding cast on the floor.

Power Forward

Depth Chart: Kyle Kuzma / Rui Hachimura / Anthony Gill / Deni Avdija*

Hughes: The four is another area of depth for the Wizards with Kuzma as the likely starter and Hachimura projected as his backup. Kuzma is coming off an excellent season in which he thrived in a new role with the Wizards, particularly on the offensive end. Hachimura, meanwhile, showed significant progress as an outside shooter and could be very effective once he settles into a reserve role as a bench scorer who isn't tasked with guarding top players on opposing teams. Gill is a good depth piece and both Avdija and Porzingis can slide over to the four.

While the Wizards don't have a star at the position, their depth and versatility could shine through. And in both Kuzma and Hachimura they have players in contract years with a lot to gain from big seasons statistically. That could work to their benefit, or their detriment as we saw last season. But regardless it means they have two talented players with a lot of motivation to stay on the court and perform well. Some questions for this group would include whether Kuzma can thrive as a scorer alongside the high-usage pair of Beal and Porzingis, given Kuzma was much better in the latter half of last season once more shots were offered. Also, whether Hachimura can defend consistently and expand his abilities as a shooter either in terms of volume or shot creation.

Bijan, what are your expectations for Hachimura as he enters a contract year?

Todd: Hachimura gave us a glimpse of his true potential toward the end of last season as he upped his 3-point percentage from 32.8% the season prior to 44.7% last year. I expect that to continue if not improve further this season. The biggest area of improvement we have yet to see thus far, though, is his ability to defend at all three levels. He often struggled last year when he had to pick up his man at the perimeter, though his post defense looked solid. If Hachimura can stabilize his defense around the key, we could see Unseld Jr. employ both him and Kuzma on the floor simultaneously.

Overall, Washington has a good problem on its hands in that it has too much depth on the wing. The logjam of effective scorers and capable defenders essentially means that no matter what combination Unseld Jr. utilizes on the court, the Wizards can trot out a two-way lineup in virtually every game. On the flip, side, though, there will be an odd man out; one player who arguably deserves serious minutes probably won’t play as much as they would like simply because of the talent surrounding them. Whoever that ugly duckling ends up being could be an interesting storyline as the season progresses.

Center

Depth Chart: Kristaps Porzingis / Daniel Gafford / Taj Gibson / Vernon Carey Jr.

Todd: Porzingis’ health will be the determining factor in how far the Wizards can go this season. He hasn’t scored under 20 points per game in a season since 2016-17, but has also only played 60 or more games twice in his seven-year career. If Porzingis stays healthy, we can assume he’ll be as effective a scorer as he has each year to date. Therefore, if that big ‘if’ is confirmed and he can consistently stay on the floor, Washington really does have a capable scorer at every single position this year among their starters.

Gafford is an excellent option to have as a backup as well, providing lob catching and rim protecting while Porzingis rests up. However, Gafford has been known to get into foul trouble early in games, so hopefully his role as a backup this season means he can see the floor later in games. The Gibson signing was a good one for the Wizards, too. Even though he might not see the floor very much, he’ll provide the veteran presence Washington has lacked in the past. With Montrezl Harrell and Thomas Bryant gone, though, the Wizards might be lacking the high-energy player they’ve had down low for the last few seasons.

Chase, with Porzingis and Gafford providing a one-two punch down low, will we really see much of Gibson or Carey on the floor this year?

Hughes: Chances are that we will indeed see plenty of Gibson. That is because of Porzingis' health history, which he is determined to eliminate from his reputation but until he does that remains a question mark. Over the past two seasons, so taking out his first year back since ACL surgery, he has only appeared in 61% of possible regular season games. At that rate, Gibson could be needed for more than a third of the time and that's not to mention the potential for him to earn minutes due to his reliability as a veteran and because of Gafford's penchant for foul trouble. So, in short, I would definitely expect Gibson to play a good amount, one way or the other.

Regarding the group as a whole, this is definitely one of the stronger areas of the Wizards' roster. In Porzingis, they may have the best scorer Beal has ever played with in terms of volume and efficiency. Gafford provides a lot of value as a rim runner and all three, including Gibson, can block shots at a solid rate. Porzingis can shoot, so that element is also there. Some question marks would include how they fare against the bigger, stronger centers of the league, as Porzingis and Gafford are both tall but not the bruising types. I could also see screen-setting as something to watch, though Gafford ranked highly last season in screen assists per-36 minutes.