In their first game of the Las Vegas Summer League, the Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 91-83 in a hard-fought battle. It’s important to not overreact to summer league games in general, however, there were some important takeaways about the Wizards’ performance.
Overall, the young Wizards played hard with a lot of energy and effort. Despite falling down by 22 in the first half, they were able to claw back and take the lead in the third quarter, before falling apart late in 4th quarter to lose the game. There weren’t any brilliant individual performances, but we saw enough positive flashes to carry hope going forward.
1. Every Wizard fought defensively and made it difficult for the Pacers
The Wizards forced 21 turnovers, an amazing number for a 40-minute game. Tristan Vukcevic led the way with 3 steals, but it was certainly a team effort. Bilal Coulibaly, Johnny Davis, Xavier Cooks, and Patrick Baldwin Jr all had active hands and made Indiana work for good looks. In a game where the offense wasn’t humming, the young Wizards hung their hat on their defense and put together a good defensive performance.
2. Patrick Baldwin Jr was a beast defensively
PBJ was acquired by the Washington Wizards with hopes of being a stretch power forward who can knock down open and tough shots. He didn’t have a reputation defensively but against the Pacers, he proved he can be a real force on that end as well. He was active and strong defensively, stopped a few Ben Mathurin and Jarace Walker drives, blocked Mathurin on a fast break, and finished the game with one steal and three blocks. He looked like he can carve himself a role on the team in the 2023-24 season.
3. Bilal Coulibaly is a work in progress offensively
The 18-year-old rookie showed athletic flashes, rising up for athletic rebounds and blocks. His speed and athleticism pop on the screen. Yet, he struggled to find a role offensively. He was 4/13 from the field, missed both of his threes and was 1/4 from the free throw line. His on-ball attempts didn’t go too well as he had a few bad passes and loose dribbles. But, he remained aggressive, had two straight drives, and finishes in the fourth quarter.
The fact that the Wizards don’t have a true point guard on the roster is making things difficult for Coulibaly. He made a couple of smart off-ball cuts that weren’t rewarded by the Wizards’ playmakers. It should be better when he is playing next to Tyus Jones and Jordan Poole.
4. Wizards couldn’t contain the pick & roll and the paint
Despite being active and engaged defensively, the young Wizards struggled to guard the Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard on the pick & roll, and center Isaiah Jackson around the rim. Early in the first half, Nembhard was getting great looks on his self-created shots, and the Wizards guard Ryan Rollins was having trouble guarding him. He finished with 14 points and 8 assists.
The main beneficiary of Nembhard’s assists was Isaiah Jackson. He dominated the paint as his size and athleticism were too much to handle for young Tristan Vukcevic. He finished the game with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Jackson and Nembard are both competent NBA rotation players, there is no shame in not being able to defend them, but it demonstrated what Vukcevic, especially needs to work on.
5. The offense needs a lot of work
Perhaps the main takeaway from last night’s game was the fact that the Wizards’ offense struggled immensely. Washington shot 35.6% from the field and 23.5 from three, while only having 14 of their 31 field goals assisted. The main reason for this is the lack of playmaking and passing on the team. Rollins, Davis, and Coulibaly, the three lead ballhandlers don’t bring enough of either to get the offense rolling. Rollins ran a lot of pick and rolls but he doesn’t seem ready to be a primary playmaker. There were a lot of isolation scoring attempts without much motion and passing from both Davis and Rollins that didn’t go too well. This team badly needs a floor general.
The best passer on the team was Tristan Vukcevic, who had beautiful passes in the high post. The offense could be run more through him going forward.
This is what the Summer League is about: seeing your strengths and weaknesses. There were positive flashes to take away from this game, but it’s still very early in these players’ development, so all we can hope for is that they will learn from their mistakes and be a little bit better the next game.