After Marcin Gortat and Nene dominated the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Washington Wizards bolstered their frontcourt even more by re-singing Gortat and bringing in Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.
After making a piecemeal bench in the frontcourt last season by adding Drew Gooden and using Harrington when he was healthy, this year looks to be more consistent.
What will the Wizards have at that position this season, and could that position propel the Wizards to a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference?
Grading Last Year’s Overall Performance
When Nene was healthy, power forward was the Wizards’ deepest position. He could play 30 minutes or so a game, and Booker and Harrington could come off the bench.
Here’s the statistical production for each of the power forwards from last season:
The numbers looked good when Nene was playing, but when he was injured the position was a huge weakness. Booker is by no means a bad player, but he’s at best a solid energy guy who is more fit to come off the bench. Jan Vesely was also an option off the bench but was eventually traded at the deadline for Andre Miller.
After the Vesely trade, Nene ended up missing 29 total games, forcing a combination of Booker and Gooden to start.
The lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Booker and Gortat averaged 28.3 points per game in 13.8 minutes and had a plus/minus of 0.3. That same lineup, but with Nene in instead of Booker, scored 27.1 points per game in 12.5 minutes but had a plus/minus of 2.7 and shot 49.2 percent from the floor, compared to 46.2 percent for the other lineup, according to NBA.com/Stats.
All of Washington’s power forwards were fairly average defensively, all allowing opponents to shoot over 52 percent at the rim, and each failing to average even a block per game.
But Nene and Booker both came up big in the playoffs, with Nene knocking down key mid-range shots and Booker picking up rebounds off the bench. And since Nene was healthy for the majority of the season, the power forwards for the Wizards were solid.
Still, the 33 games of Vesely and the decline in play when Nene wasn’t on the court hurt them as a unit.
What’s in Flux this Season
There’s two main things that are always going to be shifting at power forward this season: Nene’s health and where Humphries plays.
Humphries could move over to center potentially, depending upon the production of Kevin Seraphin and Gooden.
Gooden was second on the team last season in player efficiency rating, per ESPN.com, but he’ll turn 33 before this year starts, so it’s unlikely he'll keep up that production. During the 2012-13 season, when he played 16 games for the Bucks, his PER was just 7.7.
Seraphin is also a huge liability on offense, finishing the year with an offensive rating of just 100 (the estimated number of points scored per 100 possessions) according to Basketball-Reference.com, a year after he had an offensive rating of 89. Those trends point toward Humphries sliding over to center to back up Gortat if Seraphin and/or Gooden struggles.
The ever-present threat of Nene going down will also be a problem the entire season. At some point, he’s going to miss time, but it’s just a matter of when the injury occurs and how serious it is.
Nene started just 37 games last year and missed 29 others outright. And during the 2012-13 campaign, he missed 21 games.
To emphasize how important Nene was to the Wizards, here’s the various rotations Washington had, with the main starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Ariza and Gortat, while the starting power forward changed:
|Power Forward in lineup||Minutes||Points per possession||Points allowed per possession||Plus/Minus||eFG%|
With Blair and Humphries, the Wizards can afford to lose Nene for a few games in the middle of the season. But seeing the energy that Nene brought against the Bulls and the Pacers this postseason, he needs to be healthy come playoff time if the Wizards want to make a push.
What the Position Will Look Like Heading into the Season
Here are my predictions for the statistical production of the three main power forwards (Nene, Humphries and Blair):
As long as he’s healthy, Nene is going to be the starter, and Blair and Humphries bring very similar skill sets to the table. Statistically, Blair is the better player on both sides of the ball. But Humphries brings more experience to the table, and the Wizards should feel more comfortable with him starting a game than Blair.
Blair’s scoring primarily comes at the basket, while Humphries isn’t afraid to work from mid-range—during the 2012-13 season, Humphries shot 36.1 percent between 10 and 16 feet but raised it to 42.6 percent last season, according to Basketball-Reference.
The lack of a mid-range game is what holds Blair’s game back, as Nick Bilka of Bullets Forever wrote:
Another drawback to Blair's game is that he offers little that will stretch the floor. In 2014, Blair took a mere 23 shots from outside the paint, connecting on only six of them. Unless he suddenly develops a 15-foot jumper, his shooting will do little to provide spacing for the Wizards.
Still, even if Nene were to go down, they should feel comfortable starting Humphries and having Blair play increased minutes in a Booker-like role.
If the Wizards want to be a relevant team in the future, they need to start developing younger frontcourt players for when Nene’s contract expires in the summer of 2016. But for this season, adding Blair and Humphries gives them depth that they’ve lacked in years past.