By the time the Washington Wizards’ 2014 season came to an end, fans knew what to expect: Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza were going to come back to the team, and on huge contracts.
Although Gortat did come back on a long-term deal, there was more change on the roster than initially expected by fans. Team president Ernie Grunfeld resisted the urge to give Ariza a three- or four-year deal, and instead he signed veteran and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce to play small forward.
In the frontcourt, fans were surprised once again when the Wizards gave up very little to acquire Kris Humphries from the Boston Celtics and DeJuan Blair from the Dallas Mavericks. Humphries arrived via the trade exemption that the Wizards picked up in a sign-and-trade to the Houston Rockets for Ariza and a conditional second-round pick, and Blair came in exchange for the rights to 2009 second-round pick Emir Preldzic.
All three players will play huge roles in the 2014-15 version of the Wizards, given Nene’s injury history at power forward and the huge gap left by Ariza at small forward.
But what exactly should Wizards fans expect? Here’s the role and statistical projections for each of Washington’s three new players.
The biggest surprise of the offseason, Pierce brings a great veteran presence to the small forward position, which should be beneficial to the much younger Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr.
But until Rice or Porter are ready to take over the position full time, Pierce will play the majority of the minutes at small forward for the Wizards. Prior to the moves for Humphries and Blair, it even looked like Pierce could play some power forward, but now that there’s depth at power forward and center, Pierce will always be at the three.
Pierce can’t attack at the rim like he used to, but he can be a mid-range and perimeter option for Washington.
Last season, Bradley Beal and John Wall both struggled with taking far too many mid-range jumpers—and missing them.
If Wall can trust Pierce to make mid-range jumpers, he’ll feel more comfortable to drive to the basket, which is what he’s best at. And if the pressure is off Beal to patrol between 10 and 16 feet with Pierce on the floor, he can focus on being a three-point shooter, where he shot 40.4 percent last season.
Pierce may not be the athlete he used to be, but he can also still be quick enough to run behind Wall and Beal on fast breaks, trailing behind to be ready for the catch-and-shoot three on those plays.
This isn’t on a fast break, but this play from Pierce is a perfect example of his ability to still make threes, even with significant pressure on him.
On defense, the Wizards lose their top defender in Ariza. Pierce may not be the perimeter defender he once was, but he’s an underrated defender inside, holding opponents to 48.2 percent shooting at the rim last season, according to NBA.com. And that was with Pierce playing some at the four with Kevin Garnett injured or struggling.
He can’t put in the minutes he used to, but when he is on the floor, Pierce will ensure that he’s as productive as possible.
Projected per-game stats: 28 minutes, 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 45 percent shooting, 38 percent three-point shooting
It’s still hard for some fans to look past the whole Kris Humphries/Kim Kardashian thing, but it’s been long enough now that we can just talk about how he is as a basketball player.
Humphries and Blair will fill the roster spots of Al Harrington, who decided to sign with a team in China after the two were brought in, and Trevor Booker, who left in free agency to sign with the Utah Jazz.
But, for the sake of these projections, let’s compare Booker and Humphries using the Basketball-Reference.com player comparison tool.
Booker and Humphries are fairly comparable, but Humphries is a slight upgrade given that his total rebounding percentage is over three percentage points higher than Booker’s, and he’s averaged two more rebounds per 36 minutes.
Humphries also drew more fouls. The Wizards tied for the fifth-fewest free throws attempted per game last season.
Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post breaks it down even further.
According to ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, which measures a player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance while taking into account teammates, opponents and additional factors, Humphries has the edge, despite both players being in the negative last season. Humphries had a RPM of minus-1.68 while Booker checked in at minus-3.34.
Humphries is also the more likely candidate to start rather than Blair when Nene is injured or has to rest, and given his experience, he’s a better starter than Booker.
Projected per-game stats: 20 minutes, 8.8 points, 6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 blocks, 48 percent shooting
The outlook for Blair is fairly similar to Humphries. While Humphries will mainly be a backup center when Nene is healthy, Blair will be the second option at power forward, and he will likely never see starts, barring major injuries.
Using the same Basketball-Reference.com comparison tool, Blair gets the statistical edge again over Booker, posting a better total rebound percentage, a better defensive rating (the estimated number of points given up per 100 possessions) and two more total rebounds per 36 minutes.
They’re also basically the same players offensively, doing most of their work near the hoop but being capable of patrolling around 10 feet.
Blair also seems energized to be playing in D.C. On Aug. 14, he told reporters in a conference call that he’s more than ready to be in Washington, according to The Washington Post.
I was very excited when I got the news. It was like a dream come true. Last year, I saw what type of team they had. The youth, the big men coming up, the ingredients around the team. And I think I’ll be a great addition.
Who will have the best season?
Blair wasn’t great at defending the rim last season, allowing opponents to score 55 percent of the time at the rim, per NBA.com. But more than anything, having Blair and Humphries on the roster cements their roles in the frontcourt, which is something the Wizards lacked last season.
Between Harrington, Booker, Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin, the Wizards didn’t have any go-to big men off the bench. They have that now in Blair and Humphries.
Projected per-game stats: 18 minutes, 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 54 percent shooting