Pops Mensah-Bonsu is no stranger to playing basketball in the District. Those of you that follow college hoops remember him from his days at George Washington where he terrorized rims and opponents with his earth-shaking dunks. After his time at Foggy Bottom, he spent one year in Dallas before playing a couple seasons overseas.
Last season, he came back to the NBA after signing a 10 day contract with the Spurs. San Antonio didn't bring him back for a second 10 day contract, but he quickly found a home in Toronto where he stayed the rest of the season. After joining the Raps, he provided a big spark defensively for Toronto. Over the last 19 games of the season in which Mensah-Bonsu played, the Raptors were 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Mensah-Bonsu on the court. Sure those numbers are probably slightly inflated by a small sample size, but it's evident that he does have some defensive impact when he's out on the floor.
Last week, the Raptors made a qualiftying offer for Mensah-Bonsu before free agency started which gives them the chance to match any offer sheet that he signs. Of course, Toronto extended the QO to Mensah-Bonsu before signing Hedo Turkoglu to a 5 year, $53 millon contract on Friday. With Hedo and his large contract in the fold, Mensah-Bonsu may not figure as prominently into Toronto's plans as he did just a week ago.
So would he be worth the risk? Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of bringing in King Whale Killer.
- Defense: Like I mentioned earlier, Toronto was 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Mensah-Bonsu on the court. In the short time that Mensah-Bonsu was with the Spurs, the defense was also better with him on the court. Sure, some larger sample sizes would be nice to rein in those +/- numbers a little bit, but it's large enough to show that he makes an impact defensively when he's on the court. His biggest contribution defensively comes through rebounding. Last season, he had total rebounding percentage of 23%, 6.9% higher than anyone on the Wizards last season (7.9% higher if you don't count Oleksiy Pecherov).
- Pyrotechnics: Sure, JaVale McGee already does a fine job in this area but you can never have too many highlight plays, right?
- Affordability: If the Wizards are truly looking for someone who can "occasionally and give us six to eight minutes" off the bench at a price fitting of that role, Pops might be one of the best values available on the market. He's still young and you would have to assume that he wouldn't get more than the bi-annual exemption from anyone this summer.
- Offense: The good news is that Pops knows his limitations and doesn't take outside shots that would lower his shooting percentages. The bad news is that he's still not great at getting the ball in the hoop when he's close either. He had 37% of his close shots blocked last year and 19% of all of his inside shots. So it shouldn't shock you that he had a 35.4 FG% with the Raptors last season.
- Defense on centers: He's got enough size to guard centers in a pinch, but as the numbers show, it's probably best that he doesn't guard them anymore than that. Opposing centers had a PER of 31.8 against Pops last season. To give you an idea of how glaring that is, last year Dwight Howard had a PER of 25.5. His overall defensive numbers were still good, but that's because the Raptors were wise not to put him at the 5 spot too much last season.
Mensah-Bonsu might not fix all the problems that some other free agents that we've talked about might be able to, but he'd help fill some of the team's holes without breaking the bank. At this point, that's probably about as good as we can ask for whoever gets signed by Washington this off-season.