Washington Wizards: Without a Center or Without a Plan?

Washington Wizards Thomas Bryant (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Thomas Bryant (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Hall-of-Fame-bound rebounder Dwight Howard is out for the foreseeable future. Jason Smith departed for Milwaukee via trade. Ian Mahinmi is unplayable in today’s NBA. Who’s left at center for the Wizards? The exuberant Thomas Bryant needs to be given more minutes to clean the glass.

Thomas Bryant baited Rockets’ center Clint Capela with a small pump fake from beyond the three-point arc and then barreled by him for an easy right-handed finish at the rim. Bryant immediately smiled and sprinted back on defense where he proceeded to pull in a rebound that prompted a fast break.

The second-year center accounted for almost all of the Washington Wizards’ hustle and urgency in Houston as the Wizards once again lost without a fight and fell to 12-20.

The exuberant Bryant finished 5-for-6 from the field for 12 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes on the floor. However, as the established starting center for the Wizards since Dwight Howard underwent surgery to fix an ailing rear muscle, Bryant has hardly been used by head coach Scott Brooks even though he possesses the title of, “starting center.”

Instead, Brooks continues to play small with power forwards Jeff Green (25.6 minutes per game, 21% of that time in the center position) and Markieff Morris (25.6 minutes per game, 64% of that time in the center position) for extended time while Bryant (14.6 minutes per game, all at the center position) stands, jumps, paces, and animatedly cheers on his teammates from the sideline–moments that exceed the enthusiasm, energy, and urgency on the actual court.

Brooks’ reluctance to extend Bryant’s minutes means the Wizards are effectively playing without a center.

The noise of Wall’s inability to be the vintage aggressor of years’ past, forward Otto Porter’s inability to stay healthy, general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s inability to build around the Wizards’ max-contract core, and Brooks’ inability to steer the squad through drama and turmoil are distractions that have led the Wizards to 12-20 with seemingly no hope of improving. And on top of it all: Washington can’t rebound.

The Wizards can’t rebound because they don’t utilize a real center for real center minutes. This inability to rebound the basketball amplifies other problems, such as second-chance possessions, half-court defense, fast break opportunities, and the lack of an appropriate physical identity. Simply put, the Wizards are weak.

Per Basketball Reference, the Wizards rank 27th (40.2 rebounds per game) and 29th (48.1 rebounds per game) in team and opposing team rebounding, respectively. More glaring is D.C.’s low 72.5% defensive rebounding rate, indicating the percentage of possible defensive rebounds the Wizards actually grab, or rather, implying the abundance of second-chance opportunities/offensive rebounds opposing teams get (Wizards give up 11.9 offensive rebounds per game).

The Wizards rank dead last (30th) in this category.

For fair comparison, the currently ranking eighth position in the Eastern Conference, Orlando, has a defensive rebounding rate of 77.7%, good enough for 12th in the league; but the Magic eagerly play a stable of real centers, including Nikola Vucevic (30.8 minutes per games) and lottery pick Mohamed Bamba (17.2 minutes per game), keeping opponents’ offensive rebounding in check.

Washington’s stable of centers includes only Bryant and the unplayable Ian Mahinmi, who is completely out of Brooks’ rotation. Hall-of-Fame-worthy rebounder Howard will be out for the foreseeable future and Jason Smith departed for Milwaukee. It’s Bryant and no one else.

Brooks’ stubbornness to alter rotations impacts Washington’s ability to see what Bryant can do with more minutes. The 21-year old has played more than 20 minutes only three times this season.

Comparing Bryant with Green and Morris over 100 possessions indicates how helpful Bryant could be, if provided extended minutes/possessions:

Per 100 Poss Table
1Thomas Bryant2018-1921223213.49.412.8129113
2Jeff Green2018-1932307672.26.68.8117116
3Markieff Morris2018-1929317952.17.39.5106115

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/21/2018.

Even more than Bryant’s superior production over 100 possessions, his rebounding rates dwarf Green’s and Morris’, too. Bryant’s 22.4% defensive rebounding rate (an estimate of the percentage of possible rebounds a player grabbed while he’s on the floor) is greater than Green’s (15.7%) and Morris’ (17.4%), again indicating the rebounding production Brooks is leaving on the bench for long stretches.

Giving Bryant an opportunity to run his motor for more than twenty minutes each game wouldn’t solve all of Washington’s problems. It would certainly give the Wizards a true double-double center, though (remember boring Marcin Gortat). The other noise is real and impactful, but improving rebounding would increase D.C.’s competitiveness. Regularly being competitive is all it takes to attain a low seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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Brooks’ relying on small fives doesn’t clean the glass, nor provides the hustle. Bryant could better help clean the glass and activate the urgency and desperation this squad desperately needs.

Keep Bryant cheering on the bench and a historic stretch of abysmal rebounding will continue to yield a disappointing unmemorable season.