The 2020-21 season is finally here! However, a few questions still loom over the Washington Wizards.
After spending the last two seasons in the wilderness — one by accident and one by design — the Washington Wizards finally have expectations again. We all thought it was going to be a quiet offseason marked by the return of John Wall along with two key decisions in the ninth pick in the draft and the free agency of Davis Bertans. And then Tommy Sheppard and Rafael Stone connected on the afternoon of December 2, sending shockwaves across the basketball world in an exchange of two of the worst contracts in the NBA. It was an unceremonious ending to the John Wall-era, but in hindsight, it makes sense now. The franchise cannot afford to waste another year of Bradley Beal’s prime. Now that the regular season is finally upon us, here are four key questions that will greatly determine the fate of the 2020-21 Wizards:
Will Scott Brooks stagger the minutes of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal?
Ah…the old stagger question. Russell Westbrook is typically viewed as a ball-dominant, heliocentric force, but as Fred Katz pointed out, Bradley Beal actually vaulted himself into this realm last season. While Beal’s high usage was driven by necessity, it’s natural to envision separating the two’s minutes as much as possible given the overlap in roles. The first half of the December 19 preseason game vs. the Detroit Pistons indicated that Brooks is leaning in this direction.
Playing with one of Beal or Westbrook at all times would cause drastic changes to the reserve units. Last year the Wizards had two different identities. When Beal was on the floor, everything ran through him, which allowed Brooks to slide one-dimensional scorers (Rui Hachimura, Isaiah Thomas) or limited, defensive-first players (Isaac Bonga, Gary Payton II, even Ian Mahinmi) into the starting lineup. Once the bench came in, it flowed into more of a feverishly-paced, equal-opportunity brand of basketball.
Last season, with guys like Ish Smith and Troy Brown Jr. at the helm on the second unit, the offense (predictably) cratered to a 106.0 Offensive Rating (including a lowly 88.6 in the half-court) when Beal sat. Naturally, it makes sense to inject one of the alpha creators into these lineups, but then you’re curbing the growth of Brown and Deni Avdija, players who thrive with the ball in their hands. The Russ-show (and to a lesser extent with Beal) turns capable ball-handlers into innocent bystanders spotting-up beyond the arc. Just ask Domantas Sabonis. This leads us to our next question…