Wizards Offseason Report: Do Washington Have Their Three-Headed Monster?

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2016/17 Record: 49 – 33 (Second Round Exit)

2017/18 Salaries: $127,637,597 (Luxury Tax Team) – full WAS salary cap situation – here.

Incoming Draft Picks: Nil

Outgoing Draft Picks: DEN ’19 2nd, MIL ’20 2nd (56-60), UTA ’21 2nd

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Coming into season 2016/17, the Wizards were rife with uncertainty. There were rumours that franchise cornerstone and passing wizard John Wall was unhappy, the team had shelled out big bucks to an often injured Bradley Beal and the front office took a metaphorical bludger to the face in the form of Kevin Durant spurning his hometown team for the Warriors. Whilst Durant joining always seemed like a long shot, it still wasn’t the result the franchise felt it needed, particularly having just hired his former coach in Scott Brooks.

Fast forward through Funeral Games and jumping on scoreboards and the Washington Wizards are sitting much more comfortably than this time last year. But a new year brings new challenges, and Scott Brooks may have to hope he has the Elder Wand to improve some of the same issues Washington ran into last season.

On the list of challenges that are not going to be an issue is John Wall and money. Wall got PAID, even if the new cash won’t hit for a while. Four years and $175 mil is a lot of Galleons, and Wall earned every bit of that extension last season. No one created more for their team than Wall did – other than MVP runner up James Harden – and Wall lead the league in assist-to-pass percentage for anyone that played more than 2 games (congrats Jarnell Stokes!). Not only that, Wall improved measurably across the board.

Wall improved in virtually all statistical fields last season. Part of Wall’s success was his ability to collapse the defence. Wall averaged nearly 12 drives per game, and his improvement scoring from in close meant he was punishing opposing defenses in the paint or forcing defensive rotations and finding shooters in positions to succeed. Wall was the Washington offense last season:

2015/16: 19.8 PER, 0.7 Net Rating, 51% True Shooting, 12.2 Turnover %, 5.7 Win Shares, 4.5 FTA per game, 10.2 Assists per game, 19.9 Points per game.

2016/17: 23.2 PER, 3.9 Net Rating, 54.1% True Shooting, 11.4 Turnover %, 8.8 Win Shares, 6.8 FTA per game, 10.7 Assists per game, 23.1 Points per game.

Wall was recognised with a 3rd Team All-NBA spot and cemented his place as one of the best Point Guards, and players, in the NBA. Complimenting this improvement was Beal living up to his contract.

As far as shot makers go, Beal can and did do it all last season, and the team performed much better with him on the floor as a result. Beal increased his offensive Win Shares by 5.8 whilst keeping his defensive contributions steady, per basketball-reference. Beal was just as effective as Kevin Durant when scoring out of the pick and roll, and averaged two made threes per game out of catch and shoot scenarios. Beal became everything you could want out of a 1A; shot creator, knockdown shooter, secondary ball handler and big shot maker:

2015/16: 15.5 PER, -1.6 Net Rating, 54.7% True Shooting, 9.7 Turnover %, 2.7 Win Shares, 1.9 3PM per game, 2.9 Assists per game, 17.4 Points per game.

2016/17: 23.2 PER, 3.9 Net Rating, 54.1% True Shooting, 8.2 Turnover %, 8.5 Win Shares, 2.9 3PM per game, 3.5 Assists per game, 23.1 Points per game.

There isn’t much more you could ask from Wall and Beal given their importance to the offense. Wall experienced some defensive slippage last year, but definitely offset it with his stellar offensive contributions. But a Three-Headed Monster needs three heads.

It is with that ‘Third Star’ slot that the Wizards need to work some magic. If Otto Porter had a Patronus, it would probably be Wall speeding down court and passing him the ball in the corner for a triple. Porter turned into an absolute sniper last season, and seems far removed from lapses like this. He has shown continued growth year on year, and at 24 years of age there is no reason to not expect him to come back better once again. This will be important, since GM Ernie Grunfeld backed up the brinks truck in a big way.

Porter, for all his positives, is overrated as a defender. When you’re possibly the highest paid 3-and-D player in the league, you would expect more on the D side of things.  On the ‘3’ side of the ball, Porter is lethal. 1.8 catch and shoot threes on 44% shooting is bonafide lights out, and Porter averaged an absurd 1.31 points per possession for that play type. But on ‘D’, Porter still needs some work. He consistently gave up a better than average field goal percentage:

2015/16: 14.5 PER, 0.6 Net Rating, 56.4% True Shooting, 103.2 Defensive Rating, 5.6 Win Shares, 1.3 3PM per game,  DRPM, 17.4 Points per game.

2016/17: 17.3 PER, 3.1 Net Rating, 62.8% True Shooting, 107.2 Defensive Rating, 9.4 Win Shares, 1.9 3PM per game, 0.44 DRPM, 13.4 Points per game.

