- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2022

Another NBA season is approaching, and the expectations for the Washington Wizards are just the same old, same old.

Since 2018, the Wizards have been in what is known as “NBA purgatory” — too good to tank and earn a top lottery pick, but not good enough to compete in the postseason. The oddsmakers have them in the same position ahead of the start of training camp Friday. 

The over/under for the Wizards’ win total is 35.5 on DraftKings — just one game better than last year’s projection. Washington went 35-47 last season. 

The win projection from the sportsbook is eighth-lowest in the NBA and fourth-worst in the Eastern Conference, which has title contenders in Boston and Milwaukee as well as significant depth. At the same time, though, this year’s roster — led by even-wealthier Bradley Beal, recently acquired Kristaps Porzingis and rising star Kyle Kuzma — is believed to have more upside. 

But the potential upside isn’t without concern. Here are the four biggest questions facing the Wizards entering training camp: 

1. Will Bradley Beal return to form?

If the Wizards are going to be a contender this season, a requirement is that Beal plays better than he did last season. 

Before he injured his wrist and underwent season-ending surgery, Beal was having arguably his worst season since becoming a star player. Beal’s 23.2 points per game average was significantly down compared to the previous two seasons when he scored more than 30 a contest. Beal was also less efficient, shooting 45.1% from the field and 30% from behind the arc — both lows for the 29-year-old since 2015-16. 

Beal may have some more motivation to return to being one of the league’s best shooting guards, too, after receiving a five-year, $251 million max contract this offseason. 

2. Can Wes Unseld Jr. figure out the defense?

To begin his first season as an NBA head coach, Unseld’s Wizards last year had one of the best defenses in the NBA — leading the squad to a near-franchise-best 10-3 record. 

But it was all downhill from there — both for Washington’s win-loss record and the defense. Despite Unseld’s background as a defensive-minded coach, the Wizards ended the season ranked 25th in defensive rating. 

Acquiring Porzingis from the Mavericks and Will Barton from the Nuggets could help the defense take the next step. Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said Tuesday that he believes the team adequately addressed the defensive end in the offseason. 

“I just want to see the improvement that we believe is already happening,” he said.

3. Is Monte Morris the answer at point guard?

The Wizards’ biggest question mark entering the offseason was the future of the point guard position — a spot that’s been a revolving door since John Wall’s absence. Washington traded Spencer Dinwiddie at the deadline last season after he struggled to mesh with the rest of the team. 

Washington didn’t definitively answer that question by acquiring a top-tier point guard or drafting one with its first-round pick. Instead, it acquired veteran Monte Morris in the trade with Denver. Morris has been a backup for most of his career, but he started all last season and performed well for a team that made the postseason. 

Morris, 27, averaged 12.6 points on 48.4% shooting last year with one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the association. Whether Morris can take another step to steer the offense could go a long way in determining what type of season the Wizards have. 

4. Can Kristaps Porzingis stay healthy? 

The answer to this question — more than anything else — could determine the Wizards’ success.

History says Porzingis — the former wunderkind dubbed as a “unicorn” — won’t because he essentially never has. The 7-foot-3 big man hasn’t played more than 57 games in an NBA season since his rookie year in 2015-16. He totaled 51 starts last year while dealing with a knee injury. 

Porzingis, 27, has yet to play alongside Beal, and an interesting storyline to begin the season will be about how the two stars mesh. Beal was recently ranked as the NBA’s 19th best player by ESPN, while Porzingis was the only other Washington player in the top 100 at No. 86. 

But if Porzingis can remain healthy and gel with Beal and Kuzma, that would give the Wizards a solid-enough trio to compete. 

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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