The Washington Wizards are likely to find themselves on the outside looking in yet again as they have failed to add the necessary firepower to their bench to reach the next level. The Wizards have an excellent starting unit; the problem in the current era has consistently been bench play. After giving the Boston Celtics just about all they could handle in a 7 game series in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals back in May, the Wizards did little to improve while the competition only got stronger.
The Celtics went out and signed Gordon Hayward and drafted Jayson Tatum to bolster their forward rotation. Losing starters Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder hurts, but the Celtics have the depth and the personnel to make up for the loss. To top it all off Boston was finally able to cash in on their prized assets netting Kyrie Irving in a trade from Cleveland. Despite a great deal of roster turnover, A Kyrie, Hayward, Horford core loaded with young and versatile forwards is still likely to have a strong season and will likely make a deep playoff run in the East.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) August 23, 2017
In the Kyrie trade, Cleveland landed Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic. Although Isaiah is a step in the wrong direction defensively, Thomas is a similar scorer to Kyrie and is a little more efficient with the ball. Crowder will bring a strong defensive presence to the Cavs who struggled on that end of the floor last year. Cleveland traded away their second best player and didn’t really get any worse, in my opinion that qualifies as an absolute win. Trading Kyrie isn’t going to help them beat the Golden State Warriors, but the Cavs will remain competitive as long as LeBron James and company are still in town.
The Washington Wizards boast a top-flight backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal, but outside of those two the Wiz lack standout talent. Otto Porter is good, and was paid like it this summer. After posting career highs with 13.4 points per game, on 43.3% shooting from deep, Porter received a 4-year/$106.5 million contract earlier this summer. On top of his shooting, the Georgetown product has strong defensive abilities on the perimeter, and has transformed himself into a true 3-and-D wing.
Resigning Otto Porter was the right thing to do, even at that price; unfortunately it seems like the only move of consequence the Wizards made all summer. The knock against the Wizards of the past couple years has constantly been depth. They have lacked the bench necessary to remain competitive while they rest their starters. Washington ranked 29th out of 30 teams in bench points per game last season with just 26.6 points per game. On top of that the Wiz lost their top scorer off the bench, Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency earlier this offseason.
Losing Bogdonavic will be a big loss for the Washington bench unit. With Bojan suiting up elsewhere, the Wizards will likely look to third-year man Kelly Oubre Jr. to have a larger role. Oubre has shown flashes of potential, but has yet to prove himself as a consistent scoring option.
Washington also went out and got point guard Tim Frazier, veteran guard Jodie Meeks, and former Hawks power forward Mike Scott to fortify their bench. Frazier is a small, quick, pass-first point guard and former D-league MVP, who has long struggled with his jump shot. Frazier is a fine point guard off the bench so long as you can surround him with players who can hit their shots.
Enter Jodie Meeks. Meeks is a veteran off guard who is a strong spot-up shooter from deep. Last season Meeks shot 40.9% from beyond the arc in Orlando, and that percentage may even increase playing alongside skilled playmakers like John Wall, and Tim Frazier. The only problem with Meeks is he brings little else to the table aside from his shooting. A slightly below average defender, Meeks is essentially only valuable when he’s hitting from deep.
Mike Scott was signed on a minimum deal after the Phoenix Suns released him last season. Scott is a serviceable stretch four despite having a down year shooting in a very limited role last season before he was released. Should the veteran forward get his shooting stroke back, his floor spacing could do a great deal for the Wizards with nearly no financial risk involved.
Ultimately the Wizards should be expected to be a top team in the East but remain a tier below the very best competition. Paying often injured back up center Ian Mahinmi roughly $48 million over the next three years is going to hurt their ability to sign impact players to come off the bench.
Financial flexibility is key for improving a good team into a great one. Maintaining financial flexibility allowed the Golden State Warriors to sign Kevin Durant last summer. The way the Warriors have managed their cap space has allowed them to continue to add players to come off the bench and make a difference.
John Wall is a great point guard, arguably top-10-15 player in the NBA. As long as Wall is on the court the Wizards have a chance to win ballgames. His steady improvement and dominant abilities have given his team life. However, Washington currently has the 5th highest payroll in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Wizards, it may take some serious cost-cutting moves to improve their flexibility enough for this team to reach the next level.