Kispert didn’t take the floor until midway through the third quarter despite a solid preseason debut in Houston, with Washington’s core players getting extended minutes together to develop chemistry and defensive communication that Unseld called “a work in progress” this week. Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Daniel Gafford opened the game but couldn’t give the Wizards any kind of cushion against the Knicks’ free-flowing offense, which shot 45.2 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three.
Center Montrezl Harrell led Washington with 18 points in 22 minutes off the bench. Beal had 14 points and Dinwiddie had 13.
Here are some takeaways:
Three-point defense dicey
No matter that New York ranked 21st in the NBA last season in three-pointers made — the Knicks were given the green light to let fly from deep against the Wizards, and their efforts paid off. New York got hot early, sinking nine three-pointers before the second quarter was halfway over, and ended up hitting an stunning 24 of 52 from beyond the arc. It had four players who made at least three, including Derrick Rose — who was 3 for 3 from deep.
Unseld had emphasized transition defense heading into Saturday’s bout but the Knicks had just 11 points on the break. They had no trouble beating the Wizards in their set offense and flaunted a variety of scorers, led by RJ Barrett, who had 18 points.
“There were a lot of problems, obviously. Sometimes it’s a little bit more carry-over, where we just have to trust what we’re doing,” Unseld said, noting closeouts, pickup points and defensive awareness as particular points of concern Saturday. “ … I don’t think it’s strictly on the schematics of any situation. We got dinged in a lot of areas.”
The five months and change Deni Avdija missed after fracturing his right fibula in late April was the longest the 20-year-old from Israel has spent away from basketball since he was 14, by his own estimate. On Saturday, he ran with the second unit with just two full practices under his belt.
Unseld wanted to see how much Avdija retained from training camp, how comfortable he was using new defensive terminology and how he grasped defensive concepts. The Wizards knew the second-year pro would be a step behind given his lack of reps, and Saturday was about gaining a baseline understanding of how Avdija looks in real competition.
Last year’s No. 9 pick had the ball in his hands plenty in his 16 minutes but scored just four points and made 2 of 3 attempts in addition to grabbing four rebounds. His best offensive highlight was his first bucket, a driving layup off a behind-the-back pass from guard Raul Neto.
“He didn’t make shots, we got him off the ball playing second-side pick and roll, which I thought was great,” Unseld said, before complimenting the third unit with which Avdija was running, despite a lack of scoring. “ … We generated the right type of shots that we were looking to generate.”
Harrell continues to shine
Harrell is quickly asserting himself as the Wizards’ best rebounder and continues to be their most outwardly passionate player. The former sixth man of the year had a team-high 10 rebounds and two monster blocks, including one in the third quarter that came with a roar that gave Washington a little bit of edge it otherwise lacked Saturday.
Gafford, meanwhile, contributed his own spurts of energy with three blocks in less than a minute in the first half. The 23-year-old was more patient and focused on defense compared with Tuesday’s game in Houston and managed to stay out of foul trouble — something he struggled with last season.
The Wizards’ new point guard said his primary emotion in his first game back from a December ACL tear on Tuesday was gratitude. Unseld was a hair more technical, calling Dinwiddie “back to normal,” especially considering the strong connection he had throwing lobs to Gafford.
Dinwiddie built off that solid start with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting to go with four assists in 22 minutes Saturday, showing off his ability to make smart passes out of double teams and high comfort in driving to the rim in isolation situations.