Biggest Offseason Priorities and Targets for Washington Wizards
Winning on the road in the NBA playoffs is hard. Just ask the Washington Wizards, who couldn't muster a single victory away from the Verizon Center in Round 2 and wound up one 'W' short of the Eastern Conference as a result.
They had their chances to steal Game 7 from the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Monday. Bradley Beal blew up for 38 points—one shy of tying a franchise scoring record in Game 7s. But Otto Porter Jr.'s double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Markieff Morris' near-double-double (18 points, nine rebounds) weren't enough to make up for a poor shooting night from John Wall, who missed his last 11 shots—12, if you include an and-1 free throw he bricked in the third quarter.
Washington's problems, though, extend far beyond an unfortunately timed cold streak from its All-Star point guard. The Wizards defense was as much of an issue against the C's as it had been over the second half of the 2016-17 season, if not more so. Their bench, anemic even after some savvy midseason additions, flamed out with five points—all from Bojan Bogdanovic—in the series finale.
Those are but some of the biggest concerns facing D.C.'s squad this summer. Here's what the Wizards are up against, now that their latest campaign has come to a close.
Weigh Otto Porter Jr.'s Future
Otto Porter Jr. seems set to back up a cash-crammed Brinks truck to his home this summer. The former No. 3 pick out of Georgetown emerged as one of the NBA's most lethal three-point shooters (43.4 percent) this season.
Throw in Porter's heady cuts off the ball, his ability to run the floor in transition and his length to attack the offensive glass, and he looks like an ideal complement to the Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as Sporting News' Scott Rafferty noted back in February:
This is the player the Wizards intended on putting alongside Wall and Beal when they first drafted him in 2013 — someone who doesn't get in their way and knows how to keep defenses honest to make their lives as easy as possible. Now that Porter has become exactly that, it’s going to come at a steep price.
That cost could (and should) be cause for considerable consternation in the District. Washington already has four players locked into eight-figure salaries through at least the next two seasons, and it could be hard-pressed to take another step as a squad when crunched up against the cap.
The opportunity cost for the Wizards could become all the more apparent next summer, as The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor explained:
I’m not convinced the benefit of re-signing Porter for roughly $20 million, which he’ll likely get, outweighs the promise of adding a star free agent in 2018. They can create max space by moving just one salary that year, and if you’re an elite player on the market, it would be hard not to look at the Wizards and feel like you’re the final piece to their championship puzzle.
Among those who could seriously consider D.C.'s pitch in 2018 is a man who shares his initials with the city and his alma mater with the team's best player: DeMarcus Cousins.
Before the Sacramento Kings traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans this past February, Boogie reportedly told Wall, with whom he played at Kentucky, that "he would come to D.C., but he didn't know what was going to happen," per The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.
Parting ways with Porter Jr. might hurt the Wizards in the interim, but the upshot of adding another All-Star in Cousins may be too much to pass up.
And with Kelly Oubre Jr., a superior defender and improving shooter on a rookie deal, waiting in the wings, Washington won't be entirely hopeless on the perimeter without Porter Jr.
Different Directions for Bojan Bogdanovic, Trey Burke
Porter Jr. won't be the only restricted free agent for D.C. to consider in July. Bojan Bogdanovic and Trey Burke are both coming off their rookie contracts, albeit with drastically different outlooks.
Bogdanovic shot brilliantly for the Wizards after arriving in the Capitol by way of a deadline-day trade with the Brooklyn Nets. His pace slowed significantly because of back trouble, though he still wound up shooting 39.1 percent from three for Washington during the regular season and 34.9 percent during the playoffs.
If the Wizards can bring him back at a friendlier number than what they'd have to shell out for Porter Jr., Bogdanovic could make up for whatever wing depth is lost while strengthening the abysmal second unit (more on that in a bit).
That said, the same calculus concerning the future pursuit of certain max-level free agents applies almost as much to Bogdanovic's situation as it does to Porter Jr.'s. Thus, whatever answer general manager Ernie Grunfeld comes up with won't likely be an easy one to swallow.
Whereas Washington's front office won't have to rack its brain quite so much is with Burke.
At first glance, the 24-year-old former lottery pick looks like a worthwhile returnee. After struggling to find his stroke during his first three seasons in Utah, Burke found the range in D.C., knocking down 45.5 percent of his field goals and a whopping 44.3 percent of his triples.
