When the Lakers completed the deal that brought Russell Westbrook to Los Angeles they gave up quite a lot. Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell were all sent to Washington along with a first-round pick.

But the general feeling at the time was that despite all they gave up, the Lakers still won the trade. In reality, they lost three underperforming role players in return for one superstar point guard to complete a fearsome big three.

Therefore, many expected the Lakers to be great and the Wizards to be poor but that hasn’t been the case. That narrative may prove to be true later in the season, but the Wizards won the trade as it stands.

How did the Washington Wizards become so good?

The Washington Wizards are 7-3 to start the 2021/22 season and are playing some surprisingly great basketball. And that is thanks to a number of factors, chief of which remains the ever productive Bradley Beal.

Beal is averaging 24ppg along with his new backcourt partner, Spencer Dinwiddie who contributes just under 16ppg.

Dinwiddie’s more subservient style of play (compared to Westbrook) has proven beneficial with his team-high 5.7 assists. 

For all their offensive firepower, coach Wes Unseld Jr appears to have improved the Wizards drastically in defense too. Washington is second in the league for both defensive rebounds (391) and blocks (62) with a 104.2 defensive rating.

Both of their centres, Daniel Gafford and Montrezl Harrell are big parts of that as they both rank among the top 20 in the league for total blocks and blocks per game.

Ex-Lakers performing Wizardry in Washington

Montrezl Harrell could be on course to win another ‘Sixth Man of the Year’ award if he keeps this up. Harrell is averaging 17.7 points per game, 9.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while only starting two games. Harrell’s 62 2-pt field goals are the 17th most in the league, he ranks 14th for 2-pt field goal percentage.

Harrell’s revival is spurred by more playing time and trust in Washington than he got from Frank Vogel in LA. Despite rarely starting games, only Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have played more minutes for the Wizards this season than Harrell.

Speaking of Kuzma and KCP, they’re also loving life in the capital and embracing more responsibility o their new team.

Kuzma ranks 17th for both rebounds and rebounds per game and 11th for defensive rebounds in the league. Factor in his 14 points per game and you understand why he’s started every game for the Wizards this season.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s contributions to the team are not as flashy as Harrelland Kuzma’s but important nonetheless. He’s also started every game and played the third-most minutes which implies he’s crucial to how they play.

KCP is averaging 9.3 points per game but it’s in defense where he shines, averaging 1.3 steals per game, tied for a team-high with Bradley Beal.

KCP’s experience and ability to read the game and know where and how he’s needed has really helped the Wizards. He’s become a viable option in the corner on offense as he’s shot 40% from three-point range so far.

In conclusion, the Washington Wizards have started the season better than envisaged and they look like a solid team now. How utterly poetic that the trade which was supposed to weaken them ended up making them stronger than before.