The new-look Washington Wizards finally played their first game together when they took on Cairns Taipans of the Australian National Basketball League. It was a complete domination from start to finish as the Wizards won 145-82.
Obviously, there is a significant amount of talent gap between the two teams and the Wizards were expected to win comfortably. So, this will not be representative of what’s to come for the 2023-24 Wizards. However, there are still plenty of takeaways from the game.
1. Bilal Coulibaly is ready
Coach Wes Unseld Jr. trusted the rookie by putting him in the starting lineup right away. And we saw why. Coulibaly looks ready to contribute.
The 19-year-old popped athletically. He rose above everyone for rebounds, had multiple deflections and steals, and finished the game with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block. On top of it all, his defense looked very solid. He is smart and savvy and can move his feet to stay in front of players while bothering them with his length.
We have to see him against tougher competition but the starting spot might be his to lose.
2. Tyus Jones is the floor general the Wizards needed
Jones was the on-court leader throughout the game. He communicated and put his teammates in positions to succeed. He was pressured full court at times and still didn’t panic, beat the pressure, ran a pick-and-roll with Daniel Gafford, and got him an easy dunk. In typical Tyus Jones fashion, he finished the game with five assists and zero turnovers.
For this young team, Jones’ steady hands will be very useful. The Wizards should give him the ball as much as they can.
3. Daniel Gafford looks healthy and ready to go
Gafford was ruled out for 2-to-4 weeks because of an injury at the beginning of training camp. Not only did he come back sooner than expected, but he also looked fit. He finished the game with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks in less than 20 minutes of action.
His size, physicality, and athleticism caused a lot of problems for the Taipans as he completely dominated the paint. He had multiple dunks and lob finishes that displayed no signs of injury. He will be the starting center on opening night.
4. Danilo Gallinari will be a serious offensive weapon
As expected, Gallinari was the backup center against the Taipans, exclusively playing at the 5 in his 16 minutes of action. The opponent didn’t have the quality of attack to challenge Gallinari’s defensive shortcomings. However, he showed what he is capable of offensively.
The 13-year veteran opened up plenty of space offensively for the Wizards. He was a real threat as a pick-and-pop option, hitting 3/4 from downtown. Some of his attempts were a few feet behind the three-point line, creating even more space for his teammates as he has to be guarded out there. The defense is still a question mark, but Gallinari looking this good offensively after missing a year with injury is a great sign for the Wizards.
5. This team will be fun
Regardless of the strength of the opposition, the Wizards played a fun brand of basketball. They tried to run in transition and played fast in the half-court. The spacing looked good and facilitated an excellent drive-and-kick game that created a ton of open threes.
There seemed to be an emphasis on increasing the volume of three-point attempts. There were plenty of no-hesitation threes, off-the-dribble or off-the-catch, as the Wizards hit 15 three-pointers. Hopefully, this is a sign of what’s to come for the new-look Wizards.