The Washington Wizards have perhaps turned a corner in their season. Winners of seven of their past 10 games and only a game and a half out of playoff contention, Washington is surging after a, shall we say, slow start to the year. Several players, in particular, are stepping up their game up of late. Others have been steadily good all season. Who is at the top of the class? Without further ado, here are your Wizards midseason grades.
This is the *unofficial* report card. That being said, this is the criteria for the sake of objectivity.
- First and foremost, quality of performance
- Are they barely meeting or surpassing expectations?
- Likewise, are they meeting their contract?
- Is their play, or decision-making, trending upward or downward
‘A’ Tier: Bradley Beal and Who Else?
Beal is dually the face of the franchise and an up-and-coming poster child for loyalty. After averaging over 30 points per game for the first time a season ago, Beal is leading the league in scoring (32.9 PPG) this year. At times, the All-Star starter has near singlehandedly lifted Washington lineups. The 27-year-old is in his prime and a joy to watch night in and night out. Better yet, those old, speculative trade talks which dominated Wizards chatter to start the year have grown silent.
Lopez and Matthews are a pair of constants for the Wizards who are both surpassing their preseason expectations.
The reception when Lopez signed a one-year $7.3 million contract in free agency was mixed. The veteran big-man out of Stanford is a throwback center in a league of multi-faceted unicorns. What many overlooked with Lopez is the benefit of playing extra-large humans in the paint. What he lacks in foot-speed he more than makes up for impacting rim protection, rebounding, and post-defense. Lopez and his ‘ice cream scoop’ hook shot are among the most efficient post moves this year.
Matthews was inserted into the starting lineup in January and has not looked back. Through the All-Star break, he is shooting 40 percent from three on over three attempts per game. That is a ton of production for a guy on a two-way contract. As Zach Lowe mentioned in a recent podcast, Matthews is set to be paid when his contract expires after the season.
‘B’ Tier: Plenty of Players, Plenty of Minuses
- Tommy Sheppard: B
- Raul Neto: B
- Drew Gooden and Justin Kutcher: B
- Rui Hachimura: B-
- Davis Bertans: B-
- Mo Wagner: B-
- Isaac Bonga: B-
Our ‘B’ tier is a dreaded land of hyper mediocrity as well as decency. Kind of like my report cards in college.
Let us start with the latter. Sheppard, Neto, and NBC Sports Washington’s tandem of Gooden and Kutcher have been delightful surprises this year. Sheppard is constructing a track record of sneaky good signings and acquisitions. He picked up Wagner and Bertans in salary dumps prior to the 2019-20 season. His free-agent signings this past year, Neto and Lopez, have been productive bench pieces at good contracts. Whilst following orders from the top, he made a worthwhile swap of John Wall for the former MVP Westbrook.
As I’ve covered before, Neto is a massive upgrade at back-up point guard from Ish Smith. He makes winning plays that do not show up on the stat sheet while hitting a league-average clip on three-pointers (37.3 percent). All for a minimum-contract.
Gooden and Kutcher have large shoes to fill replacing Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier on local broadcasts. They have been solid! Gooden’s insight borders on the obvious at times, but he pays attention without puffing his chest or bridging too heavily on homerism. Some of Kutcher’s calls, like the second Brooklyn game, are goosebump-inducing.
Hachimura, Bertans, Wagner, and Bonga have all posted, more or less, up-and-down seasons. At times, they look like elite role players. Other times, they’re played off the floor. This team appears to go as they go, especially Bertans.
‘C’ Tier: Westbrook and a Pair of First Round Picks
Westbrook is returning to form after struggling with a lingering quad issue. Obviously, this later-stage version of Westbrook is far from his Oklahoma City prime, but he still has the capacity to be an impactful, winning player. Take his late play against the Los Angeles Clippers last week. Westbrook crashed from the three-point line on a Hachimura free throw to preserve a Washington victory. His leadership is laudatory, per the team.
However, Westbrook is still an inefficient shooter who struggles to shoot league-average percentages across the board. He leads the league in turnovers per game (4.8) among 270 qualifying players.
Nonetheless, he is so much better now than he was at the beginning of the season. His ‘C+’ grade is a drastic improvement from his ‘D+’ through the first quarter of the year. If Westbrook continues to play as well as he has of late, his grade will land in the ‘B’s.’
Avdija and Brown show flashes of their potential on a somewhat regular basis. That being said, their body language is poor at times, especially Avdija. Perhaps that is the result of a lack of touches? Avdija (12.2 percent) and Brown (15.8 percent) use a super-low amount of possessions for Washington. It is often hard to contribute effectively with a lack of an offensive role.
‘D’ Tier: Ish Smith and Usual Suspects
- Ish Smith: D+
- Scott Brooks: D+
- Ted and Zach Leonsis: D-
Smith is a cagey veteran guard who has struggled this season. His true shooting percentage (40.4) is eight points lower than the oft-criticized Westbrook (48.4). Per 100 possessions, Washington is 15 points worse than their opponent with Smith on the floor, per Basketball-Reference.
Brooks is coaching on the last season of a five-year deal. He makes good play calls at times and a few of his rotation changes have worked out well. Even so, Brooks is routinely out-coached in crunch time by more elite sideline minds. Take Washington’s brutal loss to the Boston Celtics, for example. The Celtics staged two successful traps on Beal in the final minute. When the opportunity presented to trap Jayson Tatum isolating in the final seconds, Washington was not prepared. That discrepancy falls on Brooks.
It goes without saying, Ted Leonsis’ handling of the John Wall fallout was deplorable. Clinton Yates of The Undefeated went so far as to call it racially motivated. Wall remains a local hero who played through broken bones in the 2015 playoffs and nailed perhaps the greatest shot in franchise history against Boston. These kinds of things are potentially unbecoming for prospective talent.
Maybe this is just me, but Zach Leonsis’ maneuver to kick Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier off of local broadcasts was tactless. Buckhantz and Chenier were a longtime pair and among the best in the business. Gooden and Kutcher are solid, but a lot like Wall, those two deserved better from the franchise.