The Washington Wizards wanted to spend this season developing their young talent. For better or for worse, they have gotten plenty of opportunities to do that.
Before the season even tipped off, the Washington Wizards made it clear that the number one priority for the season was development. And so far, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to develop the young talent littering the roster.
Recently re-signed Thomas Bryant is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Fellow center Mortiz Wagner is averaging twice as many minutes per game this season as is posting career-highs in literally everything. But Thomas has not played since December 1, and Wagner has not played since December 14.
Rookie draft pick Rui Hachimura has also looked like one of the best rookies in his class when he’s been on the floor, averaging 13.9 points (third among rookies), 5.8 rebounds (second among rookies), and 1.6 assists. But he hasn’t been on the floor since December 18.
Unfortunately, the injury bug has hit the Wizards hard, halting the development of three of the team’s most promising young players. But strangely enough, their injuries, along with the ones nagging Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal, have opened up the door even wider for development. And the results have been better than expected.
Next Guy Up
Since December 23, the Wizards have had no fewer than six players on the injury report each game. But that hasn’t stopped these Wizards.
In that span, one healthy player after another has stepped up.
When the Wizards were in dire need of scoring with Bradley Beal out, Garrison Mathews became the go-to guy nearly overnight. The professional shooter out of Lipscomb put on a clinic from behind the arc in the final game of 2019. To end the year, Mathews scored 28 points against the Miami Heat. In that game, Mathews made four of his seven three-point attempts.
Mathews didn’t cool down, either, and dropped 18 points on the Portland Trail Blazers two games later. In that game, he was an even more impressive 5-8 from three. Unfortunately, just as Mathews was getting hot, he, too, went down with injury.
Isaac Bonga has finally started putting things together on the offensive end. Bonga recently scored in double figures in back to back games, first against the Denver Nuggets and then against the Boston Celtics. Before the Nuggets game, Bonga had never scored more than nine points in an NBA game.
Even Admiral Schofield stepped up and had a career-high 18 points against the Orlando Magic. Unfortunately, the Wizards got trounced in that one, 123-89.
Great G-League Finds
The injuries have gotten so bad, that the Wizards had to dip into the G-League for some replacement players. Except those replacement players might be sticking around.
Anzejs Pasecniks got the call up from the Capital City Go-Go to help out Ian Mainhimi in the frontcourt. He now leads all rookies in rebounds per game, grabbing just over six each game, per Basketball-Reference. Rumor has it that the Wizards are trying to convert his contract to a two-way deal.
Gary Payton II also left his G-League assignment for the Wizards. Ben Simmons currently leads the NBA in steals per game with 2.2. Through nine games, Payton is averaging 2.3 steals per game. Payton’s been giving the Wizards just what they need: hustle, defense, intensity, and smart plays. His emergence (among other things) unfortunately forced Justin Robinson off the roster.
Don’t Forget the Veterans
It hasn’t just been the young guys getting it done for the Wizards, though.
Ish Smith has been a point guard p[possessed out there, earning himself MVP chants from Capital One Arena and proving he’ll be a more than competent back up to John Wall. Jordan McRae has also picked up his scoring, securing his status as a walking bucket. And those long arms are starting to clog up some passing lanes. Since December 1, McRae’s had nine steals in ten games. Even Ian Mahinmi is having some impressive games as the starting center.
With shorthanded wins over the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, and Boston Celtics, these young Wizards aren’t just getting experience while their injured teammates rehab, they’re gaining confidence with impressive wins over legit contenders.
It’s not an ideal situation, but the Wizards are certainly getting plenty of opportunities to develop their young talent this season. So far, they aren’t failing to disappoint. Despite a 12-25 record, there’s a lot to be excited about on this Wizards team.