Featured Image By Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports
In this era of big twos, the Washington Wizards are often forgotten. It is easy to see why: John Wall has been hurt or ineffective for much of the last three seasons and Bradley Beal, while great last year offensively, was a zero on defense. The team is thin beyond them; when last we saw them, they were busy going 1–7 in the season restart bubble after a string of opt-outs, including Beal. But Wall is looking healthy again, and Beal just finished second in the NBA in scoring with 30.5 points per game. If Wall is back to his best, Washington could make some noise in the East.
It was not that long ago that Wall and Beal were one of the NBA’s most promising duos. Wall was one of the fastest players in the NBA, a whirlwind in the open court who was impossible to contain. He is a five-time All-Star who averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists per game in 2016–17, the last time he was healthy for a full season, good enough to earn him his only All-NBA appearance.
Beal was a great second banana to Wall, using his shooting to take advantage of the space Wall created. In that 2016–17 season, he averaged 23.1 points per game while shooting 40.4% from three on 7.2 attempts per game. That year in the playoffs, the Wizards took the top-seeded Celtics to seven games in the second round, with Beal and Wall combining for 49.1 points per game. Beal was 23 and Wall was 26; Washington looked like a team on the rise.
It all came crashing down hard. In 2018, Wall showed up to USA Basketball training camp overweight. The Wizards’ locker room imploded as Wall and Beal clashed. Injuries have limited Wall to just 73 games over the last three seasons, including none in 2019–20. All the while, losses mounted. The Wizards have not been back to the playoffs since 2018, even while playing in the weaker Eastern Conference. It is hard to trust this team.
But since Wall has been hurt, Beal has expanded his game. He has thrived since taking on a larger playmaking role, averaging 6.1 assists per game last season, a career-high. He has improved his handle and is now better at finishing through contact; according to Cleaning the Glass, Beal shoots at the rim more often and gets fouled more than he did earlier in his career, while maintaining similar levels of shooting accuracy. All the while, he’s kept up his tremendous marksmanship, shooting 35.3 percent from three and 84.2 percent from the line. He is a genuine All-NBA candidate in his own right, and made the All-Star team in 2018 and 2019.
Elsewhere, the Wizards have developed some young talent. Every team in the NBA needs dynamic young wings; the Wizards have Troy Brown Jr., who showed some great passing ability in his second season. Davis Bertans, should they choose to re-sign him, is a flamethrower from deep. Rui Hachimura, Isaac Bonga, Thomas Bryant, and Mo Wagner have each showed varying amounts of promise. These pieces were not enough to get the Wizards to contention last season, but they start to look wonderful as tertiary options if Wall is back to his old self.
Wall’s health is the big if for the Wizards. Wall is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, the same injury that has robbed DeMarcus Cousins of his athleticism. Wall depended on his blinding speed at his best. If the injury saps him of some athleticism, or if he struggles to stay healthy, the Wizards will be in trouble. Wall’s massive contract will tie them down, and Beal may want out. But if Wall can make a comeback (and if all chemistry issues with Beal are put to rest; they are playing nice for now), the Wizards could be a threat.