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Oddsmakers, ESPN predictions set Wizards up to be underdogs originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
While general manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards front office received a mostly positive reaction to their offseason from fans and local media, there are some notable outlets that feel very differently.
Sportsbooks, for instance, appear to believe they got worse. PointsBet had them at 36 1/2 wins before they traded Russell Westbrook and added Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma and others. After those moves, they dropped to 34 1/2 wins, good for 12th in the East. Washington was tied with the Raptors for the second-biggest drop in wins after free agency.
Now ESPN has a similar take. They pooled together their NBA insiders to predict the standings. They have the Wizards at 11th in the East. Like the PointsBet prediction, that would have the Wizards out of the play-in tournament, falling far short of the playoffs. It would also put them firmly in the lottery as one of the bottom-10 teams in the NBA.
So, will they be proven right? Interestingly enough, PointsBet had the Wizards at 33 1/2 wins before the 2020-21 season (72-game schedule). After the rollercoaster they experienced, at one point being 15 games under .500 before ending the regular season 17-6, they won 34 games. Basically, it was right on the money.
Last year, ESPN had the Wizards at eighth in the East at 35-37. The Wizards indeed finished eighth and, rather amazingly, ESPN was only one win off.
The reasons why PointsBet and ESPN are low on the Wizards this time around probably have a lot to do with Westbrook being dealt to the Lakers. He was, at worst, their second-best player last season and arguably their best down the stretch when they won 17 of 23 games. Though he has his flaws, there are some elements of his game that will not easily be replaced.
The Wizards got deeper with Dinwiddie, Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Holiday. But they also went from having two stars to one, with Beal, and he's an All-NBA talent but not an MVP candidate. Not yet, at least.
For some context, the Washington Post last year ranked the top 100 players in the NBA entering the 2020-21 season. They had Beal at No. 20 and Westbrook at 30. The best player the Wizards acquired this offseason by their measure was Harrell, who was 57th. Dinwiddie was 80th (holdover Davis Bertans was 88th) and nobody else made the list.
Another factor here could be that they have a new head coach. The Wizards parted ways with Scott Brooks shortly after last season and brought in Wes Unseld Jr. and this will be his first season leading a team.
It could also be as simple as the East got better. Teams like the Bulls and Pacers who finished behind them appear improved, perhaps enough to leapfrog Washington.
All of that, however, doesn't mean PointsBet and ESPN will be on target this time. This is not to sway bettors in any particular direction, but there are some reasons to believe the Wizards can exceed those expectations.
For one, the added depth should help them withstand injuries, which were a big reason why they had to climb back from 15 games under .500 last season. Injuries will play a factor with them and other teams as they always do. Hopefully it won't be as widespread as it was last season, but when they do occur, the Wizards should be better-suited to overcome a few absences.
The Wizards are also shaping up to possibly count defense as a strength to a degree they haven't been able to in years. If they can put together an above-average defense and combine that with one of the league's best scorers in Beal, they should be a fairly good team.
Depth and defense should make the Wizards more consistently competitive from night to night. In recent years, Washington has been known for playing up to and down to their opponents. But now that may no longer be the case.
Really, what the predictions from PointsBet and ESPN could be interpreted as are evidence the Wizards will be underdogs this season. Outside expectations aren't high. Maybe that can work to their advantage.
Most fans out there seem to agree with those points and Wizards fans aren't always known for being positive, given the last 40 years of mostly losing seasons they have endured. PointsBet and ESPN see it very differently and have the recent track record of predicting them accurately.
Something will have to give.