Reviewing the Washington Wizards 2021 Season
The Washington Wizards’ season ended Wednesday night after losing its playoff series to the Philadelphia 76ers.
There are two ways to look at the Wizards season. For starters, they were extremely disappointing through the first three and a half months of the season.
On April 5, they were 17-32 and seemingly at the point where tanking for a top-five draft pick would have been better than winning games.
On the flip side, they ended the season 17-6 and jumped into the eight seed, giving them a shot to make the playoffs.
Most people try and examine the whole team in a season in review, but I want to take a different approach. I want to discuss each player on the Wizards and how they helped contribute to their success.
The Wizards acquired Russell Westbrook from the Houston Rockets in an offseason trade for long-time Wizards point guard John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. The trade surprised a lot of people, as Wall was such a beloved icon in D.C.
The Wizards wanted to ease Westbrook into the action early in the season. Because of this, he only played in 12 of the team’s first 21 games. He played in seven of those 12 games before the Wizards went on a two-and-a-half-week hiatus due to COVID-19.
Westbrook struggled after the break, shooting under 45 percent in three straight games. He broke out of that slump in a big way with his first of three 40+ point games on the season.
It came in a frantic 149-146 win over the Brooklyn Nets. A game in which Westbrook hit the game-winning three with just under five seconds left.
February was Westbrook’s worst month statistical wise. He averaged a season-low 19.1 PPG. His field goal percentage, 43.8, was right in line with his season average. The issue for Westbrook was from the three-point and free-throw line.
He went a putrid 6-39 from three-point range over the month of February. That comes out to an ugly 15 percent. That number could be worse if you take out one game in which he went 3-8 from downtown.
The free-throw line wasn’t much better. He shot 55.8 percent and had eight games where he shot 50 percent or worse.
Westbrook’s PPG average jumped to 25.2 in March. The three-point percentage jumped to a very respectable 38.2. The Wizards were hot going into the all-star break. They had won eight of 11 games and beat the league’s best teams over that span.
Westbrook was doing all he could, but the Wizards were just playing tough opponents. Just three of those 15 games were against teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
April 5 was the low point of the Wizards season. They were 17-32 and looked to be doomed. Westbrook made sure his teammates didn’t lose hope and went on a tear. He began his run at history with triple-double after triple-double. He had a triple-double in 24 of his last 29 games.
I think the most underrated improvement Westbrook made at the end of the season was his free throws. During the 17-6 run to end the season, Westbrook missed three-plus free throws in a game just once. For reference, he had multiple games earlier in the season where he missed over five.
Westbrook picked up his 181st career triple-double against the Indiana Pacers. That mark tied Oscar Robertson’s record.
The game was arguably Westbrooks most impressive of the season. He had 33 points, 19 rebounds, and 15 assists. He sank the game-winning free throws in overtime, and blocked Caris LeVert’s attempt at a game-winner.
Westbrook broke the record in his next game against the Atlanta Hawks.
In the playoffs, Westbrook struggled from the field. He shot just 32.4 percent, including a game in which he shot 3-19 from the field.
Westbrook finished the season averaging a triple-double for the fourth time in five seasons. He averaged 22.2 PPG, 11.7 APG, and 11.5 RPG. It was a career-high in both assists and rebounds.
Bradley Beal continued his superstar play from the past two seasons.
While the Wizards struggled to start the season, Beal certainly did his part. He averaged nearly 34 PPG through January, including a career-high 60 points against the 76ers on January 6.
In terms of points and shooting percentage, his worst game over the first month came against the Hawks. He scored 26 points and shot 38.5 percent from the field. Not too shabby for being your worst game of the month.
Beal’s scoring dropped off just a bit in February due to him taking less shots. His field goal attempts dropped from 27.4 a game to 22.3. In turn, his scoring average dropped to 31.6.
A terrific first half of the season earned Beal his first career all-star start. Beal was a part of Team Durant and scored a team-high 26 points.
Beal had some mixed results in his first nine games after the all-star game. He scored 22 points or less in five of the nine games, down almost 10 points from his season average.
