Basketball in July is usually reserved for the NBA’s Summer League, the offseason Las Vegas tournament made up of rookies, second-year athletes and G-League level players. So when the Washington Wizards return Friday against the Phoenix Suns, it’ll be fitting, then, that the team’s roster will look like your typical Summer League unit.
That’s probably because it is. Of the Wizards‘ 15-man roster for the NBA’s restart, eight of them played in the 2019 Summer League.
Sure, the Wizards are missing Bradley Beal, John Wall and Davis Bertans for the NBA’s restart near Orlando. But Washington has long stressed that this year is about developing their youth first and foremost.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three players who could stand to gain the most over the next eight games.
Without Beal and Bertans, the Wizards are missing their two leading scorers who accounted for 45.9 points per game. Someone is going to have to fill that void, and the logical choice is Rui Hachmura, the rookie forward who was the team’s third-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game.
Earlier this month, general manager Tommy Sheppard downplayed a suggestion that Hachimura would suddenly average 20 a night. But in Washington’s three exhibition games, the Japanese native came close, leading the Wizards with 17.3 points in nearly 28 minutes per contest. It’s not inconceivable Hachimura could top that mark, especially if his minutes increase in the regular season.
“I feel different,” Hachimura said. “We didn’t play for four or five months. It’s almost like my second year.”
As a rookie, Hachimura has demonstrated a nice feel for the midrange. But there are ways for his offensive game to expand, coach Scott Brooks said. For one, he has to attempt more 3-pointers — the rookie only shoots 1.8 attempts per game. Brooks also said he wants Hachimura to “to put the ball on the floor more,” adding he wants the 22-year-old to take an extra dribble to finish closer to the basket instead of settling for a jumper. Brooks said he’d also like to see Hachimura become a better passer, noting his tendency to pick up his dribble and then passing.
“Those three things, I think if he can continue to work on, it will him and us a better team,” Brooks said.
Since being drafted 18th overall in 2018, Troy Brown hasn’t always been the most natural fit with the Wizards. Brooks often experimented with Brown’s role, which questions about his game. Is he a starter or better suited off the bench? Is he a small forward or a point guard? Does he need the ball primarily in his hands, or can he make plays off the ball?
But the Wizards have started to gain answers — and Brown has made promising strides.
During the restart, Brown can further demonstrate his abilities as a playmaker. With Beal not in the lineup, Brown has taken over duties as the primary ballhandler when Ish Smith is not on the floor. Brown, who played point guard in high school, looks the most comfortable in that role — finding open teammates and thriving off pick-and-rolls.
“I feel like my confidence is sky high right now,” Brown said last week. “At the end of the day, this is an opportunity for me to come out and show what I’m capable of and try to lead the team as best as I can.”
Brown is still young. He turned just 21 on Tuesday, celebrating the day by going to dinner with his teammates. They had planned on going fishing, he said, but rain forced a change of plans.
Perhaps Brown’s development is forcing the Wizards to change their evaluation of him.
The Wizards lost all three of their exhibition games, but they had a surprising player lead them in plus-minus: Issac Bonga.
When Bonga, a 6-foot-8 athletic, lengthy wing, was on the floor, Washington outscored the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers by a combined 57 points.
Now, plus-minus can be misleading — a lot of it depends on who is on the floor at the time —- but Brooks said Thursday the stat was an indication of that Bonga “impacts winning.” He said Bonga dives for loose balls, takes charges and does other gritty work that doesn’t show up in the boxscore.
“Issac does so many great things and it always seems to be a different thing each night,” Brooks said. “The thing that I love about him is that all he cares about is impacting wins. He makes winning plays. … He just has that spirit about him that he cares about his teammates and wants to make his teammates look good.”
Though he has a limited game offensively, Bonga’s emergence has been unexpected, given he was a throw-in when the Lakers traded him and center Moe Wagner to the Wizards last year to clear the salary cap space in order to acquire Anthony Davis.
As of now, the Wizards don’t have a clear answer at small forward for next season. These next eight games are an opportunity for Bonga to make his case for the spot.
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