There is a significant chance for a deja vu season from the Wizards. Once again, Washington will sport an excellent starting five. ‘Kieff Morris and Marcin Gortat combined with Wall, Beal and Porter are like the Planeteers coming together to make Captain Planet. The Wizards starting unit played a whopping 1347 minutes together, nearly 450 more than the next most frequent 5 man combination. That combination was lethal in big minutes, outscoring opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions. Durability played a huge roll in their success, as did familiarity. In a conference where Cleveland and Boston are both facing significant overhauls, this could be a small advantage for when the games start to count.

The flip side of this is the bench. Whereas Cleveland have improved their bench with Jae Crowder, and Boston have revamped their team to potentially be a ramped up version of last year’s number one seed, Washington seem to have flatlined. The Wizards don’t necessarily have a three-headed beast to build around, but they have effectively paid for one. Coach Brooks is fortunate to have cheap veterans like Gortat and Morris to rely on, because Grunfeld hasn’t exactly done much to flesh out the rest of the roster. It’s going to take some sorcery from both Brooks and Wall to get more production from their bench.

Step one will be allowing Beal and maybe even Wall to play with the second unit more, Washington ranked 29th in Bench PPG and APG. It will also help if Porter and Oubre develop enough to be additional playmakers when playing out of the weakside. If teams know they can cheat on dribble penetration and only have to worry about closing out to a shot, Washington become easy to guard.  Brooks would do well to look for ways to diversify the attack, or demand Porter, Satoransky and Oubre show a ball fake and attack the rim where possible.

Ultimately, Washington might need to make a move to truly compete, but what they would hope to receive looks to be unclear. In a Golden State world where superteams are real and three stars are looking like they are not enough, Washington might not have done enough to hurdle to the top of the conference. Wall is a foundational player, but just like Harry Potter needed Hermione and Ron to defeat Voldemort, John needs his pals Brad and Otto to defeat Boston or Cleveland. Two-thirds of the Three-Headed Monster are confirmed, and Washington need Porter to cement his place in the hydra.

Projected Starting Five:

Projected Depth Chart:

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Overall Offseason Grade: C+

2017/18 Prediction: 52-30

The Wizards have one major advantage working for them over every other contender in the Eastern Conference – continuity. Despite not infusing the roster with major talent, Washington have kept their core together and avoided major losses. Couple that with the further depletion of the (L)Eastern Conference and Wall and Co. should be able to squeeze out another few wins. Now getting past the 2nd round…

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Player To Watch: Kelly Oubre Jr

Kelly made a decent jump in production in his second year, doubling his minutes and generally looking like he belongs. The makings of an athletic 3&D player are there – Oubre shot 36.7% from three in the playoffs (up from a dismal 28.7% in the regular season), and the team was 2.2 points better per 100 possessions on defense when he was on the floor. A 3rd Year leap could propel him into 6th Man of the Year territory, and provide Washington some cheap production.

Four Key Questions:

1. Will Gortat last the whole season?
Gortat basically thought he was a goner after the season, but there aren’t many teams that need a throwback 5, even if he is a relatively cheap and effective one. If the team did move Gortat, they become very thin up front; relying on the oft-injured Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith combination seems like a death knell. Grunfeld has provided a decent roster with limited depth and virtually no maneuverability under the cap constraints, and whilst there is little chance he can get equal value for any single player in a trade, a two-for-one deal leaves them even more depleted. Washington risk ruining their excellent synergy by flipping Gortat, but there may be no other way to markedly improve the roster. Plus, why have Mahinmi at $16 mil to be a back-up?

2. Can the bench do anything?
Jodie Meeks comes in after some very injury plagued years to fill the designated sniper role vacated by Bogdanovic. Meeks wasn’t horrible last season – which is saying something considering he played for Orlando – and still managed to shoot over 40% from long range. Tim Frazier should be an upgrade on last year’s Brandon Jennings and was an underrated acquisition by Grunfeld. As was Mike Scott, who could fill in as a Morris Lite when Kief needs a rest or is hurt. But unless there is some serious growth from Satoransky or Oubre, Washington still look thin.

3. Can Brooks keep Wall fresh?
Wall has spent a lot of time training his endurance this offseason as he  ran out of gas at the end of the Boston series. Wall played 36 minutes per game last year, and even trimming that down to 35 would save Wall nearly 2 games worth of burn. That could be the difference between a Game Seven loss or win. Brooks has both Satoransky and Frazier available for the back-up spot, either of which should offer better stability than the combination of Trey Burke and Jennings. The Wizards were 7.5 points per 100 possessions worse off with Wall on the bench, that needs to improve this coming year.

4. Will Grunfeld mortgage the future for the present?
With the team sitting in the luxury tax, there are very few avenues available to improve the roster should it be underperforming. With Wall, Beal and Porter all locked in on long term deals and entering their primes, the time is very much now to build a contender. We already saw the willingness to part with a first round pick at last year’s deadline, and packaging a future first with a player might be the only option to pry away a Courtney Lee/Will Barton to bolster the wing or Jon Leuer/Ersan Ilyasova for the forward spots.

Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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