The Washington Wizards are starting the 2023-24 NBA season with minimal expectations. Finally embracing a rebuild this offseason, the Wizards are widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the league next season. Considering the fact that they lost two of their best players in Kristaps Porzingis and Bradley Beal, this is understandable. However, there is a chance the Wizards might overachieve on the defensive end, especially if they hold onto Delon Wright.
The Washington Wizards finished last season as the 22nd-best defense in the league. And this summer they lost their best rim protector Porzingis, and got significantly younger. So, how exactly are they going to get better?
Despite the dearth of overall talent, Washington’s defensive personnel in their expected rotation is not bad. Deni Avdija and Kyle Kuzma are solid defensive wings with good size, Daniel Gafford is a good rim protector with length, and rookie Bilal Coulibaly projects to be a plus on the defensive end immediately. If Delon Wright is not traded, Washington is capable of putting out very competent defensive lineups.
Lineups that included Wright, Avdija, Kuzma, and Gafford without the departed Beal, Porzingis, and Monte Morris defended at an excellent rate last season. (subscription required) This group only allowed 112.4 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked in the top 5 in the league for a full season. In fact, lineups that didn’t have Porzingis, Beal, and Morris defended much better, especially if Delon Wright was on the court.
There is no reason that shouldn’t be repeatable next season. Yes, Jordan Poole can be a sieve defensively, and Tyus Jones is undersized. However, having solid defensive scheme and separating them to play Delon Wright and Deni Avdija around them as much as possible will allow the Wizards to punch above their weight defensively. Add a potential Johnny Davis leap, and the Wizards could have another solid defender in their rotation.
Davis, Wright, Coulibaly, Avdija, and Kuzma are five above-average perimeter defenders. Avdija, Wright, and Coulibaly are probably even better than above-average. A solid rim protection season by Daniel Gafford could see the Wizards reach new defensive heights this season.
If the Wizards are going to overachieve next season, it will have to be through their defense. Let’s see how coach Wes Unseld Jr. distributes the playing time and utilizes the rotation to that end.