Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Washington Wizards make most of remaining options in NBA free agency

Ian Mahinmi, right, left the Indiana Pacers and signed a lucrative four-year, $64 million deal with the Wizards.

For the Washington Wizards, a volatile NBA free agency period presented a chance to rebuild their team after a disappointing season.

With hopes of signing a star this summer, the Wizards proceeded to make offers to players that they hoped would fit their needs looking ahead.

Along with the Boston Celtics, Washington was in the running to acquire the Dominican combo power forward and center Al Horford. Though Horford eventually decided to join the Celtics, the Wizards quickly acted on a Plan B, signing French center and former-Indiana Pacer Ian Mahinmi to a four-year, $64 million deal on July 2.

A day later, the Wiz acquired Tomas Satoransky, a 6’7” Czech point guard that they picked in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, on a three-year, $9 million deal. On July 3, Washington also signed Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson for $26 million over four years.

To help bolster their backcourt and provide backup for star guard John Wall, the Wizards traded their future 2021 second-round draft pick for former-Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke on July 4. And last but not least, the Wizards added eight-year NBA veteran and 7-footer Jason Smith to their roster for a three-year contract worth $16 million on July 5.

As of July 17, the Washington Wizards officially have 11 players under contract, including Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, who they re-signed to a max-contract worth $128 million over five years. Just a couple of weeks ago, Washington only had five players on their roster.

In my last Dynasty post, I outlined what positions and potential additions would help Washington in preparing for the upcoming NBA season. This time, I would like to focus on what the Wiz did during free agency, specifically the strengths of the players they acquired and what they are capable of bringing to the team in order to replace the free agents who left the Wizards this summer.

Ian Mahinmi, Center: Protecting the Rim and Scoring in the Paint

Last season, the Washington Wizards minimized usage of their tallest players and emphasized the small-ball strategy that worked so well with other teams, notably the Golden State Warriors. When they implemented this new approach, the franchise did not fare as well as they had before and ended up missing the NBA playoffs for the first time in three seasons, finishing the season with a 41-41 record.

Judging by Washington’s latest additions, new head coach Scott Brooks is parting ways with this old strategy. Of the five players the Wizards acquired in the last week, four are 6’7” or above, including Ian Mahinmi.

Mahinmi is able to fill several of the Wizards’ needs, both offensively and defensively. The 6’11” center averaged 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and over a block per game in 71 regular season matchups, all of which he entered as a starter, per Mahinmi’s NBA.com stats profile. His balance with scoring and rebounding is a key asset for Washington, a team in desperate need of a center that can handle both duties after Brazilian big Nene departed for the Houston Rockets on July 6.

According to his 2015-2016 regular season scoring stats, Mahinmi is a comfortable shooter in the paint. Nearly 76 percent of his points scored last season were made in the paint, out of an average of about 4 shots made per game. Although Mahinmi still needs to work on his ability to shoot beyond the arc -- he did not attempt any three-point shots last season -- he can add depth to the Wizards’ frontcourt and is a suitable backup for Polish center Marcin Gortat.

Tomas Satoransky, Point Guard/Shooting Guard: Three-Point Capability and a Boost off the Bench

As I emphasized on June 30, John Wall was overworked last season. In my opinion, this was because there was not a strong guard on the Wizards that could come off the bench and lead the team like Wall. Additionally, the team simply did not shoot the three well, or enough, last season.

I believed the Wiz needed a shooting guard to backup Beal and a player to help them with shooting from long range. By signing Prague native and FC Barcelona Lassa guard Tomas Satoransky, Washington is certainly taking a step in the right direction.

Satoransky was selected by the Wizards in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, the 32nd pick overall, per Basketball Reference. However, the 24-year-old, 6’7” combo guard has played in the first-tier Spanish pro basketball league, Liga ACB, for his whole career thus far, spanning seven seasons.

