10 takeaways as the Wizards head into the final quarter of the season

10 takeaways as the Wizards head into the final quarter originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After a rollercoaster first three quarters of the season, the Wizards now look at their home stretch at 29-32 with 21 games remaining on the schedule. They are 10th in the Eastern Conference, the current holders of the last play-in spot in the tournament, with hopes of continuing to improve and earn a playoff series.

Here’s a look at what we’ve learned about the Wizards over the last quarter of the season, since its midway point, and some of the key factors as we look ahead…

Gafford’s move changed the season

Daniel Gafford’s arrival in Washington was a turning point for the Wizards in the 2020-21 season, as they managed to make the playoffs. He made a big difference once again, this time after being promoted to the starting lineup on December 20th. The Wizards have gone 18-12, the ninth-best record in the NBA, since he stepped up. They also enjoyed the 11th best net rating of +2.9. Gafford completes a formidable rim-protecting duo with Kristaps Porzingis, and his fifth option in the starting lineup has helped Gafford to one of the highest field goal percentages (74.9) in NBA history.

Beal could set the record

Bradley Beal is on track to set a Wizards franchise record soon. After a recent surge, he is now just 419 points behind Elvin Hayes on the all-time list. Based on his current average of 23.1 points per game, he would set a new mark in the penultimate game of the year. That game is in Atlanta, but three of the Wizards’ final four games are at home, giving them a good chance of doing it in DC Atlanta, which I already have to see Russell Westbrook set the all-time triple-double record in 2021, so maybe this Wizards record can happen at home.

Porzingis, Kuzma continue to improve

Anytime a player hits a career high early in the season or midseason, it’s fair to wonder if he can sustain it and if his health will allow it. As for Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, they have done that for most of the season. Both players are hitting career averages, while Porzingis has also stayed healthy. He’s already matched his streak (51) from last year and is well on his way to his most durable season in years. Both he and Kuzma are in line to sign new contracts this summer.

Wright is an essential piece

The Wizards proved to be a much better defensive team with Delon Wright in the picture. He missed about two months with a hamstring injury, but since returning he’s helped the Wizards go 17-11. They have the 12th best defensive rating in the NBA since he returned compared to 22nd before his return. He’s also dramatically improved his efficiency in recent months, now posting a 55.7 effective field goal percentage, which is more three-pointers than two-pointers. That’s true with Beal (56.7) and Monte Morris (56.5).

The three-point shot is better

Gafford’s transition into the starting lineup and the team’s health were two keys to the Wizards’ turnaround, but so was their improvement from three-point range. After a terrible start to the year, they have become much more dangerous from the perimeter. They just finished the month of February in which they were sixth in three-point percentage (38.7%) and 13th in three-pointers made (12.0/y). Corey Kispert (41.2%) and Morris (40.6%) have been excellent all year, but the others have really come on lately. Porzingis and Wright each shot 50% from three in February, while Beal shot 38.5%.

The schedule plays an important role

The Wizards have arguably already played their toughest parts of the schedule, with all of their long road trips now in hindsight. That leaves them with 14 of their last 21 home games. They will play 11 of their 16 games at Capital One Arena in March. The stage is set for them to pack in some wins just as they look to finally make their way to the playoffs.

Important matches remain

The NBA inserted a mini-series into the regular season schedule and for the Wizards it couldn’t have worked out better in some ways. They beat the Raptors twice in a row at home this week and next week they host the Hawks in the same fashion. The Wizards are tenth in the East, while the Hawks are eighth and the Raptors are ninth. Wizards have an opportunity to help themselves a lot in a short time, they just have to use it. They also see Toronto and Atlanta later in the year on the road, and host the sixth-seeded Heat in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Avdija stepped up

Wizards traded Rui Hachimura on January 23, partly to open the door for Dena Avdija to take on a bigger offensive role. He did just that. Now 15 games since the trade, he’s averaging 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 46.3% from the field and 33.3% from three. In the 44 games before Hachimura was dealt, Avdija averaged 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 42.2% overall and 27.7% from deep. So, both its volume and efficiency have improved. He has a chance to close the season strong as an important member of the rotation.

A learning year for Davis

Rookie 10th pick Johnny Davis played in just three games in the third quarter of the season, totaling about 11 minutes. During that span, the Wizards also traded for another combo guard Kendrick Nunn. That path for Davis to earn a role in the rotation just doesn’t exist right now. With the Wizards fighting for the playoffs, the urgency will only increase and that could mean the rotation will shrink further.

Draft pick on the line

The Wizards being on the brink of the playoffs creates an interesting scenario for their first pick in 2023. It is owned New York Knicks and top-14 protected. That means if the Wizards make the playoffs — not just a play-in tournament but the playoffs — the pick goes to New York. While it may not seem ideal at first, transferring the pick would free up other future draft picks for the Wizards to potentially trade. Pick protections also drop after this season, dropping to the top-12 in 2024, top-10 in 2025 and top-8 in 2026. Granted, there are good arguments for wanting to keep the pick this year as well.

Leave a Comment