Bradley Beal’s return from a left hamstring strain Wednesday after a five-game absence came at a fortuitous time for the Washington Wizards.
That schedule, coupled with Washington’s full health, means the team will have a chance to develop its chemistry and some much-needed consistency, Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said after practice Friday.
“Some of that is with Brad back, really kind of leaning in to what we have and how we can play. Hopefully, this is us going forward,” Unseld said. “We can never anticipate the things that could happen, but he’s healthy, he looks good, so hopefully we kind of develop a little bit more chemistry with our core group.”
Having Beal back in the offense will make life easier especially for Kristaps Porzingis, who spoke after Washington’s loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday about how much harder teams guard him when Beal isn’t there to draw attention. Porzingis had 32 points against the Warriors but just seven points in the second half, when physical defense by Draymond Green and Anthony Lamb wore him down.
His shooting from the field, which is 47.1 percent this season, dipped to 42.6 percent during Beal’s latest absence.
Beyond opening up the offense, Porzingis spoke unprompted Friday about how Beal raises the team’s overall level when he’s on the floor.
“We have to start winning all kinds of games, not only the ones that we’re supposed to win, but we need to start winning games that we’re not supposed to win like we did the other night in New York,” Porzingis said. “Having Brad back makes a huge difference, obviously. We play more disciplined when he’s out there. He’s making the right plays, and then nobody else is allowed to not make the right plays, not make the right pass. He sets the standard. It’s maybe hard to see, but us as players, we feel that on the court when he’s out there.”
Unseld will have to make decisions about playing time just as he did the last time his team was fully healthy near the end of December.
Veteran wing Will Barton fell out of the rotation during that time period and did not work his way back even when Beal was injured. He has played significant minutes just once since Dec. 22, in a blowout loss in Oklahoma City, and could be a potential target to move ahead of the trade deadline should interest around the league increase.
Backup guard Jordan Goodwin’s numbers have fluctuated with Beal’s availability as well but a broader sense of stability for the 24-year-old may be arriving soon. Washington would like to convert Goodwin’s two-way contract to a standard one, but will have to clear a spot on the roster beforehand and is running out of time.
Players on two-way contracts, meaning their time is split between the NBA and G League, are limited to 50 NBA games in the regular season. Should Goodwin continue to play with the Wizards as he has nearly all year, his 50th active game — games in which a player does not play are not counted the same as games in which a player is “inactive,” or not with the team — would be six games away, on Feb. 1 in Detroit.
Asked Friday what Goodwin brings to the organization, Unseld said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard has the potential should he commit to the defensive side of his game. He has shown a disruptive energy in the 35 games he has played this season and on the offensive end averages 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field.
Unseld pointed out his ability to make a difference defensively from the point guard position, where he has started four games this year.
“His size and physicality give him a chance. He can impact at the point, in pick and rolls, whether it’s off the ball in catch-and-shoots, he does a pretty good job of handling those types of situations. So that versatility at least gives you options,” Unseld said.
Beyond his on-court talents, Goodwin has a knack for breathing fresh life into the Wizards when they need it most.
“His energy and spirit are true. He wants to be out there, he wants to play. He also gets where he is at this point in his career, he’s still on the cusp of carving out a niche,” Unseld said. “I think these minutes that he’s gotten this season are going to help propel him to that next layer. His energy, his approach are infectious. He’s always in a good mood, always wanting to work, to do the little things, and it shows on the floor, his ability to impact winning. He’ll do what it takes.”