Previously: Bradley Beal | Trevor Ariza | Trevor Booker | Marcin Gortat | Al Harrington | Randy Wittman | Drew Gooden | Andre Miller | Nene | Otto Porter | Glen Rice Jr. | Kevin Seraphin | Chris Singleton | Garrett Temple.
Martell Webster was re-signed for the full mid-level exception after a banner year in 2012-13. The hope was that he could hold down the starting small forward spot until Otto Porter was ready and, at worst, serve as a useful backup at both wing positions.
Imagine our surprise, then, when Webster conceded the starting small forward spot to Trevor Ariza, an impending free agent that wasn't really in our thoughts, right as training camp began. There was talk then of Webster's unselfishness, but many weren't sure the arrangement would last the entire season. It proved to be a weird omen for a so-so regular season to come.
What were our preseason expectations?
I think most folks believed Webster would eventually get his starting job back, whether because of Ariza's ineffectiveness or a trade. In light of that, a similar campaign was expected, though perhaps with less efficient three-point shooting.
How did his performance square with those expectations?
It was an odd season for Webster. He was mostly invisible at the beginning of the year, a victim of a poor second unit anchored by the awful Eric Maynor. Webster was used to John Wall setting him up for all of those corner threes. Instead, he was being asked to play more off screens and act as an instant-offense scorer.
It was not an especially good fit, and the biggest impact was felt in Webster's shot attempts. His usage rate was just below 17 percent last year, already a small number for an NBA player. This year, it dropped down to 14.7 percent, one of the lowest numbers among rotation players in the league. He wasn't getting the same attempts that made him successful in his first year in D.C., which was the concern of those who weren't sure about his bench self-demotion.
Eventually, Webster found his way, at least for a spell. He hit over 40 percent from three in November, December and January and found success playing with Ariza as an off guard during the stretches Bradley Beal sat. In fact, the Webster/Ariza tandem outscored opponents by over three points per 100 possessions this year, which may explain the Wizards' optimism that Webster, Ariza and Otto Porter can coexist next year.
Things really started to fall off, though, in the second half of the season. Webster's three-shooting tumbled to 35 percent in February, rebounded to 39 percent in March, then fell off to 34 percent in April. He was dreadful in the postseason, shooting just 36 percent from the field and 23 percent from three-point range. Loyalty caused Wittman to stick with him throughout, but perhaps it would have been good to see what Porter could have done in some spot minutes. This drop was especially odd because Webster finally had a passable point guard in Andre Miller that could set him up on the second unit.
Worse, Webster was abysmal defensively, showing little effort or quickness in guarding perimeter players and taking awful angles on closeouts. He was passable in 2012-13, but the Wizards were nearly five and a half points better per 100 possessions defensively with him out of the game this year. Again: given his struggles, other coaches might have turned to Porter sooner.
Why did Webster fall off? One theory: he wasn't healthy. Webster played in 78 games, but battled back and shoulder problems that limited his effectiveness. These are the same injuries, mind you, that initially caused Webster to fall off the NBA map. They made an impact on Webster's defensive effort and really manifested themselves the longer the season went. Totally baseless conspiracy theory alert: Webster played through the pain in part to preserve the fourth year on his contract, which becomes fully guaranteed only if he suits up for 180 games in the first three.
What is his future in D.C.?
This is a good question. The initial plan seemed to be to keep him as a bridge to the small forward position until Porter was ready and trade Ariza. Instead, Ariza had a career year and now may be re-signed, Webster took a step back and Porter proved he wasn't ready. What now?
One answer is to keep all three and play Webster more at shooting guard. The two positions are pretty similar in the Wizards' offensive scheme, and Webster/Ariza lineup combinations were surprisingly effective last year. But more of that time should go to Porter if he can develop properly, so it's tough to see Webster getting the same number of minutes under that arrangement.
Another possibility is to let Ariza walk, give Webster his starting job back and hope that he can regain his 2012-13 form. Playing with Wall certainly will give him more shots, but the defensive drop-off, combined with health issues, makes that a risk. Can Webster hold up the entire season? If not, is Porter ready?
Finally, the Wizards could try to trade him, but will they find a taker? Shooting is in high demand, and Webster is one of the best shooters there is. But with three years and over $16 million remaining on his contract, what can the Wizards get besides another team's unwanted piece? Webster's long-term health is also a huge concern: will the team that has to acquire Webster want to roll the dice there with the more painful years of his salary coming up?
There's no good answer here, unfortunately.
Final Grade: C
I'm not going lower because there was a stretch where Webster was close to his old self before health problems set in. Expecting Webster to duplicate his 2012-13 campaign was a bit much regardless. He can still retain his value if he plays the entire season like he played in December and January.
But given the way he faded down the stretch and his horrendous defense, I can't go any higher. It's time to really give Otto Porter a shot to see if he can outplay Martell. Given the way Webster closed the year, that might not be a high bar to climb.