Fellow writer Will Stokes and I got together to discuss AJ Price’s first year with the Wizards. News flash: We feel pretty similarly about him.
AJ Price stepped in to start in the beginning of the season for a team missing its top two players. The Wizards boasted an opening night lineup of Price, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, a super young Bradley Beal, and Trevor Booker – not exactly murder’s row (well, they did murder my eye balls). For a pass-first, second, and third point guard like AJ Price, the team was bound to struggle without anyone that could finish any sort of shot. And so it was: the Wizards played horribly and the offense he was conducting was historically inept. He shot a cool 36% before the Wizards won their first game and he received a lot of the blame. Rightfully so, I suppose.
AJ Price isn’t the kind of ball-dominating point guard who is going to score it himself. He’s more in the mold of what point guards used to be: distributing three point shooters. He chucks it from deep (6.3 per 36 for his career) at a league average clip and never gets to the line. But we knew to expect that; We know who AJ Price is and we should judge him accordingly. While many will remember this entire season for Price only by that early and awful start, they should not. He ended up posting an offensive rating equal to that of John Wall’s, a comparable points per possession to Wall (.86 to .88), and an effective field goal percentage exceeding John’s by a mile (although Wall’s TS% is better, since he shoots it so much better and more often from the line). Price is not an offensive juggernaut and will forever rely on his teammates to be better than he is for him to excel. This much is clear and was further cemented throughout this season.
But this is less about AJ Price The Player and more about AJ Price The Season. It is quite impossible to judge his season without roughly 100 caveats, but such is life as a Wizards player. Taking all of those caveats away, the season was a complete disaster. Without the caveats, a few main points on his season:
- Price couldn’t stay healthy, shoot, coordinate a functioning offense, or defend anyone.
- He rarely turns it over. He posted an assist-to-turnover ratio that anyone not named Jose Calderon or Chris Paul would kill for.
- Disappointingly, Bradley Beal was roughly the same player with Price on or off the court (an important barometer for any Wizards PG of the future).
- The team was one point per 100 possessions better with him on the court, but didn’t start winning until John Wall returned to steal the lion’s share of his minutes.
- He beat out Jannero Pargo, Shaun Livingston, Shelvin Mack, and Jordan Crawford as the more trusted ball handler, although I’m not sure that’s much to brag about.
- When Price and Wall both shared the court (limited sample), the Wizards were much worse than with only Wall.
It’s tough to say positive things about Price’s season in review if you leave out all of the usual Wizards-caveats (bad teammates, bad situation, injuries, bad teammates again). But even with all that in mind, he was still the point guard who was at the helm of the early-season offense that, if projected over an entire season, would have been one of the worst ever; He’s still the point guard who played the most as a part of a 5-28 start; he’s still the point guard who shot 39% from the field.
He gets a C.
Addendum on his future:
With all that said, I still believe AJ Price has a place in the NBA. The odds of him succeeding with a roster so raw and devoid of other play makers or finishers makes me think his future is not in Washington. He’s a solid fourth guard (not so necessary) and a decent backup point (slightly more necessary). But he cannot do it without good players around him and the 2013 NBA season made that abundantly clear. I think AJ Price is a decent player, but one you could do without. On the veteran’s minimum salary(what he made this past year), he’s valuable. If he’s getting paid even a little more than that, he’s not a great fit for the Wizards, especially when Wall starts playing 38 minutes a game.
AJ Price never really had a fair chance. First, he was forced to start for an injured John Wall to start the year. Then, he got relegated to a bench role with a bunch of young Wizards’ big men that didn’t develop as well as expected. Finally, he suffered through injuries, and missed 25 games over the course of the season. But basketball players aren’t paid millions of dollars because they always get to perform under perfect conditions. So figuring out whether Price fits into this team’s future should be largely based on this season, regardless of the difficulties he faced.
Price fulfilled many, if not all, the obligations that were asked of him when he came to the Wizards last season. He was a good distributor, with the fourth highest assist to turnover ratio for all qualified players in the NBA. He was a good defender, with teams scoring 0.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. That’s above average defense. It’s even better than John Wall, with teams scoring 0.5 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. And he got better as the year went on, significantly increasing his three-point shooting and field goal percentage after the all-star break.
So where has Price fallen short? The fact is, he really isn’t good at scoring. Price shot 39% on the year, and while he increased his field goal percentage to 40.9% after the all-star break, it remains to be seen whether that increase would stick for an entire year. He was also attempted an average of under one foul shot per game, which is less than you need from a legit backup point guard. What this tells us is that while Price might be a good distributor and defender, he has a problem getting the ball in the bucket and drawing contact.
That matters. When Price came to the Wizards, he was expected to share ball handling duties with potential sixth man Jordan Crawford and get the ball to one of the many young Wizards’ big men. But with Jordan Crawford leaving for Boston and all those Wizards’ big men seemingly regressing by the game, the Wizards’ were left with Price, a good distributor with no one left to distribute to.
Going forward, I think the Wizards should try and find a different backup point guard. Many times, the fit of a point guard’s skill set within the team as a whole matters more than the skill of the point guard themselves. While AJ Price might eventually end up a decent backup point guard option somewhere in the league, I don’t think he is the right fit to lead a Wizards’ bench that is devoid of any offensive talent. While I think AJ Price played well this past season, I think the Wizards’ should attempt to find more of a scoring point guard for the future.