The Wizards have not signed a free agent this offseason. Yet, they managed to overhaul their roster.
They brought in a new point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie, in a sign-and-trade that was part of the Russell Westbrook deal, which included four more players heading to D.C. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell came from the Lakers; Aaron Holiday has arrived from the Pacers.
Incumbent rotation players Ish Smith, Robin Lopez, Alex Len and Isaac Bonga have signed elsewhere. Garrison Mathews won’t be back.
It’s time to discuss this new iteration of the Wizards, a deep squad fraught with forwards and big men hoping to compete for a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference.
Wizards beat reporter Fred Katz chatted recently with national NBA writer and former Memphis Grizzlies executive John Hollinger about if Washington can reach its goals for the upcoming season, the strengths of the roster, whether the defense can improve, how Dinwiddie fits, development of the young players and more.
Here is their conversation:
Katz: Let’s dig into some of the positives of this team, which fundamentally changed its composition this summer.
The Wizards are loaded with depth. They have more 3-point shooting than they did a year ago, when they finished near the bottom of the league in accuracy and frequency from deep. What do you consider their major strengths right now? And whatever your answer, are they enough to keep this team competitive in the East?
Hollinger: Even with Dinwiddie replacing Westbrook, the Wizards’ single biggest strength right now is that they have the one thing every team needs: shot creation in the backcourt. At the end of games, they have two players, Dinwiddie and Bradley Beal, they know they can give the ball and usually end up with something positive. As we saw at the end of last season once Westbrook turned the corner, having two weapons like that makes it hard for opponents to hone in on a single guy and should provide a lot of openings for the Wizards’ shooters now that they actually have a couple.
The other thing I see as a positive is the depth. Washington’s second options last season just weren’t very threatening. It was Robin Lopez post-ups and the occasional pin-down for Davis Bertans. Part of that is the Westbrook effect — he soaks up so many possessions that it can be tough for secondary guys to find breathing room — but a lot of Washington’s reserves also were pretty easy for defenses to ignore.
The acquisition of Daniel Gafford late last year and the additions of Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, Holiday and Harrell in the Westbrook trade massively change that picture. No longer will the Wizards have to start their first-round pick in a “hope he’s good because we’ve got nobody else” kind of way; now Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert can grow at their own pace because of Kuzma. Ditto for Thomas Bryant off the bench as he returns from a torn ACL.
One of Washington’s big weaknesses last year was the lack of a third-best player, and while that’s still a bit of an issue, the drop-off from the big two to the rest of the roster appears much less severe. That should help Washington navigate the dog days of the regular season and, yes, stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. I haven’t run all these reshaped teams through my analytical torture tests yet, but my eye test says the Wizards can be .500-ish without requiring any outlandish good fortune.
Katz: Let’s say the Wizards do get to that .500 landmark, which would presumably slot them into the Play-In Tournament. That would likely mean Dinwiddie performing well in his first season running the Wizards’ offense. But this role is somewhat new for him — and not just because he’s with a fresh organization.
Dinwiddie has started before, and he scored in bunches when he ran with the first unit for the majority of his most-recent healthy season, 2019-20, when he averaged a career-high 20.6 points per game thanks to a sky-high free throw rate. But Dinwiddie starting wasn’t necessarily part of the plan going into that year, when Kyrie Irving was hurt for the majority of the schedule.