The Memphis Grizzlies will look to continue their winning ways and to start their first 3-game winning streak of the season. On the other side are the Washington Wizards. They’ve been a compelling case to follow over the past several seasons. A lot of people expect them, or perhaps want them, to trade Bradley Beal and start all over — to fall out of this “middle class” purgatory they’ve been stuck in for the past half-decade. Nonetheless, they’ve kept making moves that signal otherwise — trading for Russell Westbrook, then flipping him a year later for more depth, signing Spencer Dinwiddie then dealing him for Kristaps Porzingis.
They’re doing everything they can to build a winner around their All-Star guard, and he’s committed to it, as he recently signed a 5-year extension with a no-trade clause.
Anyways, to preview this game, I talk with Matt Modderno of SB Nation’s Bullets Forever to get a perspective on the Wizards.
1) This is the start of the first full season of the Beal-Porzingis pairing. How is everything shaking out so far?
Beal looks pretty good, and Porzingis looks pretty good. The team looks pretty good when they’re both out there together. They even look decent as long as one of them is out on the floor. But when they’re both off the court the wheels fall off quickly.
2) What’s the consensus vibe with the Wizards - go for the postseason, or go in on Wemby/Scoot
Depends on who you’re asking. I just ran a Twitter poll yesterday and 75% of voters said to “blow it up.” The organization, however, has literally no intention of that. It’s play-in games or bust for them. And I think it’s far more likely they’re buyers than sellers at the trade deadline this year, assuming the play-in games are still somewhat in reach.
3) The Wizards have had 3 top-10 picks in the past 4 drafts. Johnny Davis’ struggles have been discussed ad nauseam, but how are Deni and Rui improving in their games?
Avdija is genuinely a high-level one-on-one defender in the NBA. He still fouls a little too much but given how few legitimate defensive-minded players the Wizards have, you can live with it. He’s still largely a non-factor offensively, however. It seems like we are guaranteed at least one air-balled layup per week at this point. He’s shown flashes of improvement on that end but just needs to be much more consistent.
Hachimura provides a really nice scoring punch off the bench. I think he would benefit greatly from playing next to a point guard who actually created some easy looks for him because sometimes he breaks from the offense to “get his.” Most of the issues come on the defensive end though. He looks solid for stretches but similar to Avdija, there’s just no consistency. In general, I’d say both are marginally better than last season.
4) How has Kyle Kuzma’s game/perception shifted since his move from LA?
Kuzma has been a real leader off the court which I, personally, did not expect. He started off the year pretty strong but with the injury to Delon Wright it seems like they’ve asked Kuzma to take on more playmaking duties. He’s struggled a good amount lately and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. While it’s certainly nice to have a 6-10 player who can grab-and-go, it seems to be asking a lot of him to initiate the offense. Kuzma would be better served next to a dynamic playmaker who can collapse the defense and create a few easy looks per game for him. He also seems to guard better players well but struggle against less-heralded guys. To me, that says he’s struggling to stay locked in and this team needs more from him on that end.
5) What matchup are you looking forward to seeing tonight?
As a total and complete masochist, I’m looking forward to seeing if Monte Morris can pose any resistance to Ja Morant whatsoever. The Bradley Beal - Dillon Brooks matchups are usually entertaining. And then selfishly, I was really high on Santi Aldama, Jake LaRavia, Kennedy Chandler, and Vince Williams during their respective pre-draft processes so I would like to see them perform well.