During 2015-2016, Satoransky posted averages of 9.6 points, 4.2 assists, nearly 3 rebounds, and one steal per game with FC Barcelona Lassa in league play and Euroleague club competition. Furthermore, he shot a career-high 59.3 percent from two-point range and finished the season with a respectable 39 percent three-point shooting percentage. Satoransky also played in a career-high 62 games, spanning Liga ACB and Euroleague competition.

Though Satoransky is not a superstar, I believe his ability to play both point and shooting guard can add depth to the bench. His experience and versatility as a player will surely be strong assets for the Wizards.

Andrew Nicholson, Power Forward: Adding Depth at the Power Forward Position

Two seasons ago, we saw how effective a stretch four, otherwise known as a power forward, can be for this franchise. NBA veteran Paul Pierce provided an offensive spark for the team during the 2014-2015 season and the playoffs when he played power forward, helping lead the team to their second consecutive playoff berth. Last season, however, the Wizards were critically lacking a player who could generate offense in this position.

As of now, the only two options the Wizards have as stretch fours for the 2016-2017 season are Markieff Morris and new addition Andrew Nicholson, according to RealGM.com’s depth chart. Morris was a solid contributor for the Wiz last season, averaging 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and over an assist per game in 27 regular season contests, 21 of which he entered as a starter, per his NBA.com stats profile.

But in my opinion, Washington can’t just have one power forward on their team. The Wizards must focus on building strength with this position, choosing players that will make an impact on both the offensive and defensive ends.

While acquiring Canadian stretch four Andrew Nicholson is not the sole answer to strengthening their team, the Wizards have made a good decision to help add depth at this position. According to Nicholson’s NBA.com stats profile, the 6’9” four-season Orlando Magic player is capable of providing a spark for the Wizards off the bench. Nicholson scored nearly 7 points and grabbed 3.6 rebounds per game in 56 matchups during last season, all of which he entered as a reserve.

Though Nicholson still needs to improve on his defense and three-point shooting, he can be a good backup power forward for Morris and hopefully will thrive in Brooks’ new system.

Trey Burke, Point Guard: Bolstering the Backcourt and Backing up Wall

In the absence of Beal and Wall, the Wizards have not necessarily possessed strong reserves in their backcourt over the last several seasons. With the exception of backup point guard Ramon Sessions, who is returning to the Charlotte Hornets after two seasons with Washington, the Wizards have been lacking solid substitutes at both guard positions.

While former-Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke may not be the sole solution to this dilemma, he may be able to match Wall’s consistency, passing ability, and explosive playing style.

Burke, a 6’1” point guard from Columbus, Ohio, proved to be a dependable sixth man for the Jazz last season. According to Burke’s stats profile, the 23-year-old guard averaged 10.6 points, nearly 2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 64 regular season games, playing an average of 21 minutes each game.

While these numbers are not quite what Wall puts up each night, Burke could be an essential component in the Wizards’ rotation. I believe Burke could provide a spark off the bench for the Wiz, and could step in to take things over for Wall when he gets tired.

It remains to be seen whether the Wizards made a good decision to trade their 2021 second-round pick for Burke, but his upside is clear.

Jason Smith, Center/Power Forward: Fortifying the Frontcourt and Adding a Defensive Edge

Last season, the Wizards emphasis on small ball led to a deficit of dependable bigs to set pick-and-rolls, play post defense and offense and dominate the glass. If this year’s free agency period is any indication, coach Brooks and the Wizards front office are looking to bring players to the team who can fill those crucial frontcourt positions. Eight-year NBA veteran Jason Smith is one such player who is comfortable playing both center and power forward.

Smith has proven himself as a consistent bench player during his NBA career. In his past five seasons, Smith has scored seven points or more per game, averaged as many as six rebounds per game, made an average of nearly a block per game in four of the past five seasons and shot the ball above a 45 percent clip per game in four of his last five seasons, per his stats profile.

I believe Smith would help support the Wizards’ defense and be a solid substitute for center Gortat. Smith has played for four teams thus far in his career. Let's hope number five is a good fit for both his and the Wizards’ sake.

lversel@theeagleonline.com


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