Here's the Thing About the Wizards' Offseason: It Could Have Been Worse | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Here’s the Thing About the Wizards’ Offseason: It Could Have Been Worse

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Updated: August 12, 2016

ernie-grunfeld-ted-leonsis-hard-cap

Consider this: The worst deal the Wizards made this offseason was probably signing Jason Smith to a three-year, $16 million deal (1). That’s generally indicative of a fine summer, especially when the following things also happened:

  • Chandler Parsons and Harrison Barnes each signed a four-year, $94 million deal.
  • Evan Turner signed a four-year, $70 million deal.
  • Timofey Mozgov signed a four-year, $64 million deal.
  • Matthew Dellavedova signed a four-year, $38 million deal.
  • Boban Marjanovic (!) signed a three-year, $21 million deal.

And never-been an All-Star Mike Conley, somehow simultaneously overrated and underrated, signed the richest contract in the history of the sport.

Thanks to the extended wealth redistribution that was July 2016, the notion that the worst contract Washington doled out (2) was worth less than $20 million in total money should be comforting. Of course, it was never about the money with Smith’s deal as much as it was about priorities. The criticism of Ernie Grunfeld and Co. for spending much of the remaining cap room on a fifth big man instead of a quality wing, especially when the starting 2 is a virtual lock to miss 15 games, remains warranted. But what’s done is done.

The vitriol spewed by the local masses was always due more to the players the Wizards didn’t sign as opposed to the ones they did, and Grunfeld’s history of free-agent acquisitions did little to quell the umbrage. There was a homegrown gentleman who didn’t show up to the party, and a big fella from down south who waved hello and goodbye as he traveled north, but that was about as close as Washington got to adding a major asset. And that’s a downer. This summer was billed as the summer—the Wizards punted past summer to plan for this summer—but it ended up playing out much like last summer; the players are different and the contracts are heftier, but what it boiled down to (3) was the Wizards basically remaining stagnant while swapping out role players. This is a viable strategy for teams such as the Warriors and Cavs, who have the necessary stars aligned but could use some tweaking further down the depth chart. It is not a viable strategy for a team such as the Wizards—or roughly 25 other NBA teams—who need to improve their core before they can spend a summer slightly upgrading their bench.

This Wizards core, while still growing and in theory developing, has proven over several years that it isn’t good enough to contend—and contending for a championship should absolutely, unequivocally, always be the end goal. As good as John Wall can be and as good as a healthy Bradley Beal might one day be, a team with Otto Porter as its No. 3 isn’t going to compete for a title. That’s not meant to be a shot at Porter, I like him more than many do, but Klay Thompson or Kevin Love he is not.

The pervasive thought among Wizards’ decision-makers is that Wall, Beal, Porter, Kelly Oubre, and, to a lesser extent, Markieff Morris, will continue to improve, and that group will soon be strong enough to at least threaten contender status in the East. It’s a fair assumption that at least one or two of those five will improve marginally, and it’s not unrealistic to think any of them could take a considerable leap forward under a new coach, especially one with a reputation for getting the most out of young players. If that happens, Washington is an upper-level playoff team in the East, if nothing else. And while nothing screams ambition like consecutive seasons of 45 wins and second-round exits, all a young team with untapped potential, such as the Wizards, needs is a single player breaking out (4), and suddenly a Finals berth (and subsequent humiliation) is within reach. After all, most figured the Trail Blazers for a lottery team last year, but C.J. McCollum exploded for 20.8 points per game in his first season as a starter, proving to be a perfect backcourt partner for Damian Lillard, and they snagged the No. 5 seed in the West.

Nobody should convince themselves that such a thing will happen in Washington, but crazier things have happened. Did you hear about the Cavaliers winning three straight against the Warriors?

Anyway, if we operate under the assumption that the core will evolve into its next form—I cannot stress enough that this should not be the assumption or a viable “plan,” but for the sake of this exercise, let’s do so—here are some things to like about three of the new Wiz Kids, and reasons to think the second unit should actually be markedly better than it has been in recent years.

Ian Mahinmi

Rim Protection
Mahinmi’s biggest contribution will simply be his presence. The Wizards haven’t had much in terms of backup centers in recent years, and they’ve had even less in terms of rim protection behind Marcin Gortat. Mahinmi is listed at 6-foot-11, 250 pounds. Last season, he held opponents 4.4 percent below their season average field-goal percentage from within six feet of the basket. As a part-time player in 2014-15, he held opponents to 5.9 percent below their average from that range. His area of effectiveness does not extend much further than that six-foot range, but he did hold opponents 2.0 percent below their average on shots within 10 feet of the basket last season (5.2 percent below in 2014-15). He’s an above-average defender inside of 10 feet, which is generally where you want your backup center to live.

