The NBA season always feels like it arrives too soon, like the last day of vacation or white party guests.
Though the scheduled date and time have been on the calendar for months, and despite Wizards headlines and highlights popping up on ESPN and Instagram since late September, opening night still catches us surprised and unprepared. Probably the brain instinctively recognizes the seasonal mismatch in Fall basketball, the way we’d do a double take seeing someone rocking flip-flops on Christmas Day. Frankly, we have enough sports-related stress scouring the waiver wire for a bye week replacement to be sweating transition and three-point defense already.
But ready or not (Lauryn Hill croon), the NBA season is upon us, already two weeks deep and quickly kicking into high gear. Montrezl Harrell is hyped and trash talking everybody not Wiz-affiliated, from the refs, to fans on the road, to Drake. Cap One is rocking. Key players are already being forced to sit out games (thankfully not for COVID related reasons). Drew Gooden has already worn multiple horrific pinstripe suits. And the Wiz are 5-2 with several signature wins.
So, assuming that you, like I, avoided preseason like it was displaying COVID symptoms, here are some initial reactions to the first couple weeks of the season:
We Won’t Be Missing Russ: As polarizing of a player as late-Wizard-new-Laker Russell Westbrook is, there are a couple facets of his game that everyone can agree on. For example, no one will deny that he brings unmatched intensity every single game. But also, we can unanimously agree that his game is not particularly fun to watch play for your team.
There’s just not any aesthetically pleasing aspects of watching a guy alternate between charging to the rim with his head down and chucking up clunkers, even when the shots happen to roll around and go in. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, it’s just ugly. Debate if you want whether the swap for Russ gives DC a better chance to win, but the verdict is already final on the fact that the trade makes the Wiz a more watchable team.
Other Russ things we won’t miss: RW triple-double watch and headlines, fans clamoring near the bench after games to get a size 14 of his ugly shoes.
It’s Nice Having Actual Competent NBA Players: One similarity between this year’s team and last season’s is the expansive list of guys that are getting time in the rotation. The difference is that last season the guys at the end of the rotation were fringe NBA players at best, while this year we have a roster of guys who actually belong in the league.
Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner, Jerome Robinson, Garrison Matthews, Chandler Hutchinson. These are real names – some no longer on NBA rosters – that we legitimately relied on for long stretches to hold the for down when Brad needed a rest. Every game there would be series of such ineptitude and poor execution that we’d pull out our hair and yell at the TV, ‘Why is that guy in the game?!’ And then the target of ire would be replaced by someone else on that list at the top of the paragraph and we’d have our answer.
This year we’ve replaced those scrubs with names that carry real weight in the league, some that have even won awards or proven their championship pedigree. Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, Harrell, Holiday. In all honestly, it’s refreshing. It’s nice not having to count the minutes until Brad will be ready to reenter the game. It’s nice having players on the roster to make legit fake trade proposals with. It’s nice just having guys who can catch the ball and lay it up without dribbling it off their foot! It turns out that having NBA caliber players is conducive to winning in the NBA.
We’re 2-3 Players Too Deep: Unlike last year’s squad, this team has depth. Last year, if Brad had a bad night, it was an automatic L, and if one or two starters were out, it was most likely a blowout. This season, we’ve already seen on a few occasions that injuries to key players hasn’t hampered success thanks to having a talented next man up. One of our strengths is depth.
However, on the flip side of that coin, as the team gets nearer to full strength with the upcoming returns of Rui and Thomas Bryant, the Wizards might find that they’re actually too deep. With so many players rightfully clamoring for time to shine, and with others needing valuable minutes to develop, concocting a rotation that appeases everyone without messing up the team’s flow will be a chemistry experiment for Coach Unseld. Someone is going to find themselves on the outside looking in, or perhaps traded. My inkling would be one of Bertans or Deni.
Montrezl is a Game Changer, and Maybe This Team’s Leader: The first part of this is obvious; more to come on the second point.
There are plenty more nuances than these to dig into with this newish look Washington Wizards team. Just a few that will be worth paying attention to include Brad’s modified role, Coach Unseld’s imprint on the team’s culture, trade speculation – will we be buyers or sellers, and who’s got the freshest fit. It will be interesting to see how those and other unfold over the course of the season.
However, two weeks into the season, we already have one major conclusion: this is not last year’s team and the biggest change is that this squad is a thrill to watch and root for. Cheers to a great season!