Just a few weeks before Washington Wizards training camp was scheduled to start last fall, the team made a very low-key signing of a player who had fallen off the radar of most every other front office in this league. The risk was minimal, as the agreed upon salary would be just the veteran’s minimum, but most felt the reward was as well. After all, this was a player who was coming off severe back trouble and had played in just 93 total games during the two previous seasons. But nonetheless, the Wizards felt that this addition would help bench depth behind another newly-entrenched starter at the small forward position. If it didn’t work out, the team could cut ties after just one season and both parties could go their separate ways. So to say hopes were even marginally high would be an understatement. Fast forward 9 months; Martell Webster just finished his inaugural season with Washington posting career highs across the board and proving to be a key piece on a squad full of guys who wanted to be a professional, but just didn’t know quite how yet. He supplanted the aforementioned Trevor Ariza in the starting lineup in December and never looked back. Even his health held up, as he played in 76 games for the team and averaged a career-high 30 mpg.
The merits of Webster are clear. With an athletic, attacking point guard like John Wall at the helm, floor-spacing knockdown jump shooters like Webster (and Bradley Beal) can be a defense’s worst nightmare. He shot a very respectable 42% from deep, finishing 11th in the league among those who hoisted up at least 50 3’s or more. Given his deft touch at the free throw line, his TS% was a shade over 60%. He had an Offensive Rating of 115, which led the team by 6 points per 100 possessions over 2nd place. Along with Nene, Okafor, and Ariza he was one of several veterans to transform the locker room from the circus act of years past to one that was committed to playing hard every night. And he clearly had affection for the fans and the city that grew to be mutual over the year. There’s no question that Webster played a crucial role for the Wizards this season. Logical thinking says that an effective player who actually enjoys playing here (there haven’t been many recently) is a no-brainer to bring back. But the question all season with Webster has been – at what price?
As discussed, the low-risk, low-reward player that turned into something much better than expected will always generate excitement. But do Webster’s other numbers (11 ppg., 1.9 apg., a PER under the league average at 13.9, a Defensive Rating of 106) merit a contract worth a lot more than he currently makes? Those statistics speak to a player who is more one-dimensional than the team may need him to be. My opinion would lead me to believe that this signing looks great at $1.7 million but may not be as shiny with the full MLE. I have a feeling Grunfeld will do exactly that, given the optimism from his play this year and the desperate focus the team has to squeeze into the East’s top 8 in 2014. But Webster as the starting small forward won’t be enough to make noise in the playoffs. His defense is a bit slow-footed at a position where it simply can’t afford to be.
But in the light of writing a season evaluation rather than an offseason strategy, we’ll table those decisions for now and focus on a good year from a good guy. I look forward to him being on the team in October and contributing in a big fashion once again (at the right price of course).
Final Grade: B