The NBA Finals is almost over, with the Denver Nuggets leading the Miami Heat 3-1 after four games. As the Finals is the highest level of NBA basketball, there are lessons to be learned from it for the other 28 teams in the league, including the Washington Wizards.
Watching the NBA Finals every year is a reminder of how far the Wizards are from competing in one. This year is no different. The type of players who thrive and the type of players who struggle to get playing time in these finals is very telling regarding which Wizards players would be able to perform in a similar setting.
Versatility is key in high-level playoff settings
What is striking about the Nuggets and the Heat is their versatility, especially on the offensive end. Both teams play lineups that are highly skilled offensively, with all five positions being able to pass, dribble, and shoot.
The Nuggets’ ability to play five-out lineups with modern spacing and movement, while all five players are able to make plays off-the-dribble makes them impossible to guard. They have zero players in their eight-man rotation who is not an on-ball or off-ball threat.
This is true for the Miami Heat as well. The only non-shooters in Miami’s rotation are their two centers Bam Adebayo and Cody Zeller. Zeller only plays 6 minutes a game, and Bam Adebayo can do everything else except shoot. He can put the ball on the floor, pass and score inside the paint.
Key to playoff success is having less exploitable weaknesses
In the modern NBA, high-level teams are too smart and are too good at exploring the opposing team’s weaknesses. Especially in a seven-game series. This is why the playoffs become more about weaknesses than strengths. If a team has too many glaring weaknesses, they are unlikely to win multiple playoff rounds regardless of how strong their strengths are.
This is why we see players with exploitable weaknesses lose their minutes or spot in the rotation. A non-shooter on offense can easily be schemed out by the opposing defense. A bad defender can be hunted over and over again until they become unplayable. If a player can’t reliably stay in front of their player, no matter how good they are offensively, they will not be getting heavy minutes in an NBA Finals game.
Players who see an uptick in their roles are two-way players with no discernible weaknesses. Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Denver, and Kyle Lowry and Gabe Vincent for Miami are prime examples of players whose minutes went up during these finals due to their ability to do a little bit of everything.
The Wizards roster is lacking in playoff-level contributors
So, who on the Washington Wizards fits this bill? Which Wizard would actually get a significant role and heavy minutes if they were on one of these Finals teams?
Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, and Kristaps Porzingis obviously can find themselves roles on both teams. How big of a role each of them gets would depend heavily on how well they are shooting, especially in Kuzma and Porzingis’ case.
Porzingis’ lack of defensive versatility would certainly be an issue, potentially limiting his role against both big men; Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jokic.
After the core three, finding sure-fire contributors becomes trickier.
The Wizards’ role players haven’t proven themselves to be solid two-way players
Deni Avdija is probably too limited offensively, his lack of shooting would cause too many problems for his team. His playmaking is not good enough to warrant either team giving him on-ball opportunities.
Monte Morris is a decent backup, but he is not a dynamic enough point guard on either end of the floor. He could most likely find spot minutes on either team, but there is a reason the Denver Nuggets traded him to the Wizards last offseason for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. His replacement Bruce Brown is a much better defensive player and a more dynamic scorer on offense.
Delon Wright is also too limited as an offensive player. His unwillingness to shoot three-pointers and his lack of off-ball ability will create a ton of spacing issues on offense.
Daniel Gafford can probably take Cody Zeller’s minutes for Miami. However, it is hard to argue that he deserves any more than that. He could be strictly Bam Adebayo’s backup. Denver doesn’t play non-shooting, non-playmaking offensive players, so he couldn’t have a role there.
The role player with the best argument to have a significant role in these finals is Corey Kispert. Kispert shot over 42% from downtown last season. His off-ball gravity would be valuable for either team, and he can do enough with the ball to keep the offense flowing. Defensively, he is going to have a target on his back. But for a Miami team that plays Duncan Robinson and Kevin Love significant minutes, there probably is a role for Kispert.
The difference in talent level between the Wiz and the Finals teams is striking
And unfortunately for the Wizards, that is about it in terms of players who can reliably contribute to a championship-level team.
Realizing how far this team is from contending in terms of talent level is eye-opening. It is also the main reason why a rebuild is the only logical path.
When planning the rebuild, it is important to look at this roster from this perspective. Who can the Wizards rely on as a playoff-level contributor when it’s time to contend should be the driving question behind all roster decisions.