With Keef Out, Who'll Fill The 4-Spot Alongside Gortat? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

With Keef Out, Who’ll Fill The 4-Spot Alongside Gortat?

Updated: October 3, 2017

Just when the Wizards thought they would begin the season with a continuity advantage over some of their highly touted competition (Cleveland and Boston), the team was hit with surprising injury news on the eve of training camp. The Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner first reported that Markieff Morris would be having a sports hernia surgery, and the team subsequently announced that Keef underwent a successful procedure on September 22 at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Center for Advanced Medicine in St. Louis.

Last season, Keef had his best season as a pro, averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from behind the arc. Combine that with the fact that the strength of the Wizards team last season was the consistency and production from the starting unit and Keef’s absence becomes a lot more noticeable. Fortunately, his recovery timeline of 6-8 weeks will only cause him to miss the first six games of the season.

Before the Wizards’ first preseason game against the Guangzhou Long-Lions, Scott Brooks lamented the fact that he is finally getting more comfortable with the fact that Keef would not be available to start the season, and is in the process of trying to decide on who the team will use to replace him until his return.

The first option would be returning big man Jason Smith, who gave the frontcourt a much-needed jolt of energy off of the bench last season. Smith got the start against the Long-Lions next to Marcin Gortat, and while Smith struggled with his 3-point shot in the game, it is clear that he is comfortable with his role within the team. Before last season, Smith had only attempted 11 3-pointers in his entire NBA career, before posting a blistering 47.5 percent on 78 attempts last season. The problem with Smith starting at the 4-spot is twofold: first, his pairing with Gortat was rarely used last year, and second, it was not all that effective.

The pairing only played 6.4 minutes per game together last season with a plus/minus of minus-1.2, as opposed to Smith’s pairing with Ian Mahinmi off the bench that yielded a plus/minus of plus-2.7 in 10.4 minutes per game. Smith is a player who is not known to be exactly fleet of foot, so having him paired with Gortat kind of exposes the teams to all types of problems in terms of defensive coverage, whereas Ian Mahinmi is a defensive specialist.

Last night, Smith was able to build up a rhythm playing with Gortat as the two connected on a few plays where Gortat was able to find Smith in his peripheral vision on post-ups. The first time Gortat passed the ball to Smith was when Tyler Hansbrough of the Long-Lions double-teamed Gortat in the post, but Smith missed an open 3-point attempt. The second time, Smith saw the attention Gortat was getting in the post and alertly cut to the basket to fill the void in the defense and scored a layup, contributing to one of Gortat’s four assists for the night. The fact that Smith can competently spread the floor with his shooting and savvy has to be endearing to head coach Scott Brooks, makes him the leading candidate to start opening night against the Sixers.

The other option would be the newcomer Mike Scott, who spent last season in Atlanta and Phoenix, but is no stranger when it comes to playing the “stretch 4” position in the NBA. Scott is a career .336 shooter from 3, and shot a career-high .390 from deep in 205-16. But he is also coming off a tumultuous 2016-17, when he dealt with both legal issues and an ankle injury that required surgery. Scott had been limited in the Wizards training camp and did not participate in the team’s Blue-White scrimmage game at the open practice in Richmond. The aptly named “Threegional Manager” did make his Wizards debut in the second half of the game against the Long-Lions, playing all 12 of his minutes in the second half of the Wizards’ 126-96 win. In his first game action, Scott scored six points on 3-for-7 shooting (missing his lone 3-point attempt). The unique aspect of Scott’s time on the court is that he seemed to be a natural fit playing the 4 next to Jason Smith, who started the second half at the 5 in place of Gortat.

Third-year player Chris McCullough, too, will have plenty of opportunities to showcase what he can do throughout the pre-season. McCullough displayed athleticism by throwing down a few monster dunks and put-backs in an attempt to show the coaching staff that he spent the off-season working on his physicality. Being slight of frame did not seem to stop McCullough from being aggressive on the glass—he grabbed six rebounds and 10 points in just 19 minutes of play. McCullough is still raw defensively and struggled to stay with Hansbrough, who had his way with the Wizards, leading all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Although it is unlikely that McCullough will be able to earn his way into the starting lineup, it is definitely a good sign that he is showing improvement and could be used as an option if Brooks decides to go with a power forward-by-committee approach, as opposed to leaning on one outright replacement for Keef.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.