On the other hand, Beal had two games shooting above 65 percent. He scored 43 points in a win against the Utah Jazz. The win ended a streak of 11 straight games in which the Wizards lost when Beal scored over 40 points.
Beal dealt with an injury for the first time all season. In late March and early April, he missed six of eight games with a hip injury.
In just his second game back, he had an and one on a three-point shot that tied the game. The free throw put the Wizards up one as they held on to beat the Golden State Warriors.
Following that game, he went on a streak of 10 straight games with 29+ points. Beal then had a hamstring injury and missed three games before coming back for the final game of the season. He helped the Wizards clinch the eight seed.
Beal continued his impressive scoring streak in the playoffs, averaging 30 PPG. Unfortunately, he went ice-cold from three-point range. He shot just under 22 percent on 7-32 shooting.
He narrowly missed winning the scoring title, but he still finished with an outstanding 31.3 PPG on the season.
Rui Hachimura’s season got off to a rough start, missing the first four games of the season with a severe case of pink eye. He only played in seven games before COVID-19 halted the Wizards season in January. After a three-game absence, Hachimura was finally able to get into a rhythm.
He scored 10+ points in 13 of 14 games throughout the month of February. He also recorded his first double-double of the season against the Bulls on February 5.
March was Hachimura’s best statistical month across the board. He averaged 17 PPG and 6.4 RPG. In addition, he raised his field goal percentage to 50.8 and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc. He ended the month by tying his career-high with 30 points in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Unfortunately, he missed six games in April due to injuries.
He had a strong close to the regular season that carried over into the playoffs. Hachimura shot just over 60 percent from both the field and three-point range. He scored over 20 points in games four and five of the Wizards playoff series.
Davis Bertans had big expectations coming into the 2020-2021 season. He signed a 5-year, $80 million deal to stay with the Wizards.
Like the majority of the Wizards roster, the COVID-19 break affected Bertans. He shot only 31.7 percent from three-point range in December/January. That’s not ideal for someone making that much money to shoot threes.
That number went up to 43.5 percent in February. He had a career-high 35 points against the Denver Nuggets on February 17. That night, he went 9-11 from beyond the arc and 8-8 from the free-throw line.
His shooting percentage was up to 45.5 percent, but I am not sure that tells the whole story. He had four games in which he missed over five three-pointers.
He finished the regular season with eight straight games over 10 points. Again, it was a little misleading, as he shot over 41 percent from three-point range in just two of those games.
The playoff series was a tale of two tapes. He shot a combined 50 percent from beyond the arc in games one and four. In games two and three, he shot 11 percent from three.
There’s an outside chance Bertans could be a salary dump this offseason. If not, I’d like to see him be more consistent on his three-point shots and improve his defense.
Daniel Gafford came to the Wizards at the trade deadline. The Chicago Bulls traded him, along with Chandler Hutchinson, in exchange for Troy Brown Jr. It was originally looked at as nothing more than a few role players being traded, but Gafford would show his worth in a big way.
After averaging just 4.7 points with the Bulls, Gafford scored 11 and 13 points in his first two games with the Wizards.
He missed the following six games with an injury but returned to the rotation, averaging just under 18 minutes off the bench.
Gafford averaged 11.8 PPG in the playoffs and became the starting center in game four. He has two more years left on his contract and could be the starting center next season.
The Wizards signed Raul Neto to a one-year contract in the offseason. Initially signed to be the backup point guard, Neto worked his way into the starting lineup and played a lot of his minutes at the two.
Neto started the season strong. He scored over 11 points in four of the first six games of the season. The scoring totals dropped off over the next month and a half, as he scored over 11 points just once.
It took until April for Neto to really come into his own. He shot 50.9 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three-point range. Both marks were a significant improvement from the first three months of the season.
In four of the first seven games he started, Neto scored over 14 points. He scored a season-high 25 points in a 131-129 OT victory over the Toronto Raptors on May 6.
