Washington Wizards: Offseason moves put the Wizards on a path to the playoffs

Washington Wizards Davis Bertans (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Davis Bertans (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

The dust has finally settled after a frenzied free agency period, and the Washington Wizards emerge as a team ready to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

With one of the most successful offseasons that the Washington Wizards have had in years, a playoff appearance is all but guaranteed for the team in the 2020-21 season.

The Wizards had one of their best drafts in team history on Nov. 18. With the ninth pick, the Wizards selected Deni Avdija, a 6’9 forward out of Israel. Avdija, 19, was an absolute monster in the Israeli League last season, and many expected him to be a top-five pick in this year’s draft. Playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, he became the youngest player ever to win the Israeli League MVP. He has been dubbed the steal of the draft by many after he fell to the Wizards.

In the second round, the Wizards selected Vit Krejci with pick No. 37. They then traded Krejci to the Oklahoma City Thunder — and last year’s second-round pick, Admiral Schofield — for No. 53 pick Cassius Winston and a future second-round pick. Winston was a star at Michigan State. A three-year starter, the point guard averaged 18.6 points and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 43.2 percent from three-point range last season.

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Winston was a two-time consensus All-American and the 2018-19 Big Ten player of the year. Unlike the one-and-dones we have become accustomed to seeing, Winston’s four years of collegiate experience should make him ready to take off running at the NBA level. Assuming John Wall is still in Washington when the season begins, Winston will be a great backup point guard to spell Wall, who is coming off multiple injuries.

The Washington Wizards made the right moves in free agency. Now they’re on the path to the playoffs.

In free agency, the Wizards’ signed center Robin Lopez. Lopez, 32, is a 12-year NBA veteran who has started 585 career games and can be a force on the defensive end. He will be a good backup for Thomas Bryant, who is not exactly known for his defense. Bryant wasn’t alone in his defensive struggles, though. The Wizards finished the 2019-20 season ranked 29th in defensive rating. Although they were a top-half defensive team after the All-Star break, that sample size was small. Lopez’s defensive presence is a necessary upgrade.

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Thus far, the best move Washington has made this offseason is re-signing Dāvis Bertāns. Bertāns averaged 15.4 points and nearly five rebounds per game last season, his first year with the Wizards. He shot 42.4 percent from three and a solid 85.2 percent from the foul line. It was a career year for Bertans, who should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Wall’s return. With a true All-Star point guard to run with, it is only up from here for the Latvian forward.

If Wall can be (close to) the player he has been in the past, Beal continues his ascension to superstardom, and Thomas Bryant improves defensively, the Wizards will definitely make the playoffs this season. Add in 2020 all-rookie second-teamer Rui Hachimura and 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown Jr., who improved drastically from year one to year two, and the Wizards could have a real contender in the Eastern Conference.

The 2020 NBA offseason is shorter than usual. Teams will have less time than ever in training camp and preseason to figure things out before the season begins. Consistency and continuity may be more important than ever. Retaining Bertans and trusting young players like Bryant, Hachimura, and Brown to continue to progress is a safe and smart move by the Wizards.

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With the terrific draft, the offseason moves, and Wall’s return, the Wizards should be a top-five team in the Eastern Conference if they can stay healthy. They won’t be amongst the conference’s top tier — Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics — but they have the talent at the top of the roster to compete with anyone in the conference.

The Wizards have missed the playoffs in each of their last two seasons, but they won’t make it three. If there is a year to be excited about Wizards’ basketball, it is 2020-21.