Dig a little deeper, though, and the picture isn't so pretty for the Michigan product. According to NBA.com, Washington defended almost as poorly as the New York Knicks (108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and scored less frequently than the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers (99.4 points per 100 possessions) whenever Burke was on the floor during the season.
The Wizards can ill-afford to entrust a diminutive point guard who has difficulty making plays at this level with real minutes. And with rookie Tomas Satoransky already on the roster, Washington has at least one bigger, younger option with more upside already at its disposal.
Build a Better Bench
In his preview of Friday's Game 6, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe pointed out the Potomac-sized gap between the Wizards starting lineup and...well, pretty much every other five-man unit:
"Washington is plus-2 for the series. Its starting lineup is plus-64 in 90 minutes. You see where this is going, right? All other Wiz lineups are minus-62 in 155 minutes—equivalent to losing a 48-minute game by almost 20 points. The Wiz bench: still a disaster zone."
That was before Washington's reserves scored just five points in a season-ending Game 7 loss at the TD Garden.
According to NBA.com, the Wizards bench scored the second-fewest points per game (27.0) and posted the eighth-worst net rating (minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions) during the regular season. Those numbers improved to 18th (34.4) and 10th (plus-0.4) after Washington acquired Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings at the trade deadline.
What progress the Wizards made off the pine went by the wayside in the playoffs. Out of 16 teams, their bench finished 13th in scoring and 14th in net rating.
They followed that up by finishing 13th and 14th, respectively, in those same categories during the postseason.
Bringing back Bogdanovic could help. There may be some assistance still to be squeezed from other members of D.C.'s second unit (stay tuned). And with a free-agent market that figures to be long on talent and short on cap space, there could be more than a handful of productive players who fall through the cracks—and right into the Wizards' lap.
Get Ian Mahinmi Right
Perhaps Washington's backups would've been in better shape as a whole had Ian Mahinmi made more of an impact. The 30-year-old Frenchman played just 31 games during the regular season after a slow recovery from October knee surgery, then sat out the Wizards' first eight playoff games with a calf injury.
When healthy, Mahinmi held his own inside, and then some. He averaged 11.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 steals and blocks per 36 minutes, shot 58.6 percent from the floor and held his opponents to 46.5 percent shooting around the rim—the seventh-best mark among players who averaged five or more attempts defended across at least 10 games.
Mahinmi wasn't nearly as effective in the playoffs. Though, that, like so many other things in his case, can be attributed to being significantly less than 100 percent.
Getting him back in tip-top condition (and keeping him there) could make a world of difference in D.C. next season. The Wizards had an overall net rating of minus-0.7 in 2016-17 when Marcin Gortat sat, but were a full point per 100 possessions better than that when Mahinmi subbed in at center. That may not seem significant, but for a Washington team that's looking to make a leap, even the most marginal of improvements can affect the outcome in high-leverage situations.
And, frankly, the Wizards have every reason—or about $48 million, to be more precise—to expect extra help from Mahinmi going forward. He'll make a shade under $16.6 million in 2017-18, just over $15.9 million in 2018-19 and another $15.45 million in 2019-20.
Not only does Washington need better contributions from Mahinmi, but with its coming cap crunch, this club can't afford to carry so much dead money on its payroll.
Add at Least One Heady Veteran
Washington would've nailed down its first 50-win season in nearly four decades—and might've cracked the conference finals over the same span—had it figured out how to win more consistently beyond the Beltway.
The Wizards went 19-22 on the road during the regular season and finished their two-round playoff run a woeful 1-6 away from the Verizon Center.
Why such subpar performance in enemy territory from a team as talented as Washington? Youth might have something to do with it. According to RealGM, the Wizards, with an average age of 25.8, tied for the ninth-youngest roster in the league and the third-youngest of any to make the postseason.
Marcin Gortat, 33, was the most seasoned player on Washington's roster. He's seen and experienced plenty during his decade in the NBA, from the finals to the lottery and everything in between.
Beyond Gortat, though, the Wizards lacked anything in the way of veteran wisdom and leadership to balance out their youthful exuberance.
It wouldn't hurt, then, if Washington went after some older heads this summer to fill out its bench and support its young guns. The upcoming market won't be short on players who fit that bill, from Raymond Felton and Jose Calderon at point guard and Matt Barnes on the wing to Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass up front.