Into the Great Unknown: Wizards Bench Loaded With Question Marks | Wizards Blog Truth About

Into the Great Unknown: Wizards Bench Loaded With Question Marks

Updated: October 3, 2016


Every Wizards-related headline this summer has been the same:
“Washington struck out on big-name free agents, bolstered depth instead.”

The refrain is repeated so often it is taken as gospel. But is it even true?

In the literal sense, yes. It is true Washington spent all of its cap space—painstakingly accumulated over three years—on bench players. But the implied conclusion, that Washington’s bench is now solidified, does not necessarily follow.

Washington added plenty of depth to its front court with Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson joining incumbent big men Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. That’s a whole lot of serviceable power forwards and centers.

However, there are three other positions on a basketball team. This is where Washington enters uncharted territory. With the exception of Marcus Thornton, every single point guard, shooting guard, and small forward on the bench is being asked to perform a role they have never successfully done before—and in Thornton’s case, it’s a role he has not successfully performed in several years.

Let’s start with small forward. Otto Porter had a nice second half last season and is expected to grow into a real-life NBA starting small forward in 2016-17. But what about the 15-20 minutes Otto is on the bench every night? What if he gets injured?

As far as I can tell, the only other small forwards on the roster are Kelly Oubre, Danuel House, and Jarell Eddie. None of them have ever played meaningful minutes in the NBA.

I like Oubre. I think he has good defensive instincts and could one day develop into a valuable small forward. However, is he ready to play legitimate minutes on a playoff team? Jared Dudley and Garrett Temple made similar comments about Oubre at this year’s Las Vegas Summer League; essentially, he needs to get his head on straight.

This begs the very serious question: Is there any team in the league with less proven depth at the 3 than the Wizards?

Moving on to shooting guard—a position where depth is of utmost importance since Bradley Beal only started 35 and 59 games in each of last two seasons. In this vital slot on the depth chart, Washington has Marcus Thornton and Tomas Satoransky. That’s it. Garrett Temple is not walking through that door.

This is a potentially crater-size hole in Washington’s roster. At one point in his career, Thornton could be trusted for 25 solid minutes every night. But he has since morphed into a high volume streak shooter who gets hot once every five games and drives you crazy the other four.

Thornton is perfectly suitable as a veteran at the end of the bench, like Rasual Butler and Roger Mason, Jr. before him, but things get a lot dicier when he is the only veteran back-court player on the entire roster. There is a reason Thornton has played on six different teams over the last three seasons.

Satoransky is a wild card. I am excited for his debut and think his size and athleticism will match well with Wall in the backcourt. I think he will earn significant minutes right away and will split time at point guard and shooting guard. However, any guess on how well and how quickly he will adjust to the NBA is just that: a guess. If they are being honest, Washington’s front office cannot feel entirely comfortable with Marcus Thornton and a wild card as the only backups behind the historically brittle Bradley Beal.

Which then brings us to point guard. Finding a long-term solution at backup point guard has proven to be Ernie Grunfeld’s white whale. The list is too long and too depressing to repeat—a year and half of Ramon Sessions was the best the Wizards have done to date. The position takes on added importance this year given that John Wall had off-season surgery on both knees and his availability for training camp and the start of the season is uncertain.

Enter Trey Burke. After Session’s departure for Charlotte, Grunfeld snagged Burke off of Utah’s trash heap for a highly protected second-round draft pick. Burke brings everything that Yi Jianlin did to D.C.: lottery pick pedigree, disappointing first three years in the league, and a prior team that practically gave him away. In fact, when Utah desperately needed a point guard last season, they traded for Shelvin Mack (yes, that Shelvin Mack) rather than give Burke a shot.

Could Burke become a competent backup point guard in Washington? Sure. But it would be the first time he has done so in his NBA career. And that’s the entire point of this exercise. Washington spent all of its enormous cap space on its bench, yet failed to acquire any back court players—save for Marcus Thornton—who have ever been even a competent role player in the NBA.

Unlike years past, guard and wing depth is not a luxury for this team, it’s a necessity. The starters at PG, SG and SF are currently-injured John Wall, perpetually-injured Bradley Beal, and toothpick impersonator Otto Porter.

The hope is that Oubre will develop into a 3-and-D monster, Satoransky will erase the painful memories of Jan Vesely, and Burke will resurrect his career in new surroundings. But it would be nice to enter the season with a little less hope and a little more certainty.

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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.