Ole captain hook wowed Wizards fans all season with his patented hook shot. Lopez was primarily run as the top center off the bench during the season.
Once Thomas Bryant went down with a season-ending ACL injury, Lopez saw his minutes spike from 14 to nearly 20 a game.
While his minutes dropped when Gafford joined the time, his efficiency went up. Lopez shot 74 percent from the field in the month of April, his best mark for a single mark this season.
Lopez scored a season-high 24 points against the Toronto Raptors. Coincidentally, Neto scored his season-high 25 points in the same game. Lopez shot just 6-8 that night but made 12 of his 14 free throw attempts.
While Lopez wasn’t a big contributor in the NBA playoffs, he did wow the Wizards crowd in game four with the hook shot. He scored 16 points by going 8-11 from the field.
Not many guards can match the fast pace of Russell Westbrook. Ish Smith is one of the few guys that can do that, and he comes at a cheap price.
Smith had a decent start to the season, shooting almost 41 percent from the field. The number dropped to 27.8 percent in February before a quad injury sidelined him for nearly two months.
He returned to action on April 3 and had a pretty successful end to the season.
Smith’s best performance of the season likely came in the Wizards’ first play-in game against the Boston Celtics. Smith provided a boost off the bench, scoring 17 points on 6-8 shooting. He also shot 4-4 from the free-throw line after shooting just 57.6 percent from there in the regular season.
Smith is someone I’d like to see re-signed. He makes it so the offense doesn’t have to change its up-tempo pace while Westbrook is on the bench.
The Wizards used the ninth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on Deni Avdija. They expected the small forward from Israel to immediately be a member of its rotation.
The best game of his young career came early in the season against the Miami Heat. Avdija went 5-9 from three-point range and scored 20 points. The Wizards did lose the game but it was encouraging to see Avdija have a good game so early in his career.
While Avdija was shooting a very respectable 41.8 percent from the field, his biggest struggle was three-point shooting. He shot just 28.3 percent from downtown.
Avdija made his first start in late March. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending leg injury on April 21 against the Golden State Warriors.
The Wizards expect Avdija to be ready for the start of next season. His development will definitely be key in the Wizards improving as a team.
Thomas Bryant entered the Wizards season as the starting center. He got off to an excellent start, averaging 17 points in his first eight games.
He had a season-high 28 points on 9-11 shooting and 3-3 from three-point range against the Chicago Bulls.
Bryant’s season came to a sudden end on January 9 after he tore his left ACL just two minutes into their game against the Miami Heat. He will be back as he enters the final season of his three-year deal.
Alex Len and Garrison Matthews
Both Alex Len and Garrison Matthews played over 55 games, and each started over 20. While their contributions may not be evident on the stat sheet, I’d be remiss not to mention them.
We’ll start with Len. He originally started the season with the Raptors but was waived after just seven games. He started in 40 games for the Wizards and shot a career-best 61.9 percent from the field.
Matthews joined the Wizards on a two-way contract in the 2019-2020 season. His specialty is three-point shooting. He did a great job during the first three months of the season. He shot over 40 percent from three-point range from January to March.
That number dropped considerably in April. He went from over 40 percent to 28.2 percent. Coincidentally, that was around the time he was moved out of the starting lineup.
His season-high came on January 9 against the Miami Heat. He scored 22 points after going 4-7 from downtown. He also shot 6-7 from the free-throw line.
Wrap on the Wizards 2021 Season
ESPN’s RPM projection predicted that Wizards would finish ninth in the Eastern Conference with 33.1 wins. Now, that was before the Russell Westbrook trade, but I do not think that prediction would’ve changed much.
They basically lived up to the projection only because of a late season run. I think the biggest objective this offseason is to get better on the defensive end.
Whether they opt to replace head coach Scott Brooks with a defensive-minded coach, or go out and find a 3-and-D guy in free agency, it’s something that needs to be addressed. They’ll never be contenders with such a terrible defense.
It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of moves the Wizards make this offseason. A second season of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal should yield some improvement for the Wizards.