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3 reasons why the Washington Wizards have had a great start to the 2021-22 NBA season

Washington Wizards new point guard Spencer Dinwiddie #26 celebrating
Washington Wizards new point guard Spencer Dinwiddie #26 celebrating
Jose Rohdin
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The Washington Wizards are off to a hot start, going 10-3 and sitting on top of the Eastern Conference with the best record. The Wizards have been one of the biggest surprises so early into the season, with most analysts thinking they would be a fringe playoff team.

In the offseason, the Wizards traded away their star, Russell Westbrook, choosing to supplement their roster with young talented role players. Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all in the top five in points per game for the Wizards since coming over from the Lakers. Spencer Dinwiddie has proved to be a great backcourt partner for a stumbling Bradley Beal.

The Washington Wizards have played a balanced and fun brand of basketball that has helped lead them to this success, and here are some critical reasons for that.

No. 1: The Wizards improved their defense

Washington Wizards new key piece Kyle Kuzma on defense
Washington Wizards new key piece Kyle Kuzma on defense

So far this season, Washington has been one of the NBA's best defensive teams. Entering Monday night's 105-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Wizards were allowing 103.8 points per game, the eighth fewest in the NBA, and a 103.4 defensive rating per 100 possessions, giving them the fourth lowest in the NBA.

The Wizards are in the top 10 in:— Record— Points— Points allowed— Rebounds— Blocks— Threes— Offensive rating— Defensive rating— Net rating— FG% defense— 3P% defenseUnfortunately none of their players are averaging a triple-double. https://t.co/GKH604hU6a

Last season, the Wizards allowed 118.5 points per game for the highest in the NBA and had a 113 defensive rating, checking in at 19th worst.

Most of their defense has come on the perimeter as they don’t have a defensive center until Bryant Thomas can make his return from an ACL injury. The Wizards are facing the third-fewest 3-point attempts, at just 31.3 per game, forcing opposing players to only make 30% of their 3s for the lowest percentage in the league.

Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, Beal and Dinwiddie have been the defensive anchors on the perimeter, all playing sound and hounding defense. On top of that, Harrell, who has a career 108 defensive rating, has improved to 101. Harrell is still not a good rim protection, at just 6-foot 7, but he gets the job done and has shown a willingness to improve on defense.

No. 2: The Wizards have a new system and culture already

Washington Wizards first year head coach Wes Unseld Jr.
Washington Wizards first year head coach Wes Unseld Jr.

The Wizards seem to be rejuvenated, playing more team basketball. Last season, they started slowlu and needed a spectacular end-of-the-season surge to make the playoffs.

After last season ended, the Wizards fired coach Scott Brooks and replaced him with Wes Unseld Jr., who was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets. He had helped the Nuggets become one of the NBA's best teams in the NBA to earn his first head-coaching job, for a franchise his legendary father once coached.

Unseld Jr has already established a defensive mindset. The team has been gritty and tough on that side of the court.

Great set from the Wizards here. Movement, Harrell flashes to the elbow. Looks like he's going to catch but it's secretly a screen for Beal who wraps right around it. Harrell goes right into a pin for KCP. No show so Beal curls, help comes, open 3 for Kuzma. https://t.co/4hfJclyEUc

The Wizards have also become less stagnant on offense, becoming more balanced in the process. Last season, both Beal and Westbrook had over a 30 percent usage rate, which led to many stagnant possessions and much standing around. Now, Beal is the only one over 30 percent, and the next player, Dinwiddie, is at 24.5 percent.

The team has valued movement and passing, and defensive pressure.

No. 3: The Wizards have a ton of depth and are playing well despite Beal's struggles

Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal

Trading Westbrook to the Lakers has brought a lot of solid talent to the Wizards roster who rejuvenated their careers in Washington. In part of that deal, all three key players, Harrell, Kuzma, and Caldwell-Pope, are playing a lot better than they did last season.

That has allowed players who were starters last season to take on more reserve roles, rounding out the whole team by improving the depth. Raul Neto and Deni Avdija, who started a combined 54 games last season, have yet to start a game this season.

This sequence from Bradley Beal 😅 https://t.co/WUWgmHrRMo

The team’s success has allowed Beal to start a little slow, only averaging 23.3 points per game, compared to his 30.9 ppg over the two previous seasons. The depth has played a big part in allowing the team the cushion to absorb Beal's start, and this team could get better when he gets going.

The team is also waiting for Thomas Bryant to come back and be their defensive anchor at the center position and Rui Hachimura, who has been a crucial part of the Wizards' last two seasons, combining to start 105 games.


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Edited by Joseph Schiefelbein
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