Through the first half of the NBA season, the Washington Wizards have often been painted as a “feel-good” story of the league. They play at a wild pace. Fringe-level players have blossomed. And they’ve even managed to win 13 games, despite a slew of injuries.
But what some see as a series of moral victories, others see as little more than losing by a different name.
After another defeat last week, Bradley Beal set off alarms when he ripped the Wizards for not having a “winning attitude,” saying the team needed to change its culture.
“You talk to him the next day, he feels totally different,” he said.
Beal, for his part, has declined to elaborate on his comments.
Stock up: Finding players of value
When Tommy Sheppard took over from longtime general manager Ernie Grunfeld, the executive spent the offseason taking flyers on either unproven prospects or journeyman veterans.
Sheppard acquired Moritz Wagner and Issac Bonga from a Los Angeles Lakers team desperate to shed salary to fit in Anthony Davis’ contract for cash.
Wagner and Bonga have both been in Washington’s rotation, and their upside looks considerably higher than it did when they were with the Lakers.
Sheppard’s best move, however, was acquiring sharpshooter Davis Bertans in a three-team trade. In the summer, the San Antonio Spurs wanted to clear cap space to sign Marcus Morris and the Wizards got Bertans as a result.
That deal not only worked out for the Wizards — Bertans is shooting 42.8% from deep — but now, Washington has the option of dealing the forward again at the trade deadline.
With his ability to space the floor and handle the ball, Bertans is reportedly drawing a lot of interest from playoff contenders like the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. That could net the Wizards the additional draft picks or prospects needed in a rebuild.
Stock down: Thomas experiment
Of the Wizards’ moves this offseason, Isaiah Thomas’ acquisition hasn’t panned out. There was hope the former All-Star could resurrect his career years removed from a significant hip injury. Despite a strong start, Thomas has faded of late.
Over his last 15 games, Thomas is shooting just 36.5% and averaging nearly two turnovers per game (to just 2.7 assists). He has particularly struggled without Beal on the floor — shooting 31.7% compared to 44.8% when the two-time All-Star is in the game.
Combine that with his defensive struggles: the Wizards are being outscored 11.2 points per 100 possessions with Thomas.
“Nobody wants to miss shots, and he’s been missing some shots,” Brooks said. “He hasn’t played like he was playing. … Right now, it’s just about playing your minutes hard and hopefully, some of those shots will start to fall.”
Stock neutral: Patience
Even with Beal’s frustration, the Wizards have stressed patience when it comes to their rebuild. That will be tested over the second half of the season.
Will John Wall, for instance, push to play this season — despite management’s insistence that it likely won’t happen? The five-time All-Star returned to practice Sunday in a “really controlled” setting of 4-on-4, but Brooks made no guarantees Wall will return this season from a torn Achilles.
“He still has a ways to go,” Brooks said, praising Wall’s approach to his rehab.
Elsewhere, players will have to adjust to new rotations once players like Rui Hachimura (groin) and Wagner (ankle) get healthy. Fewer minutes for some could lead to frustration, and Brooks has acknowledged the need for sacrifice.
“We know that a team takes time,” center Thomas Bryant said. “A lot of times, it takes a while for a team to gel. But I feel like we’re doing that as a unit together.”
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