How Sure Are We That The Wizards Fixed Their Bench? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

How Sure Are We That The Wizards Fixed Their Bench?

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Updated: October 14, 2017

[photo via Jason Getz – USAToday Sports]

The Washington Wizards’ off-season to-do list was so glaring and obvious, it might as well have been flashing on a billboard outside the Capital One Bank Arena: Upgrade the bench.

The second unit was awful last year. You know it. I know it. There’s no need to go into the gory details. The good news is the bench does not need to magically morph into a league-leading unit for the Wizards to be successful. They simply need to move the needle from catastrophic to relatively competent. That’s not a high bar to meet.

The question remains: Did the Wizards do enough with virtually no cap space this summer to overcome the mistakes of last summer’s spending spree? The answer is unclear.

It’s hard to pinpoint the second unit’s biggest deficiency last season (there’s so many to choose from), but high on the list was the inability to run a set offense. Too often when the offense stalled, the bench unit was forced into bad shots with the shot clock winding down — a sequence that came to be known as the “Trey Burke Special.”

Enter Tim Frazier. The four-year veteran joins a long and (what’s the opposite of storied?) list of Washington backup point guards. Frazier has a lot going for him, namely that he is not Trey Burke or Brandon Jennings.

After acquiring Frazier via trade the day before the NBA draft, Ernie Grunfeld, Scott Brooks and John Wall described him in similar words: hard-nosed, gritty and scrappy. Those are fine attributes, but they do not necessarily fill the number one need for the second unit. The bench needs someone who can create scoring opportunities for teammates.

The concern comes into focus when you look at Frazier’s most likely running mates on the second unit: Jodie Meeks, Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi, and some combination of Mike Scott, Otto Porter, Jason Smith, Tomas Satoransky, and – eventually – Markieff Morris. That’s nine potential second unit players and the only one who can even generously be called a playmaker (Markieff Morris) is injured for at least four more weeks.

If you gave the ball to any of those non-Markieff players with five seconds left on the shot clock and a defender in his face, would you have any confidence they would score?

Therein lies the problem — and it’s a pretty big one.

But wait,” you say, “what about Jodie Meeks’ hot shooting I’ve been hearing about?” Yes, Meeks has been a revelation in the preseason but his spot-up 3s are a much better fit alongside John Wall than they are on a second unit without another 3-point threat to draw defensive attention. Meeks is not a one-on-one scorer. He needs a distributor to maximize his value.

Then, there’s the Mahinmi problem. When Scott Brooks plays the $16 million man on the second unit instead of the more versatile Jason Smith, the bench’s offense has a tendency to stall. Mahinmi has virtually no low-post game and his passes rarely lead to improved scoring opportunities. Even worse, his inability to stretch the floor makes it that much harder for Meeks and Oubre to create space on the perimeter. Mahinmi’s defender also routinely sags into the paint, clogging driving lanes. In other words, for Mahinmi to have positive value on the second unit, he has to be a Mutumbo-level rim protector.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not to say Mahinmi is the only cause of the bench woes. Far from it. He was not even active for the first half of last season when the bench was at its worst. But Brooks cannot give Mahinmi all the non-Gortat center minutes simply by default. Gortat and Mahinmi are a dying breed and Washington cannot afford to play a combination of traditional centers for 48 minutes per game while the rest of the league evolves.

At this point it’s fair to ask: If Frazier is a career sub-Ramon Sessions shooter (40.3% FG, 31.6% 3FG), Mahinmi has no offense, and Meeks is primarily a spot-up specialist, who will take all the shots on the second unit?

This is where it gets real fun — or real scary — depending on your opinion of young Kelly Oubre, Jr. That’s right! The Wizards’ second unit has put a ton of eggs in Oubre’s basket. Luckily, Kelly has already shown marked improvement in the preseason. For starters, he can dribble with his right hand. And he isn’t averse to changing directions on his drives to the rim as opposed to, you know, barreling through whoever happens to be in the straight line path between him and the rim. (I kid, I kid, sort of.)

I like Oubre’s game and think he’s primed for a leap this season, but he’s not ready to be the primary scoring option on a playoff caliber second unit.

The real intrigue is in the frontcourt. With Frazier, Meeks and Oubre locked into major second unit minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, respectively, Brooks’ main area of bench experimentation will be at power forward and center.

If Brooks plays Jason Smith or Markieff instead of Ian Mahinmi against more mobile centers, Washington can improve its spacing by putting four shooters around Frazier. Mike Scott slides in nicely at power forward in these non-traditional lineups because he can stretch the defense with 3s and also has a nice touch in the post.

Going small also opens up minutes for Satoransky. As a natural point guard, Tomas is still getting comfortable with his role as an off-the-ball wing. He’s a heady cutter and likes to crash the offensive boards, but is a reluctant shooter. That last point limits his playing time off the bench. If Frazier and Mahinmi are on the court together, there simply is no room to add a non-shooting wing to that duo.

All this is to say the Wizards bench is still a work in progress. New acquisitions Frazier, Meeks and Scott are decent fits on paper, but they may not be the quick fix everyone wants. The good news is, given the collection of talent at his disposal, Brooks should eventually settle on a rotation that can meet the minimum requirement of “relatively competent.” And with Washington’s potent starting lineup, that may be all the Wizards need.

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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.