Last Monday, the Washington Wizards ended their 2016-17 campaign in heartbreaking fashion by losing 117-107 to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Wizards left that series as losers despite the great play of their star-studded backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall. During that seven-game series, the duo combined to average 49 points on 43% from the field. Coinciding with that, Wall triumphed as a facilitator by averaging 10.3 assists per game while maintaining an excellent 2.6 Ast/TO ratio.
Despite the amazing performance of that duo, the Wizards were still unable to win the series due to two separate reasons.
- The team’s lack of bench scorers
- Aging and depleted front-court
That first reason was probably the biggest issue pertaining to the Wizards during their series against the Celtics. From the jump, their bench unit was drier than the Great Basin Desert (the largest desert in the US). During the series, the Wizards’ bench finished with an atrocious -20.7 Net Rating, which meant that Washington’s 2nd unit averaged 20 points less than the 2nd unit of the Celtics.
Although Washington’s bench was a huge problem during the entire Celtics series, it reached its plateau during that Game 7 defeat. During that winner-takes-all matchup, Washington’s bench only scored 5 points which came solely from Bojan Bogdanovic.
On the other hand, Boston’s bench compiled 48 points as that unit was led by Kelly Olynyk, who put up 26 points on 10-14 shooting. It could be argued that Olynyk’s fantastic play was enough to push the Celtics over the Wizards.
Coinciding with their weak bench, the team’s front-court also stands as one of the Wizards biggest issues. At first glance, things seem to be alright as Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris stand as fine front court players. Gortat has been a consistent double-double treat for the Wizards since he joined the team in 2013. Meanwhile, Morris has positioned himself as a fine stretch four as he shot 36% from beyond the arc on 2.6 perimeter attempts per game during the regular season.
However, the promise regarding the Wizards front-court unsurprisingly fades away when you look at their bench. At this point, the only bench player on the Wizards that has really shined in recent memory is Bojan Bogdanovic, a player that the team acquired in a trade deadline deal.
Bogdanovic immediately was placed as the team’s 6th man as he put up 14.2 points on 44% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc in 23 minutes per game. Unfortunately, that success didn’t persist once Bogdanovic made his way to the playoffs. Within post-season play, both his minutes (20.3 MPG), points (8.8) and efficiency (41% from the field) trended downwards.
That dread continues when you look down their front-court depth chart as both Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith stand as 30+ year old players that have continued to battle injuries throughout their careers.
For Mahinmi, he only played 31 regular season games during his first season with the Wizards due to continuing injuries in both knees. Those injuries become really concerning as Mahinmi has made his career by being a strong pick-and-roll presence that can also do work on the offensive glass.
As the 30-year-old Mahinmi continues to get older, those knee issues could really hamper the impact that he can possibly make with the Wizards. However, the Wizards need to remain optimistic as Mahinmi just ended the first year of the 4 year/$64 million dollar deal that he received during the last off-season.
Meanwhile, Jason Smith was hobbled during the closing stages of the season due to separate injuries to his left leg, whether it was a bruised knee or calf contusion. Those injuries have been a part of the 31-year-old’s career as Smith has only played one full season during his ten-year career. When he can play, Smith shines as a player that can attack the offensive glass and hitting the occasional mid-range or perimeter jumper.
Outside of that trio, the Wizards actually have some young talent in their organization in Daniel Ochefu and Chris McCullough. Unfortunately, neither Ochefu or McCullough got any playing time with the WIzards as they combined to play 85 minutes with the team.
Usually that wouldn’t be much of a problem as any NBA team could just stick those players on their D(G)-League affiliate. However, the Wizards currently stand as one of the lone NBA squads with their own minor league team. In their current situation, the Wizards have to send one of their players to another NBA squad’s G-League affiliate.
The Wizards had to do that during this season as McCullough spent twelve games with the Northern Arizona Suns. That assignment was unfortunate as he put up mediocre numbers (10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds on 45% from the field) while also playing with a squad that’s nearly 2,000 miles away from the Wizards.
That issue combined with the team’s lack of bench and front-court depth brings us to one conclusion: The Wizards need their own NBA G-League affiliate. Rather than constantly acquiring mediocre veterans that have already reached their basketball plateau, the Wizards can utilize the G-League to build up the talent that they could eventually place next to Bradley Beal or John Wall.
This approach will need to come sooner rather than later as the Wizards aren’t going to necessarily have a lot of cap room during the upcoming few off-seasons. Alongside the Wizards having Beal and Wall on near max deals for the next few seasons, the team will also be paying the duo of Mahinmi and Gortat a combined $28 million in 2017-18 and $29 million in 2018-19. Last but not least, the Wizards are probably going to have to break the bank to give a new contract to Otto Porter, who will be an RFA during this off-season.
Despite the amount of G-Leaguers that have been unable to pan out at the NBA level, there’s still dozens of talented players in the Association that got their start in the NBAGL. Just in this year’s playoffs, we’ve had the opportunity to watch G-League alums Jonathan Simmons, Clint Capela, Norman Powell and JaMychal Green get significant minutes. Even looking away from those four NBAGL alums, 44% of the players on NBA playoff rosters spent time in the G-League.
G-League success stories are still there even when we look away from playoff teams. From Jeremy Lin and Hassan Whiteside to Tyler Johnson and Yogi Ferrell, the G-League has continued to be a great way for NBA teams to either develop young players or find potential diamonds in the rough.
As we currently stand, the Washington Wizards are ateam that has promise due to the trio of Beal, Wall and even Otto Porter. That crew was enough to push the Wizards to being on the verge of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, the team is currently set back by the fact that they have an aging front-court, depleted bench and limited cap room. With those issues, it’s absolutely imperative for the Wizards to get their own G-League affiliate if they want to build up the rotation that could push them into the next level of the Eastern Conference.