Many believe that the Wiz underachieved this season as they finished 8th in the Eastern Conference despite having two bonafide All-Stars in the roster. Led by Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, Washington was injected with a dose of optimism for the first time in what seemed like forever. After all, this is a franchise that’s still smarting from the absence of John Wall and the ramifications of his supermax contract in building the team.
When the Wizards found a suitor in the Houston Rockets for Wall, things changed. Westbrook was still a significant upgrade over Wall, considering the simple fact that he could still play at a high level.
Then there’s Bradley Beal. Though it seems like he’s been in the league forever, Beal is only 27 years old and just entering his prime. Though there were several teams circling around the Wizards all season and offseason long inquiring about the availability of Beal, Washington made it clear that they had no intention to trade away their franchise player. And credit to Beal for also shutting down all trade rumors in the midst of the season and declaring that he wanted to compete for the Wizards.
We all know what happened this season despite the guarded optimism surrounding Beal and Westbrook, as well as promising sophomore Rui Hachimura.
The Wizards stumbled out of the gate, as COVID-19 related absences, cancellations, and injuries hamstrung the Wizards for the entire first half. Everyone was adjusting to their new roles as Westbrook, one of the highest usage players in NBA history, dominated the possessions. There was also the fact that Beal was putting everything on his shoulders for the Wizards’ offense. The memes of a despondent Beal sitting on the sidelines watching his teammates brick shot after shot went viral during the early losing skid of Washington.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another lottery season: Washington got good. They got so good that they roared back into the Play-In Tournament post-All Star Weekend, and then climbed to as high as the eighth seed. It was quite the rise for the Wizards considering how low they started.
To review the Wizards’ season after their elimination, let’s take a look at the three outstanding individuals from Washington and what the future holds for them:
The Black Samurai started out the season on the reserve list due to an eye injury, and it took a while for him to find his legs and become a contributor on the Wiz.
But as the season moved along, Rui found himself getting more and more comfortable in his role as the third option in Washington. During the month of March when Washington ascended, Hachimura averaged 17.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists, and shot 50.8 percent from the field.
Rui can only get better. He has exhibited some freakish athleticism and an improving jump shot. He made 1.8 triples on 60 percent shooting during the five-game series against the Sixers, which will help provide even more opportunities for Beal and Westbrook to operate on the perimeter and in the paint. The challenge for him as he enters his third year will be finding the consistency that helps make good players great.
For all intents and purposes, Brodie’s first season in the Eastern Conference should be considered a success. Westbrook’s all-around brilliance was on full display all season long, as he racked up triple-double after triple-double. He was so brilliant that he made history, eclipsing Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in NBA history when he got his 182nd during a May 10 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
For Westbrook, known as one of the most polarizing players in the game, this was a moment that everyone could be happy about. It was a reminder that this once-in-a-generation star should always be allowed to shine brightly and do what he does best.
Washington knew that they were going to be major underdogs against the Sixers, but what they accomplished – barging into the Play-In Tournament and then defeating the Pacers to officially grab the 8th seed – should be celebrated, and Westbrook was a big part of that. His charisma, enthusiasm, and passion rubbed off on his teammates and the fans as well. He will be a beloved piece of the team moving forward as long as he can keep up this level of play.
The Real Deal has one more year left on his contract, with a player option for the 2022-2023 NBA season. That gives Washington at least one year left to prove that they can surround Bradley with the right pieces to contend for a title.
It’s obviously going to be a tough scenario, but expect the Wizards to do everything possible to make it happen, particularly with the kind of season Beal put forward this season for his squad. His race with Stephen Curry for the scoring title all season long was riveting, as was his brilliant scoring onslaughts for the Wizards. His willingness to defer the ball to Westbrook, allowing him to focus on scoring, unlocked Beal even further. This made him arguably the most prodigious scorer in the league.
And he’s only getting better. As Beal enters the prime of his career, more and more he’s seeing just how devastating he can be on offense whether he has control of the ball or not. That’s why it’s imperative that the Wizards get better soon. Superstars like Beal don’t fall into their laps all the time.
This could be the most crucial offseason in recent memory for the Wizards. They’ll need to go all-in to find a way to keep Beal happy and content. The clock is ticking.