Hughes: Wizards better equipped to withstand injuries in 2021-22


Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard perhaps put it best at the end of the 2020-21 season, saying his team simply ran out of players. They had endured the loss of starting center Thomas Bryant in the beginning of the regular season, then rookie forward Deni Avdija in April and then Davis Bertans in the middle of their first-round series against the Sixers.

Philly would have been a goliath either way, but the pure lack of manpower hurt Washington and that experience helped dictate their goals this offseason. Through a series of moves, they smoothed out their salary cap to establish strength in numbers. Most notably, they traded Russell Westbrook and his supermax contract essentially for five players; Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Holiday and second round pick Isaiah Todd.

Exactly how much the Wizards have been hurt by injuries in recent years depends on what data you look at. All teams deal with injuries and that was especially the case this past season in a more concentrated schedule due to the coronavirus. The lack of days off in between games appears to have translated to significantly more injuries.

For instance, according to ManGamesLost.com, the Wizards were 22nd among NBA teams in the 2020-21 season in terms of injuries. That said, the same site determined Bryant as the most impactful injury for any team last season and the Wizards were second only to the Nets in terms of estimated wins lost due to injury (they base it on win shares).

Bryant missed 55 games and the Wizards had to scramble to sign Alex Len as a free agent after he passed through waivers. Len helped them improve their defense and turn their season around, but Bryant was missed particularly on offense, as he is their most efficient player.

Anyone who watched the Wizards closely could also see the impact of the timing and nature of their injuries. Westbrook beginning the season with a quad strain had a major effect, even as he kept playing through it. Bradley Beal also missed 12 games and the Wizards went 2-10. There was also the Covid-19 outbreak they dealt with in January, which had some undefined aftereffects on conditioning and rhythm for many players.

When Avdija went down, the Wizards had to compensate for a sudden lack of depth at the small forward position. That led to playing Beal and Raul Neto there, which helped them cover more ground for three-point defense but also led to some glaring defensive mismatches.

Injury impact also depends on which players are lost and which ones remain. Three of the Wizards' top four players last season in games played were role players; Robin Lopez, Neto and Garrison Mathews. 

The Wizards know all too well how one injury can be more wounding than another. Year after year, they seem to have one ill-timed absence that throws them for a loop. The three seasons before this past one were defined by John Wall getting hurt, including the 2019-20 campaign which he didn't appear in a single game. Before that, a training camp back injury to Dwight Howard got their season off on the wrong foot, while the same thing to a lesser degree happened the year before with Markieff Morris.

The Wizards have never been mistaken for a franchise with perpetual good luck, but some data suggests they haven't been all that unlucky compared to other teams. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, so the last six years, they are 13th in man games lost.

In addition to the timing and nature of injuries, how well teams can provide reinforcements also factors in when it comes to the impact of players going down. The Wizards arguably haven't been good enough at that over the past six years, even this past season when at its onset you could have made the case depth was a relative strength. 

The Wizards found out just how much depth they need to go the distance in a season that ends with a playoff appearance. They need as many quality players as they can fit on their roster.

Now, the Wizards appear to have a more robust depth chart than they have had in at least a few years. At point guard, they can go three deep with Spencer Dinwiddie, Neto and Holiday, with Cassius Winston developing behind them. They have an overflow of wings with Beal, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans and 2021 first round pick Corey Kispert. And they have three capable big men with Bryant, Harrell and Daniel Gafford. Anthony Gill could also be included in that mix, as he came along nicely towards the end of his rookie season.

The problem with projecting depth and its impact is that one of the main reasons for having it, injuries, can't be accounted for before they happen. You just know that they will happen, to some degree.

The Wizards, though, seem to be better positioned to withstand the inevitability of injuries than they were previously. They can hope for the best now that they have prepared for the worst.

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