Wizards Free Agents: Otto Porter (Restricted), Bojan Bogdanovic (Restricted), Trey Burke (Restricted), Brandon Jennings
Wizards 2016-17 Weaknesses: 30th: Center Points. 29th: Bench Points. 25th: Points in the Paint. 24th: Defensive Rebounding, Blocks, Field Goal Percentage Defense. 23rd: Total Rebounding, Frontcourt Points. 22nd: Free Throw Attempts. 21st: Opponent Points. 20th: 3-Point Attempts, 3-Point Defense, Defensive Rating.
Wizards 2016-17 Strengths: 2nd: Steals. 3rd: Field Goal Percentage, Non-Paint Points, Starters Points. 4th: Fast Break Points. 5th: Scoring. 6th: Assists, Shooting Guard Points. 7th: 2-Point Percentage, Offensive Rating, Backcourt Points, Point Guard Points. 8th: 3-Point Percentage.
2017-18 (3) Largest Contracts: Bradley Beal $23,775,506. John Wall $16,784,031. Ian Mahinmi $16,000,000.
Player Options: None.
The Washington Wizards are in the midst of a 38 year Eastern Conference Finals drought, a woefully tragic dry spell they are desperate to bury. What is standing in their way is a consistently effective defense, rebounding, and a bench that is hungry and skilled.
The Wizards were a terrific offensive team in 2016-17, top-10 in every category. It didn’t go unnoticed even as a pervasive light was turned on John Wall 24-7, who had the greatest year of his pro life and set the table for the second half of his career, John Wall superstar. No longer is John Wall a forgotten name when reciting the league’s best point guards. When you say Chris Paul, Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, you must also drop in the convo John Wall.
As John Wall rose, Marcin Gortat descended, after a decade in the league. When guarding younger and more athletic bigs he was painfully lost. The strategic change in the league that pushes big men out to the perimeter has not served Gortat well. He can’t travel far so guarding Al Horford was impossible. Even in the post, he struggled with movement. Yes, his body is still big but he can’t keep up with versatile athletes and he is helpless on pick and roll. He can still rebound but there isn’t much left of his game and in the playoffs he was a wash.
But as bad as Gortat was, it didn’t matter because Otto Porter saved the best for last. The Wizards had the opportunity to offer Porter an extension but didn’t; now they are going to have to pay. Porter led the league in three point shooting percentage. However in the playoffs he didn’t deliver, only hitting 28% of his threes. The playoffs aside, Porter is going to be a hot commodity, a small forward who can shoot, drive to the rim, finish and defend, not to mention the ability to play with All-Stars, to understand his role. Porter is not an All-Star himself but he makes open shots and can defend his position. He works best on a team that has wing scorers even as he can’t be the best player on a team. But expect the money to come his way, more money than the Wizards may want to pay.
Here is the dilemma. The Wizards need to upgrade their bench. Outside of rebounding and defensive issues, their bench was the worst thing about them. The bench, a collection of loose parts, failed them in the playoffs. Brandon Jennings didn’t matter. Neither did Bojan Bogdanovic. Porter is a restricted free agent. If he signs an offer sheet with someone else, the Wizards have a chance to match it. But what is that line in the sand going to be? Are they going to pay Otto Porter $18 million, pushing them to the brink of cap hell so all they can offer is minimum contracts and a mini mid-level exception to upgrade their second unit? How desperate are the Wizards to keep Porter? Over the cap desperate? Another marginal bench desperate? Losing him would be a blow but not fixing the bench problems will keep the Wizards out of the conference finals. Again.
Whether Porter leaves or he stays, it is clear where the offensive trust is. John Wall 1. Bradley Beal 1A. Beal signed a massive contract and delivered in the playoffs when the Wizards needed him. He had a couple of off games but then dug deep and continued to attack and make shots. Beal and Wall were the reasons the Wizards nearly came close to 50 wins. The Wizards have yet to crack the 50 win mark in the John Wall era.
What is excellent about the Wizards is what is wrong with the Wizards. It is Wall and Beal or it is nothing. There isn’t much versatility or pure skill beyond the great guards. They cannot do everything. A tired John Wall had to gut through game 7.
I love Wall. He’s like Chris Paul and unfortunately has the same no conference final mark on his resume. But Wall has reshaped the Wizards and he and Beal are the East Coast version of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson but not equal to their talent. Curry is a better offensive player than John Wall and Klay Thompson, at 6-7, is a better defender than Beal. Unfortunately for them, Beal and Wall don’t have the luxury of an offensive system (like the Warriors) that extracts 110% of their talent while also making everyone else better. Scott Brooks legitimizes the two scorer offense but neglects empowering everyone else.
And so here we are. The Wizards were the Wizards all the way to the end and game 7. I was sorry to see it end. But there was no other possible outcome when it was all about Beal and Wall. (Markieff Morris had a good playoff run being tough and hard). To do more, to be more, it has to be about more than Wall and Beal. Otto Porter has to be given trust and re-signed. The bench has to be reorganized.
This was the first year of Scott Brooks and optimism is the rule of the day. The Wizards are a legitimate factor in the East. Now it is Grunfield time. Pay Otto Porter. Trade Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahinmi. One of them has to go. Add an additional scorer off the bench.
As of today, the Wizards have a window to get it done. Don’t waste time thinking very good is the goal. It’s not. Great is the goal. The Wizards are not there yet, not great. Almost ready doesn’t get you into the conference finals.
photo via llananba