Perimeter Rebounding
Mahinmi is remarkably adept at hauling in long misses. Of his 507 total rebounds last year, 172 of them were on 3-point attempts, a rate of 33.9 percent. For comparison: 30.7 percent of Andrew Bogut’s rebounds were on 3-point attempts, and that’s playing with the trigger-happy Warriors. Roy Hibbert, as the starting center for the Pacers in 2014-15, grabbed 20.9 percent of his boards on 3s; and Andre Drummond, who led the league in rebounding last year, snagged 3-point rebounds 27.0 percent of the time. Mahinmi racked up 45 offensive rebounds on 3-pointers last year, about 8.8 percent of his total rebounds for the season; Bogut had 30 offensive rebounds on 3-pointers, about 6.1 percent of his total rebounds. When he backed up Hibbert two years ago, Mahinmi’s percentage of 3-point rebounds was down to 27.0 percent, but that’s still a fairly significant number.

It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing that Mahinnmi gets so many of his boards on 3-pointers, it’s just kind of a thing. But it’s a thing that’s good to know, and once you know it, you can utilize it. Much of his time on the court will likely be spent with Trey Burke (more on his 3-point shooting in a moment), Marcus Thornton, and Kelly Oubre. That’s a trio that should launch 200-plus triples this season, and it won’t hurt having a big man who excels at hauling in missed outside shots.

Shot Diversity
If somebody says “Ian Mahinmi” in a word association exercise, you’re probably not going to blurt out “diverse offensive repertoire,” but he’s got some moves. As he transitioned from bench player to starter, he learned to flow with the offense and rely on his teammates to find him open looks instead of trying to create his own. In 2014-15, 39.3 percent of his fields goals were unassisted and he shot .552 from the field; last season, those numbers were 24.2 percent and .589, respectively. With his role in the offense being so different last season, his shot variety spiked. Two years ago, he basically had five shots, per NBA.com: tip shot (32 FGA), dunk (33), hook shot (36), jump shot (58), and layup (61). Last year, he dramatically cut down on his standard jump shot rate (5), considerably increased his layup rate (224 FGA), added a finger roll (17-for-19 after not attempting a single one the year before), and turned his hook shot (6) into a weapon (shot .554 on a whopping 83 attempts).

The upshot of that added variety? Mahinmi shot .590 within nine feet of the basket in 2014-15, and .638 from less than five feet. Last season, those numbers were .633 and .670, respectively. In addition, 75.7 percent of his shots last year came from within five feet of the basket, a noted increase on the 71.7 percent of the 2014-15 season. In short, Mahinmi is shooting better shots and he’s figured out different, effective ways to get them off.

Trey Burke

Shot Creation
With Trey Burke, the best way to evaluate his fit is to measure him against his predecessor. We don’t know how Tomas Satoransky will transition to the NBA game, and we don’t quite know how he’ll be used in the Wizards’ scheme, nor do we really know much about what the Wizards’ scheme under Scott Brooks will be. Nonetheless, the biggest contribution Ramon Sessions made to the Wizards in his 110 games in Washington was his shot creation off the bench. As far as backup point guards go, he was very good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket, and he was even better at drawing fouls. Trey Burke is arguably a better shot creator, albeit in a completely different style. Nearly half the shots Sessions took last season (49.2 percent) came after three or more dribbles, compared to Burke’s 43.9 percent. Dig a little deeper and you see Sessions took shots on zero dribbles at the same rate (27.9 percent) he took shots after 3-6 dribbles, and he took 21.3 percent of his shots after seven dribbles. That doesn’t say much for the team’s ball movement when Sessions was running the show.

Speaking of Sessions running the show, this is where things get murky. Last season, 48.6 percent of Sessions’ baskets were assisted, and 50.7 percent of his layups were assisted. Compare that to Burke: Only 40.1 percent of his baskets were assisted, and just 16.7 percent of his layups were assisted. That’s not a single-season outlier, either; the year before, 49.1 percent of Sessions’ layups were assisted while 19.2 percent of Burke’s were. That could mean one of two things: Either Burke is really good at creating his own shot and he likes to do so, or he plays a lot of iso ball and looks for his shot instead of trying to get his teammates involved. Realistically, it’s a combination of both. But you didn’t watch Wizards games last year and think to yourself, “Man, the ball really zips around the court in a Spursian manner when Sessions is steering the ship.” You won’t think that with Burke in charge of the second unit this year. Both players like to create their own offense, but Sessions will generally hold the ball longer than Burke will, for better or worse. In this case, “different” has a positive connotation.

