Washington Wizards’ preseason opener previewed a possible small ball starting 5 to start the season

While a losing effort in Japan, the Washington Wizards’ preseason debut on Friday may have turned out to be a preview of a possible starting five option heading into the 2022-2023 season.

The preseason is a pivotal period on the NBA calendar. For organizations like the Wizards, that aren’t overflowing with superstar talents, figuring out lineup combinations that can maximize players’ talents and be as productive as possible is a top priority. Especially since coaching staffs only get three games and practices to discover the best groupings.

Position battles can be helpful in deciding the players deserving of the most time, but injuries can also have an effect and open the door to experimentation. The Wizards had both of those elements in play for their 96-87 loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in this year’s edition of the NBA Japan Games.

Related: Wizards star Kristaps Porzingis shed weight in offseason to break trend of injury-shortened seasons

A key position battle in training camp is at small forward. Where Rui Hachimura, Will Barton, and Deni Avdija are competing to land the three spot in the starting five. For the Warriors game, Barton and Avdija were both out with minor injuries. Which, one would assume, would open the door for a bunch of playing time at small forward for Hachimura. However, head coach Wes Unseld and the staff went with a different look.

Washington Wizards could move Kyle Kuzma to small forward to start 2022-2023 season

washington wizards
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of Kyle Kuzma playing power forward — which is expected to be the spot he’ll hold down in the starting five this season — the former Laker played small forward, and the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Hachimura played at the four. The complete lineup saw Kristaps Porzingiz at the center, Hachimura, Kuzma, Bradley Beal at shooting guard, and Monte Morris playing point.

The lineup was unexpected for some, but not a complete surprise as many assumed Hachimura would receive a featured role as a Japanese native playing at home. However, Unseld says the lineup is something the staff has seriously considered, and the situation in the leadup to Friday allowed for them to put it into action in a live game.

“We’ve had internal conversations as a staff about this being a potential starting lineup, and we’ve had opportunities throughout camp to kind of move guys to different spots. And obviously, this was a natural opportunity with [Hachimura] coming home, but it’s something that certainly has been talked about, and we’ve tried it in small bits in practice. So just to see it play out, I thought it was overall positive.”

Wes Unseld on starting lineup vs Warriors [h/t The Athletic]

Hachimura had a strong game as he scored 13 points and pulled down nine boards in 25 minutes that saw him often matched up with Warriors great Draymond Green. One key in making this group something the Wizards go with to start the season would be the defensive play of Hachimura. Which is a weakness in his game.

However, Unseld felt he was very active defensively against Golden State and said, “I want to see him continue that trend” if he hopes to land a starting spot in the 2022-2023 season.

This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.

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