Washington Wizards: McRae was great “health insurance,” now what?

Jordan McRae came into his own when Bradley Beal went down with injury. With the starting guard returned, what should his role be going forward?

The Washington Wizards have been both the most unfortunate and fortunate team in the NBA this season. Unpredictable, and so predictable all the same. And it all comes down to injury.

Between the Wizards’ opening night starting five, there have been 46 games missed. And that’s not counting absences elsewhere among the roster. But it was Bradley Beal’s absences that weighed the most on Washington’s success rate.

While one could argue that the Wizards play better without Beal, or have this season, he’s integral to games where Washington is overpowered on offense. And his late game situational awareness is second to none on this roster, as displayed in the loss to Utah on Sunday.

Still, the Wizards have gone 4-3 in Beal’s absence this season. The man to thank? Shooting guard Jordan McRae, who despite his own absences has helped to fill the void in scoring left by Beal.

Here’s a look at his recent stretch of scoring, what it means for McRae, and where it leaves Washington.

Getting the Bag

McRae entered the Wizards’ 2019-2020 campaign on a non-guaranteed deal that was signed back in April. He lead the G-League in scoring last season, and it was clear that Washington would be lacking some offensive firepower with John Wall missing most of the year.

October to December was a bit rocky for McRae, who missed 16 games of his own in that stretch. But when he returned, and Beal fell out with a leg issue, he donned the mentality that’s been nearly adopted by the Wizards for their entire 2019-2020 season: next man up.

In return, Washington guaranteed McRae’s contract for the season, ensuring that he would get the payday he so rightfully deserved; and cementing their own “health insurance plan” for Beal. And in the seven games that the Wizards’ star guard has missed, McRae has looked like one on his own.

Next Man Up

In the seven games that Beal has missed this season, McRae is posting career numbers: 21.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on a 48/49/77 shooting split. Including this 35-point explosion of a performance in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers:

The entire league knew McRae could score. That’s why he’s earned time with various teams over the years: Phoenix, and two stints with Cleveland. But the most impressive adjustment to McRae’s game is his passing, something that Beal has taken on in the last few seasons.

On the year, the shooting guard is averaging a career-high 2.9 assists per game. But he’s had multiple (seven to be exact!) performances with four or more dimes. Heck, he had a career-high eight assists in Washington’s win over Miami last week:

Why is this important? Well when a team is missing not only their top-three scorers (Beal, Thomas Bryant, Davis Bertans), but also their star point guard in Wall, someone’s got to step up and make the extra pass.

McRae has had incredibly poor shooting performances this season as well, but it’s those nights that he chooses to stop taking bad shots and start making good passes that really show his full potential.

All of this has lead to his resurgence as a basketball talent. The only question now is, does he play into the Washington Wizards future beyond this year? Because if not…

To Trade or Not To Trade?

The Washington Wizards have been mentioned in almost every NBA trade column or report to come out since the start of the season. First it was Beal, before he signed his extension in October. And since that, no one’s stopped talking about Davis Bertans.

But the one thing no one is discussing (at least not publicly) is that it’s McRae, not the Latvian Laser, that’s Washington’s most attractive trade asset. Teams looking to make a deep playoff run could especially use the sharpshooting guard.

For the Wizards, it’s not an easy decision by any means. Washington prides themselves on the development of talent between their G-League affiliate and official roster. But McRae is signed only through this season, and they’ve made it clear they hope to resign Bertans.

McRae won’t be expensive by any means, but does he really factor into their future?

If Washington enters next season with only their guaranteed contracts + Bertans, they’ll have a full 10-man roster that covers the starting and bench units with experienced talent. Selling high on McRae now for a second-round pick or other cheap, longterm salary may be best.

Next: The Washington Wizards should stand pat at the trade deadline

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