Pick-and-Roll Proficiency
Of the 65 players with at least 250 possessions in which they were the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll last season, Burke was 23rd in scoring efficiency, scoring on 40.9 percent of such plays. That’s not overly impressive, but consider that he was sandwiched directly between Reggie Jackson (41.3 percent) and Damian Lillard (40.9 percent), and ahead of players such as Russell Westbrook (40.6%), Kevin Durant (40.5%), Kyle Lowry (40.2%), Gordon Hayward (39.8%), Paul George (39.2%), and Bradley Beal (37.3%). Oh. And, um, John Wall (35.4%). For what it’s worth, Sessions (44.3%) was seventh on that list, barely edging out one Wardell Curry.

Shot Variety
Nobody around D.C. is reminiscing over the days of Wittman Ball—John Wall dribbles around for a few seconds, makes a meaningless pass to Marcin Gortat, who remains stationary for a few seconds while waiting for Bradley Beal to circuitously utilize an off-ball screen, Beal takes the ball from Gortat, dribbles for a few more seconds, then launches a contested long 2-pointer. The flavor of the month in the NBA is versatility, and players who can serve a variety of purposes are all the rage. Burke is not an overtly fluid player, but he is certainly comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court, and he’s not shy about taking shots where he can find them. This is not always a good feature, and in fact it’s often a bad one, but it’s a dramatic change from Sessions, who almost exclusively sought layups from the right side.

Burke’s shot chart looks like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Burke Shot Chart

Sessions’ shot chart looks like the work of a pointillist who’s had one drink too many.

Sessions Shot Chart


Perimeter Shooting

Burke took more than twice as many corner 3s as Sessions did last year (58 to 28), but the majority of the former Michigan star’s triples came from above the break. Per NBA.com, Burke attempted 192 above-the-break 3s last season, making 67 of them, while Sessions went 24-for-82 on such shots. On a related note, Burke is not only a better catch-and-shoot offensive threat than Sessions is, but by far a more willing one. The most common shot for Burke a year ago was a 3-pointer on zero dribbles, a shot that represented 29.8 percent of all his field-goal attempts, or 3.0 per game (7).

Burke shooting breakdown

This incredible volume of 3-pointers is almost—almost—single-handedly responsible for Burke’s dreadful field-goal percentage (.384) throughout his pro career. Generally speaking, a high-volume catch-and-shoot 3-point-shooter does not make an ideal point guard, and Trey Burke is not an ideal point guard. Nonetheless, there are two reasons to be optimistic. First, Burke’s ratio of 3-pointers to 2-pointers was at its highest rate of any of his three seasons last year, with 40.4 percent of his shots coming from beyond the arc, but his field-goal percentage of .413 was also a career high. It was either a sign of progress or a high-water mark that will be followed by low tide. Second, the Wizards don’t need an ideal point guard to back up Wall as much as they need a guy who can keep things moving, help the bench unit remain active, and maybe get hot enough to provide a spark a few times a month. Burke is far from perfect, but he can fill the role he was brought to Washington to fill.

Perimeter Defense
Burke is by no means a lockdown defender, but he’s also no slouch on the perimeter. He held opponents 1.5 percent below their season average on shots 15 feet or more from the basket last season, and though he allowed opponents to shoot 10.4 percent better on shots within 10 feet, Mahinmi should help him in that area. For comparison, opponents shot exactly their season average from 15 or more feet against Sessions, and 12.4 percent better on shots within 10 feet.

Andrew Nicholson

Wingspan
Before he was drafted, Andrew Nicholson’s wingspan was measured at 7 feet, 4 inches. For comparison, fellow 2012 draftee and notoriously lanky man Anthony Davis, nearly a full inch taller than Nicholson, had a wingspan of 7 feet, 5.5 inches. Nicholson’s not in the top echelon of length, but he’s damn close. He uses those long arms to his advantage all over the court. For example, opponents shot 9.2 percent below their season average on 3-pointers against him last season, and they shot 0.8 percent below their average on shots within six feet of the hoop, despite the fact that he only checks in at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds.

On the other side of the ball, his shots almost never get blocked. This is a complete list of frontcourt players (8) who played at least 800 minutes last season and attempted at least 300 field goals, and had fewer than 10 of their shots blocked: Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Wesley Johnson, Meyers Leonard, and Nicholson. Of that group, Nicholson attempted 114 3-pointers, typically the hardest shots to block; each of the other four attempted at least double that. He had just eight of his 310 total field-goal attempts (2.5%) blocked last season. Compare that to hilariously long Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 62 of his 1,013 shots (6.1%) blocked last year, or outside shooter Ryan Anderson, who had 41 of his 929 shots (4.4%) blocked, or elite shooting big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 37 of his 1,045 shots (3.5%) blocked, or traditional big man Ian Mahinmi, who had 41 of his 448 shots (9.1%) blocked, or the aforementioned lankball Anthony Davis, who had 54 of his 1,136 shots (4.7%) blocked.

