Washington Wizards 2017 NBA Playoffs Mailbag: How Important Has Ian Mahinmi Been to The Wizards Turnaround?

Washington Wizards are coming off two dominant wins at home against the Celtics. The series now turns to a best of three, with two games in Boston. Ian Mahinmi has yet to play a road game this postseason, and his performance in Game 5 will be key to the Wizards taking a 3-2 series lead.

The Wizards have made a ton of adjustments throughout the four games of the series thus far.  In the two losses in Boston, the Celtics have averaged 126 points. In the Wizards two wins, the Celtics have averaged 95.5 points.

Scott Brooks, John Wall, and the whole Wizards team has continuously preached that when they play defense they can beat anybody. The Celtics are feeling that first hand.

One of the Wizards best defenders, backup center Ian Mahinmi, returned from a calf strain in Game 3 and in limited minutes has shown why the Wizards missed him so far in these playoffs.

For this edition of the Mailbag, I looked at how things have changed since the series moved to D.C, and how the return of Ian Mahinmi has assisted, that courtesy of @Rjjkgold.

Simply put Ian is not THE piece the team was missing, but he was a BIG piece. Mahinmi is an athletic big who can chase opposing players as they drive by him, and when healthy bring a large rim protecting presence.

In Games 3 & 4 Mahinmi played a total of 23 minutes. Offensively, he was 1-2 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line.

On defense, he provided 3 blocks and 7 fouls. He’s certainly not at the level he was in late March and early April when he finished games in place of Marcin Gortat with the other starters.

However, Ian has been important to the Wizards recent jolt. An issue the Wizards had been having was the lack of big man depth. Without Mahinmi, Jason Smith took over as center for the bench unit.

Smith is surprisingly athletic, but his wingspan and defensive instincts are not on the level of Mahinmi.

Ideally Markieff Morris would play a good amount of minutes at center, however in Games 1 & 2 he was limited by foul trouble and the ankle injury. This forced Smith to play more minutes than desired at center, and is surely part of the reason the Wizards’ defense has been better the last two games.

Boston has an atypical rotation. Brad Stevens usually sits Isaiah Thomas halfway through the first quarter, bringing him back in late in the first quarter. Then, in the second quarter has Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford in the lineup.

Alternatively, Washington has rolled with Bradley Beal as the only starter on the floor if Morris has had two fouls. Because of that discrepancy, the Celtics might have three starters on the floor while Washington only has one.

Mahinmi has been effective in his reserve role and is a starting level talent coming off the bench. Additionally, because of his size and lateral quickness, he has been more effective on Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk than other bench options, and occassionally Gortat.

This clip shows exactly the differences available to Washington when Mahinmi is locked in.

But… the more meaningful improvements for Washington have been the containment of Isaiah Thomas and the offensive output from the bench unit.

In the two games in Boston Thomas averaged 43 points per game! In Washington he has averaged 16 points per game. That discrepancy is mindblowing, and Thomas asserted after Game 4 that part of it has been inconsistent officiating.

Really, the Wizards have responded to his high scoring performances by forcing him to play defense and pass the ball more than he’d like. Constant double teams have forced other Celtics to shoot the ball and make plays on offense. The Trio of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder combined for 20 points on 6-25 shooting.

The other Wizards bench player to be a big factor is Bojan Bogdanovic. He’s been very streaky in his time with the Wizards, but he is certainly trending up. Role players usually play better at home than on the road, and he’s an indication of that.

In Games 3 & 4, Bojan averaged 16 points. His 19 points in Game 4 was one point less than the trio of Bradley-Smart-Crowder mentioned above. Scott Brooks made a point after the Game 2 loss, that he needed to get Bojan more involved. His offensive performance in the last two games showed why.

The suspension of Kelly Oubre meant more minutes for Bo Buckets, who is someone the Celtics can’t hide Isaiah Thomas on.

It will be interesting to see how much Oubre plays in Game 5. He brings effort and energy on defense, and has shot the ball well this series, but hasn’t really challenged IT when being guarded by him.

But back to Mahinmi. His injury history is concerning, but Ernie Grunfeld probably thinks that he has the Wizards future center. Mahinmi is three years younger than Gortat and is making $4 million more a year.

Little was made of the absence of Mahinmi in the first round series against Atlanta, but he was sorely missed against Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap. As the series continues, Brooks will slowly increase his minutes, and he will be a key reason the team advances to face Cleveland, if they can win two of the next three games.

The Wizards bench has been so inconsistent and unproductive this season, and playoff rotations are usually 8 or 9 deep. The Wizards bench unit of Brandon Jennings, Kelly Oubre, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mahinmi have its positives and flaws, but with Mahinmi his production isn’t reliant on his shot falling.

Hopefully Ian can continue mixing in some beautiful passing into his arsenal, which also includes much beloved hatred of the Celtics.