10 takeaways as the Wizards enter the final quarter of the season

10 takeaways as Wizards enter final quarter originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After a rollercoaster first three-quarters of the season, the Wizards now eye their homestretch with a 29-32 record and 21 games remaining on their schedule. They are 10th in the Eastern Conference, current owners of the final play-in tournament spot, with hopes to continue moving up and earn a playoff series.

Here is a look at what we have learned about the Wizards over the last quarter of the season, since its midway point, and some of the key factors as we look ahead…

Gafford’s move changed the season

Daniel Gafford arriving in Washington was a turning point for the Wizards in the 2020-21 season as they made a playoff push. Once again he has made a major difference, this time after being promoted to the starting lineup on Dec. 20. The Wizards have gone 18-12, the ninth-best record in the NBA, since he was bumped up. They have also enjoyed the 11th-best net rating at +2.9. Gafford completes a formidable rim-protecting duo with Kristaps Porzingis and him being the fifth scoring option in the starting lineup has helped Gafford shoot one of the highest field goal percentages (74.9) in NBA history.

Beal could set the record

Bradley Beal is on track to set the Wizards’ franchise scoring record fairly soon. After a recent surge, he is now only 419 points behind Elvin Hayes on the all-time list. Based on his current scoring average of 23.1 points per game, he would set the new mark in the third-to-last game of the year. That game is in Atlanta, but three of the Wizards’ final four games are at home, which gives good odds he will do it in DC Atlanta already got to see Russell Westbrook set the all-time triple-doubles record in 2021, so maybe this Wizards record can happen at home.

Porzingis, Kuzma still thriving

Any time a player is putting up career numbers early in a season or midway through a season it’s fair to wonder whether they can keep it up and whether their health will allow them to do so. For Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, they have kept it rolling now for the majority of the season. Both players are averaging career-highs in scoring, while Porzingis has notably also stayed healthy. He’s already tied his games played (51) number from last year and is well on his way to his most durable season in years. Both he and Kuzma happen to be in line to potentially sign new contracts this summer.

Wright is an essential piece

The Wizards have proven to be a much better defensive team with Delon Wright in the picture. He missed about two months with a hamstring injury, but since returning he has helped the Wizards go 17-11. They have the 12th-best defensive rating in the NBA since he came back compared to 22nd before his return. He has also dramatically improved his efficiency in recent months, now with a 55.7 effective field goal percentage, which weighs threes more than twos. That’s right up there with Beal (56.7) and Monte Morris (56.5).

Three-point shooting is better

Gafford moving into the starting lineup and the team getting healthy were two keys to the Wizards’ turnaround, but so has been their improvement from three-point range. After a terrible start to the year, they have become much more dangerous from the perimeter. They just completed a month of February in which they were sixth in three-point percentage (38.7%) and 13th in threes made (12.0/g). Corey Kispert (41.2%) and Morris (40.6%) have been great all year, but others have really come around lately. Porzingis and Wright each shot 50% from three in February, while Beal shot 38.5%.

Schedule plays a role

The Wizards have arguably already played their toughest parts of the schedule, with all of their long road trips now in the rearview. That leaves them with 14 of their final 21 games at home. In March, they will play 11 of their 16 games at Capital One Arena. The stage is set for them to pack away some wins right when they want to make a final push towards the playoffs.

Important matchups remain

The NBA has installed mini-series into the regular season schedule and for the Wizards it couldn’t have worked out better in a way. They get the Raptors twice back-to-back at home this week, then next week host the Hawks in the same manner. The Wizards are 10th in the East, while the Hawks are eighth and the Raptors ninth. The opportunity is there for the Wizards to help themselves tremendously in a short period of time, they just have to take advantage of it. They also see Toronto and Atlanta later in the year on the road, plus host the sixth-seeded Heat in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Avdija turned it up

The Wizards traded Rui Hachimura on Jan. 23 in part to open the door for Deni Avdija to take on a larger offensive role. He has done just that. Now in 15 games since the trade, he has averaged 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 46.3% from the field and 33.3% from three. In the 44 games before Hachimura was dealt, Avdija was averaging 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 42.2% overall and 27.7% from deep. So, both his volume and efficiency have improved. He has a chance to close the season strong as an important member of the rotation.

Learning year for Davis

Rookie 10th overall pick Johnny Davis played in only three games in the third quarter of the season, totaling about 11 minutes. During that period of time, the Wizards also traded for another combo guard in Kendrick Nunn. That path for Davis to earn a role in the rotation just doesn’t appear to be there for now. With the Wizards gunning for the playoffs, the urgency is only going to heighten and that could mean the rotation will get pared down further.

Draft pick on the line

The Wizards being on the borderline of the playoffs creates an interesting scenario for their 2023 first round pick. It is owned by the New York Knicks and top-14 protected. That means if the Wizards make the playoffs — not just the play-in tournament but the playoffs — the pick goes to New York. While that may not seem ideal at first, the pick conveying would free up other future draft picks for the Wizards to potentially trade. The pick protections also go lower after this season, dropping to top-12 in 2024, top-10 in 2025 and top-8 in 2026. Granted, there are also good arguments for wanting to keep the pick this year as well.

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