The Washington Wizards will try to improve the team’s misfortunes starting tonight when they open their 2022-2023 season. To examine the state of the franchise, we spoke to three Wizards experts: Dave Johnson, the team’s radio play-by-play announcer, Chase Hughes, who covers the Wizards for NBC Sports Washington, and Joe House, DC sports nut and “wingman” of sports media mogul Bill Simmons. Here are five things to know about the Wizards’ upcoming season.
Expectations are not high
The Wizards aren’t projected to be a dominant team this year. “Eastern Conference is deep and tough,” says House. He forecasts the team to win 37 games, finishing third in the Southeast Division, 11th place in the Eastern Conference—and just missing the playoffs. Hughes is a tad more optimistic. “I have them winning around 43 games and making the playoffs via the play-in tournament,” he says.
There will be more pressure to produce
The Washington Post described the Wizards as being “stuck in a cycle of mediocrity.” While Hughes doesn’t necessarily agree with that assessment, he does believe there is “added urgency” for a strong season. “[It is] the fourth year of the plan set forth by team president Tommy Sheppard in 2019, they just gave Bradley Beal one of the biggest contracts in NBA history, and some of their recent first-round picks are at an age where they can be counted on reliably in the rotation,” says Hughes.
Players have to stay healthy
According to Johnson, the radio announcer, if the Wizards are going to surpass their middle-of-the-pack expectations, keeping key players healthy is critical. “They need Bradley Beal to play,” Johnson says. Due to a wrist injury, the star athlete only played 40 games last season. “Bradley Beal twice has averaged over 30 points a game in his career” says Johnson. “They don’t need him to do that with the way this team is constructed. But to be a better team, they need him to be on the floor for more than 40 games.”
The team needs more three pointers, better defense
Improved three-point shooting will also be essential to the team’s success. In order to exceed expectations, the Wizards can’t “be the worst three-point shooting team in the league as they were last year,” Hughes says. On the other side, better defense is a must. “I’m not saying become the best defensive team in the league, but [they have to] be better on three or four defensive possessions [a game],” says Johnson.
A bad season could be a good move
In one way, a mediocre season for the Wizards could be even worse than a terrible one. That’s because a middle-of-the-road finish would make it less likely that they’d be able to secure a top pick in next year’s NBA draft, which is designed so that the worst teams in the league have the best shot at the top prospects. In particular, the 2023 draft will feature two key players: Scoot Henderson and Victor Wembanyama. According to Sports Illustrated, both athletes “have the talent to alter a franchise. So, should the Wizards tank the season in order to position themselves for a better draft pick? “Of course they should!” House says.
Not everyone agrees. “Because of the draft lottery [system], you can be the worst team in the NBA and not get that top overall pick,” says Johnson. “I understand the argument, but the draft is such an inexact science to begin with. [So] I don’t think that’s how you progress going forward, by saying, ‘You know what? We’re going to throw this season away even before it starts.”