My enthusiasm for the Washington Wizards is best described as jaded. I think I’m being kind by saying “somewhat,” though. My outlook fluctuates between cynicism and skepticism throughout the year. I try to work up to a level of cautious optimism but I can never quite get there.
That, I believe, is primarily the result of one’s built-in defenses (and caring way too much about a basketball team). One of MJ’s quotes about the Wizards hits home for me. The character played by Zendaya in Spider-Man: No Way Home is not the basketball player Michael Jordan. She argues that one can never be truly disappointed if one prepares themselves for it. Good advice.
Having said that, I think I am starting to talk myself into this Wizards team. And I didn’t even need a bunch of therapy sessions to get there though I suppose they wouldn’t hurt (thanks a lot, Ted Leonsis). All I had to do was tune into the energy surrounding this year’s squad.
I still have enough doubts about their longevity and the absence of true 3-and-D wings to rule out a better-than-500 finish. I can’t help but get the impression that this is one of those teams that could surprise everyone by performing above expectations thanks to a confluence of talented individuals at peak performance.
Putting together a championship-caliber basketball squad is more complex than a simple addition problem. Teams have the potential to excel beyond the sum of their parts. Some squads benefit from “adding by subtracting.” And sometimes it pays off handsomely to keep a core intact while tweaking some of the auxiliary parts.
This week on the Bleav in Wizards podcast, I spoke with American University forward Matt Rogers about the significance of surrounding yourself with positive people. Wizards GM and President Tommy Sheppard have embraced the tenet of American University’s motto, “Character Forged Through Competition.”
One group of guys each year always manages to put aside their differences and surprise the world. The Timberwolves won the title in the previous year (and the Pelicans in the second half of the year). The Knicks had won the previous year. Also, the Raptors the year before. There’s no reason why this year’s Wizards team can’t do that.
Based on his remarks on media day, it appears that Sheppard has been focusing on that idea and setting the stage for this the whole time. Hopefully, he’ll find success with this crew.
Sheppard admitted that many of the new players had to deal with pressure while on the verge of victory. That can easily be applied to a different group. That winning attitude is something they bring to the table. They expect a lot of themselves and from their teammates and everyone else follows suit. There are times when the players themselves make the best coaches.
It is up to Wes Unseld Jr. to convince these players many of whom have something to prove, that victories speak louder than statistical improvements in terms of silencing the naysayers. Although I was critical of Unseld Jr.’s play in his rookie year, I anticipate a significant improvement in his second.
That seemed like a particularly difficult group to get on the same page with last year, and he had to learn on the fly. His ability to connect with and influence players has been crucial to his success. I guess that he’s trying to make it seem like everyone here has something to prove.
For Monte Morris to earn a starting role in the NBA, he must demonstrate his ability to perform at a high level. To validate his contract, the Wizards need Bradley Beal to demonstrate that he can recover from his wrist injury and return to form. Kristaps Porzingis must show he can maintain his health and dominance over extended periods, not just in isolated incidents.
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If Kyle Kuzma wants to sign a long-term contract, he needs to show that his strong second half of the season wasn’t an aberration. Rui Hachimura needs to show that he is more than a long-range shooter.
When it comes to getting the most out of his defense, Deni Avdija will need to show that he can do damage on the offensive end, too. The burden of proof rests on Daniel Gafford to show that he deserves to play 25 minutes per game. And this could go on forever.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) September 27, 2022
It’s heartening to see Morris and Kuzma step up to the plate as leaders and serve as role models for the younger members of the team. The fact that some of the guys, like Morris and Kuzma, appear to have genuine, long-lasting bonds, is also noteworthy. Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s inspiring to watch videos from training camp in which Bradley Beal is audibly encouraging his teammates.
The fact that they enjoyed making fun of Avdija for talking too much on flights gave me hope. They were joking around and enjoying themselves. I’m not quite ready to believe that these guys are all-in with each other yet but I think I can at least accept the idea that they will soon win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. They’ll require it to get to the top, wherever that may be.
Vibes are the most important factor. They’re better than they’ve been in years and that makes me feel like I’m ready to be hurt again. Can I count on your support?