The Wizards are a constantly evolving, frequently frustrating, increasingly tantalizing basketball team. The only way to properly get to the bottom of it all was for fellow writer James Straton and I to trade emails on all things Washington hoops. Below is what transpired:
Alright James – we’ve seen this gimmick enough on Grantland to know that if there’s ever a lack of ideas for your website, no better way to break the journalistic silence than to start up an email thread between two writers that takes the form of a well thought out and researched piece. Whether or not that holds accurate remains to be seen. Nonetheless, let’s get started! Right now the Wizards are sitting comfortable at 18-38 with a classic season that involves lots of losing (secure top draft pick: check) and a late season winning streak that builds fan optimism (renew season ticket holders: check). However, I must say that this year feels different. Although we are completely out of the playoff picture, I truly believe we would be in the top 8 had we remained healthy all year. There are no moral victories in this business (if there were, the city of DC would be holding a championship parade every few months) but Wizards fans can’t help but be excited over the prospects of this team.
Probably not more than a few months ago, many NBA pundits were wondering whether we even had the talent on our roster to compete 3 years down the line, much less 3 months. But Bradley Beal has flourished, Okafor and Nene have combined to form a suffocating defensive tandem, and your favorite player in the world John Wall has come back to show off a slightly less shaky jump shot and even more trepidation when driving to the hole. There are still many questions to be answered that will shape the direction of the team, including the right price for Wall’s extension, what we can get back in $22 million in expiring contracts between Ariza and Okafor next year, and who to draft with what should be a top 7 pick. (As a side note: I am against the idea of just tanking for the rest of the season to secure a better slot in the upcoming draft though, because I believe teaching the young players how to lose makes them good at only one thing; losing). In my opinion we will win 33 games this season, which would mark a record of 28-21 with Wall back in the lineup. The front office needs to analyze our progress decide whether this is a squad that can compete moving forward or further roster tweaks are necessary to make us relevant past NBATV’s Tuesday night showcase.
There are several things I’d like to discuss in this conversation, and different aspects of the team that I’d like to get your thoughts on. Feel free to weigh in or change directions as you see fit. These are the topics I’m contemplating as we get close to wrapping up the regular season and turning our attentions to what should be fantastic playoffs:
- What should the Wizards do with our stable of young bigs who apparently didn’t pan out? (Vesely, Booker, Seraphin)
- What is our biggest area of need to fill via the draft and/or free agency?
- Do you see the core of this team competing for a top 4 seed in the East or are we in need of one more big shake up?
- Just how much do you love John Wall exactly?
Get excited. This should be fun.
My love of John Wall is well-documented on WoA and Twitter. The TL;DR version: He’s kind of just okay. I don’t even really feel the need to defend myself here. If he was a good player the Wizards wouldn’t be so bad and his numbers plotted on a graph wouldn’t be progressing with a slope of 0. But I digress. We’re not here to bash John Wall (something I’m giving up late for lent… yeah right).
Let’s start right away with the stable of bigs and, more specifically, with Okafor. Do we really want to get rid of him at next year’s deadline? He is going to make $14.5m next year and, while that is way too much, is potentially twice as much as he’ll get in free agency. Is Okafor two years from now worth $7m to a team that should be competing? Barring injury, I say yes. He’s posting his best PER since 2009 and his lowest defensive PPP EVER. Imagine a world where John Wall isn’t on a max contract, Okafor makes half what he makes now, Trevor Ariza is gone, and Bradley Beal is scoring 40 a game. I smell the playoffs.
I never thought I’d say this when we first made that trade, but I am actually completely with you on that Okafor move. I’d love to keep him after next season at a cheaper rate and if he’s enjoying himself in Washington, I could definitely see him signing one of those 3 year, $21 million contracts. The guy has made a ton of money in his career, and we know he is smart with it (graduated from UConn with a 3.8 GPA and a degree in finance in just three years. Anything he’s not good at?), so I don’t think he’ll be gunning for money. We’ll probably have to prove we are ready to make a playoff run and I think with another blue-chipper from the draft, Year 1.5 of Beal-Wall and whatever we can get for Ariza, we’ll be right there.
I think our main issue lies in our lack of tradeable assets. Any franchise that isn’t a premiere destination for free agents has to be creative in acquiring players. We see it all the time around the league from the smaller markets but for whatever reason, it’s necessary here in the nation’s capital too. I’ve always been curious as to why you wouldn’t want to play in DC, which is by all accounts a major market as well as one that’s proven to back a winner with the fervor of a college town. Regardless, we need to develop our youngsters so that they can turn into something when the Daryl Morey’s and Danny Ainge’s of the world come calling. However, the caveat and deterrent to that is that the 2010 draft and 2011 draft have produced a TOTAL of one single rotation player in John Wall. We can scream all we want about our bad scouting division, but not only is it hurting us with the talent on the court, but it’s affecting our hand at the transaction table. Any idea how to get better?
There is one tradeable asset I can think of: John Wall. But I won’t go there, mostly because I don’t even know what he’s worth. Remember, ESPN has been skewering him left and right for about a year now with quotes from people who get to make these sorts of player value decisions.
