Washington Wizards NBA Bubble Restart Preview
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (24-40, 9th place)
Where are they now: Player development will be the name of the game when the Washington Wizards open their eight-game stint at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The ninth-place Wizards are 5 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic, and it is highly likely that they will head home when the eight seeding games are over.
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That is particularly true after Bradley Beal decided to opt-out for the remainder of the season, as did talented teammate Davis Bertans. Beal led the team in scoring with 30.5 points per game, while Bertans ranked second on the club with 15.4 points per contest. Even with those two players in the lineup, the Wizards slumped for the majority of the season, slipping under .500 before Halloween and never climbing above that threshold.
So what is the plan for the Wizards when action resumes? Let the kids play. Rookie Rui Hachimura will be penciled in for heavy playing time after averaging 13.4 points and six rebounds in his first 41 games. Hachimura was the Wizards’ first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) out of Gonzaga a year ago. The Wizards also could lean on young players such as Troy Brown and Jerome Robinson, who are ages 20 and 22, respectively. Washington went 4-4 in its final eight games and will try to find wins in the early going against the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets.
Washington Wizards First Half Highlights
Pretty much any highlight involving the Wizards in the first half involved Beal, and he will not be with the team after weighing whether or not to head to the NBA bubble. Beal dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season, and he and the team decided that his long-term health was more important than the next eight games. Although it is the smart decision, it is a bummer for Wizards (and NBA) fans who watched the 27-year-old pour in buckets game after game despite drawing the attention of opposing defenses in every contest.
“He’s worked religiously to get this thing back to where it feels right, and it just hasn’t felt right,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said to reporters. “To hear him say himself that he’s just not right right now, ‘I’ve got to keep working, I’ve got more work to do,’ made that decision much easier. …
“Going to Orlando is very important — it’s a very big opportunity — but would it make sense if we went there and Bradley’s injured? Let’s say our next season starts in December, who’s to say he’s ready for next season? We’re trying to mitigate risk and give him the best opportunity to have a great year next year, which is better for him obviously, for us obviously big picture.”
The Wizards averaged 115.6 points per game, which was sixth in the league. But Washington struggled badly on defense, allowing a whopping 119.7 points per game. That tied for worst in the NBA along with the Atlanta Hawks.
Washington Wizards NBA Bubble Roster Rundown and Wizards Playoff Outlook
The Wizards will look to regroup with Shabazz Napier at point guard, Brown at shooting guard, Robinson at small forward, Hachimura at power forward and Thomas Bryant at center. Others in the rotation figure to include Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Gary Payton II and Ian Mahinmi.
Napier has a chance to bolster his status as the Wizards consider whether to bring him back for next season. Washington already is paying John Wall and Ish Smith for next season, but it might be wise to fork over the money necessary to keep Napier as a third option at point guard in case injuries continue to drag down Wall.
Playoff outlook: The playoffs are not impossible, but it would be stunning if Washington surged past Orlando for the final playoff spot. The franchise is better off by playing young players and securing a lottery pick in the draft.
Best bets: Can the Wizards win two games in their final eight contests? Two measly games? It does not sound like too much to ask, except for the fact that they will trot out a junior varsity roster and know they have almost no chance at making the postseason. Other teams such as the Brooklyn Nets might be shorthanded, too, but at least they have something to play for in the form of a playoff berth. So the guess here is no, the Wizards will not eclipse the over-under set at 1.5 wins for the rest of the way by Sugar House. The over pays +120 while the under comes in at -162.