Of Nicholson’s 310 shots, 154 of them came from 10 or more feet out. Not one of those attempts was blocked. This is due mostly to two things: a high release point and a deadly shot fake. The long arms help him with that shot fake, as the ball gets so high in the air before he brings it back in. Watch him torment Hassan Whiteside with that fake back in March.

Offensive Versatility
There really isn’t a whole lot Nicholson can’t do on offense, but what he has done has come in small sample sizes (9), and he probably won’t get an opportunity to show off much this season while coming off the bench. Nonetheless, he has a jumper that, while hardly a thing of beauty, is improving to a point where it has to be respected; he went 42-for-116 (.362) from 20 or more feet last season after going 24-for-67 (.358) the year before. Each season, he has gotten a larger percentage of his points from 3-pointers than the season prior:

  • 2012-13: 0.0%
  • 2013-14: 19.3%
  • 2014-15: 20.1%
  • 2015-16: 32.0%

He’s also learning how to create his own shot. The empirical evidence: Just 22.9 percent of his shots were unassisted in 2014-15, but 46.6 percent of his shots were unassisted last season. Now, go back to that video above. Watch how sometimes after a screen, Nicholson hits the pick-and-pop jumper, but other times he employs the shot fake, puts the ball on the floor, and drives to the basket. There’s your anecdotal evidence. Earlier in his career, he would frequently pass out of similar situations instead of driving past his airborne defender, seemingly reluctant more for psychological reasons than a lack of skill—he did average 17.1 points per game over four years at St. Bonaventure. Two seasons ago, he attempted just four shots NBA.com classified as “driving” shots. Last season, he attempted 18.

Much like Mahinmi, Nicholson is becoming adept at the hook game. In his final season in Orlando, the lanky forward went 43-for-91 (.473) on hook shots, including 12-for-22 (.545) on turnarounds. That’s a notable increase on his 17-for-42 (.405) the season prior, which included just a 1-for-4 (.250) showing on turnarounds. Hook shots represented 29.3 percent of his total field-goal attempts last year compared to 22.1 percent two years ago. This isn’t to say he should be reliant on his hook shot prowess—Kareem he is not—but he’s got a pretty strong hook game, it’s nearly impossible to block (just one block in 91 attempts last year), and the more moves he can effectively utilize, the more useful and dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands.

He Stays In The Game
Just a quick note here. Through four seasons, Nicholson has averaged 3.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes. However, last season he averaged just 3.0 PF/36 and the season before he averaged 3.7 PF/36. Nene has exactly one season in his career in which he averaged fewer than 3.7 PF/36 (2011-12), and last year he averaged 5.1 PF/36. DeJuan Blair, though used sparingly, basically came in the game exclusively to foul opposing players last season, averaging 8.8 PF/36. Markieff Morris averaged 4.0 PF/36 over his 27 games in Washington, which is also in line with his career average, and Drew Gooden averaged 4.7 PF/36 over his 30 games. It’s not a huge deal if the backup 4 gets into foul trouble on occasion, but you also his foul count always in the back of your mind in case you need him for extended minutes on a given night, and that’s a situation the Wizards often dealt with last season.

An Old Friend…
Just gonna leave this here, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. No, it does not help my overall point at all.

Vesely


  1. Ian Mahinmi’s contract might not look so good in a year or two.
  2. Bradley Beal’s extension was necessary, but it has massive backfire potential.
  3. Shoutout Randy Wittman.
  4. Or an injury to LeBron James.
  5. Just 85 jump shot attempts, only 23 more than the year before despite nearly 700 more minutes on the floor, and Mahinmi improved from .241 accuracy to slightly less terrible .294.
  6. Mahinmi shot 7-for-11 on driving hook shots last year after not attempting a single one the year before, and 10-for-17 on turnaround hook shots last year after going 2-for-4 the year prior.
  7. He was an efficient 77-for-189 (.407) on these shots.
  8. More specifically, all players listed by NBA.com as 6-foot-7 or taller.
  9. He has yet to attempt even 500 shots in a season, he only took 10 or more shots in nine games last season, and he has only attempted 15 or more shots in a game once in his career, when he randomly went 4-for-16 in a 2013 game.
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.