If a team is dedicated to building through the draft, sometimes this is going to happen. Not every first round pick is as good as the media will make it out to be. The odds of hitting on a top 5 pick are probably way worse than you’d expect, as Wizard fans should know with Wall in year three. Every team in the NBA wishes they could have had Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried, but they don’t. Wizard fans want to behead Ernie Grunfeld for this oversight whereas I just think he was a little unlucky. If John Wall was as good as he was supposed to be, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The lack of tradeable assets ties into your second topic: the Wizards’ biggest need. The biggest need is someone who can take the ball out of Wall’s hands. There is a chance that he is being asked to do too much with too little. I’ll at least entertain that notion, even though I don’t buy into it. I just came up with this idea, so I haven’t quite vetted it, but think of a lot of the good teams in the NBA right now. They almost all have multiple ball handlers or creators: LeBron has Wade, Carmelo has Felton, Curry has Jack, Harden has Lin, Durant has Westbrook, Kobe has Nash, and CP3 has Bledsoe/Crawford. Those are just the combos I can name right off the top of my head. Wall is asked to do too much and he’s not yet ready/good enough. So the Wiz could use a guy like that, preferably at small forward. I have no clue as to how the Wizards could acquire a guy like that. They’re very valuable and expensive.
What do you think?
At this point, I’m not sure it’s wrong to wonder what a John Wall trade can bring back. If we truly believe we can get something to make this team better, we should consider it because the only reason we’re holding out hope (still) that he’s the franchise savior is because he was taken with the #1 pick. After a few years in the league, draft position, hype, attention, etc. don’t matter and it is strictly about what you can do on the court. He’s had an uneven career, and even surrounded by talented players he’s struggled mightily to find his footing as one of the top PGs in the league. Needless to say, I’m very disappointed with what I’m seeing in Year 3 of the JW era. He should never be losing minutes to perennial backup AJ Price unless we’re up 25 points. And let’s be honest, we haven’t even heard of the term ‘double-digit lead’.
I want to touch on the Grunfeld topic for a second because it’s something that we’ve discussed at great length about in the past. There’s no question that luck is involved to land a superstar through the draft like a Kevin Durant or Tim Duncan that builds up a legendary reputation for GMs like Sam Presti or RC Buford. But there are a multitude of other moves as well that need to take place to be competitive, and we’ve made none of them since 2008 (The fateful year we gave Gilbert Arenas $111 million AFTER reconstructive surgery on his knee and a missed season. Oh yeah we threw Jamison $50 million too just for good measure). And it’s not that every team wants Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried, because that goes without saying. It’s that the #6 and #18 picks (that were turned into Vesely and Singleton), could’ve landed those two guys who were highly projected to land in those regions. We don’t do our due diligence, time and again about who is available and what their skillset might bring. So we’re left with an underwhelming roster and new what-if’s every year. I think it’s completely letting our front office off the hook by saying, “hey they success rate of draft picks isn’t that high anyway!”
And finally, I do agree that a small forward with creation ability is exactly what we need. Wall has too much pressure to make the offense churn every possession and its unclear who else can even get their own shot without him doing a majority of the work. A major FA is unlikely to come our way given that we don’t have cap space, but could you be talked into packaging Okafor + other pieces for a chance at paying Josh Smith $70 million in a sign-and-trade with Atlanta? Otherwise, the draft offers a few options in the top 10 at small forward. Two that I’m particularly enamored with are Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA and Otto Porter from hometown Georgetown. Might be all we need to knock off Milwaukee for the #8 seed!
Otto Porter is sure getting a lot of love from Wizards Twitter, but I wonder how much of it is because he goes to Georgetown. That said, I’m not a scout and I rarely watch college basketball because I don’t like 35 second possessions or gauging players against inferior competition when I will see them in the pros next year.
Anyway, our next two topics, again, go hand in hand: Does this team need a shakeup and how much do I love John Wall? This team was built with John Wall in mind. That’s the entire reason Vesely was drafted, right? Because he can run and jump and dunk? He should have been perfect next to an improving John, but we haven’t seen any improvement. My love of Wall and my opinion on blowing up the team go hand in hand. If Wall isn’t approaching All Star status next year, it might be time to plant the TNT.
I keep hearing a lot about the development life cycle of point guards, and how I’m being too rough on Wall because I am expecting too much when it comes to shooting and TOs. I threw together some graphs of some recent super-athletic PGs to put that ridiculous notion to rest. I even threw Jameer Nelson’s first three years in here for shits and giggles (and also for a reality check).
You’ll find Wall’s TS% has been stagnant at a lower level than anyone else’s. You’ll see he is the only one to have a definitive uptick in his TOV% (Rondo’s was high and stayed high throughout his career). You’ll see he is the only one stagnant in PER, with only Jameer Nelson bouncing around. I know this isn’t in-depth statistical analysis and these stats aren’t perfect, but if we’re going to talk about PG development, these are the guys we’re going to compare him to. So, does he really need more time?
So, to answer your question about this team blowing up: Yes, the Wizards are very close to a blow-up becoming a necessity, which is mind boggling for a team that has the third worst record in the NBA.
The graphs you’ve created are both alarming and depressing. I think it’s been a forgone conclusion that Wall would be the PG in this city for the next 10 years, and we’ve even been hearing about a Big 3 of the future consisting of Wall-Beal-Nerlens Noel. But ultimately we’re going to have to make a decision sooner rather than later about whether that’s the right direction for the team – a decision that was unfathomable as recently as 6 months ago. At any rate, the last 25 games will be very telling for the players, coaches, and front office. We have a relatively easy slate down the stretch and have to prove that we are a cut above mediocrity in this league.
I think we’ve brought up a lot of interesting debate points that the Wizards themselves will certainly be discussing in the coming days. Here’s to the people who matter making the right calls.