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Why the Wizards need an in-season trade to upgrade the frontcourt

Assuming Ernie Grunfeld is indeed tinkering from the healthy edition of the Eddie Jordan Wizards rather than Ed Tapscott's Palace of Pretty Crappy Play crew, we can probably agree that the squad had two big weaknesses.

  • A below-average shooting guard group
  • A third big man who can play big, rebound and defend

Weakness one was addressed already with the trade for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.  We can argue that perhaps there were better ways to go about solving weakness one, but the off guard position clearly looks like it's in better hands than before. 

However, weakness two remains a weakness.  We ended our last healthy season with inconsistent Andray Blatche and cerebral Darius Songaila as our backup big men.  We are all set to begin next season with ... inconsistent Andray Blatche and the even-more-cerebral Fabricio Oberto as our backup big men.  JaVale McGee is there too, but he still has a good deal of growth to do to become the type of reliable third big we need. 

So we haven't really upgraded our frontcourt.  We're hoping that Blatche and McGee develop enough and that Oberto holds off Father Time, but hoping for player development isn't going to get us in the Boston/Cleveland/Orlando category.  Blatche is what he is at this point, and while that can be an effective player, it's not the type of solid oak we need.  McGee could be that shot-in-the-arm type, but he'd have to grow a lot to be reliable.  Oberto's 34 and on a major downswing in his career.  As an insurance big, he's great, but if he is playing third-big minutes, we aren't going anywhere. 

Ernie Grunfeld has taken the wait and see approach with this weakness.  He didn't draft DeJuan Blair, he didn't pony up the cash to sign Antonio McDyess or Zaza Pachulia and he basically announced we're done making moves until the season starts.  I'm willing to accept Ernie waiting on this, if only because two contingency possibilities -- Blatche or McGee taking a step forward while we win; us sucking so we're not in contention for anything -- remain accounted for. 

But unless one of those things happen, the Wizards will need to make an in-season move in order to shore up this weakness and become a true contender.  Standing pat isn't going to work if we really want to win. 

To further illustrate the need for another competent big man, take a look at the big-man rotations for the final four remaining teams in the playoffs these past few years.

Team Starting PF Starting C Third Big
2009/10 Wizards (projected) Antawn Jamison Brendan Haywood Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee
2008/09 Lakers Pau Gasol Andrew Bynum Lamar Odom
2008/09 Magic Rashard Lewis Dwight Howard Marcin Gortat
2008/09 Cavaliers Anderson Varejao Zydrunas Ilgauskas Joe Smith
2008/09 Nuggets Kenyon Martin Nene Chris Anderson
2007/08 Celtics Kevin Garnett Kendrick Perkins PJ Brown/Leon Powe
2007/08 Lakers Lamar Odom Pau Gasol Ronny Turiaf
2007/08 Pistons Rasheed Wallace Antonio McDyess Jason Maxiell
2007/08 Spurs Tim Duncan Fabricio Oberto Kurt Thomas
2006/07 Spurs Tim Duncan Fabricio Oberto Francisco Elson
2006/07 Cavaliers Drew Gooden Zydrunas Ilgauskas Anderson Varejao
2006/07 Jazz Carlos Boozer Mehmet Okur Paul Millsap
2006/07 Pistons Rasheed Wallace Chris Webber Antonio McDyess


Just look at the third big column.  Most of those guys are battle-tested vets that also give above-average production.  They aren't just token no-mistake guys like Darius Songaila; they actually provide unique on-court production too, whether it's jump-shooting (McDyess, Smith), boxing out/post defense (Thomas, Turiaf, Brown, Varejao), inside scoring (Powe, Millsap) or offensive rebounding (Gortat, Maxiell).

I suppose you could make an argument that Blatche and McGee aren't too far off from a couple of those guys.  McGee is a Chris Anderson in training, while Blatche is certainly less flakey than the 2006/07 edition of Francisco Elson.  But the Wizards aren't competing against past playoff teams next year; they're competing against contenders who themselves have significantly improved. 

Team Starting PF Starting C Projected third big Other big men
Wizards Antawn Jamison Brendan Haywood Andray Blatche

Fabricio Oberto

JaVale McGee

Cavaliers Anderson Varejao Shaquille O'Neal Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Leon Powe

J.J. Hickson

Magic Rashard Lewis Dwight Howard Brandon Bass

Marcin Gortat

Adonal Foyle

Celtics Kevin Garnett Kendrick Perkins Rasheed Wallace

Glen Davis

Shelden Williams

Lakers Pau Gasol Andrew Bynum Lamar Odom Josh Powell
Spurs Tim Duncan Kurt Thomas Antonio McDyess

Matt Bonner

DeJuan Blair


To recap:

  • The Cavaliers can trot out Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who sported an 18 PER last year and was the team's second-best player for many years before last season, or Shaquille O'Neal, who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, as their third big man.  They also have a dangerous low-post scorer in Leon Powe as insurance, provided his knee injury heals.
  • The Magic's top big man off the bench is either Marcin Gortat, who is a rising player that got a full MLE offer from Dallas to be its starting center, or Brandon Bass, who was the third big on Dallas last year and is a player on the rise in his own right. 
  • The Celtics just got Rasheed Wallace, who is getting older but remains an outstanding player when motivated, and bumped playoff hero Glen Davis down to the fourth big man spot.  Davis might be better than Blatche on his own.
  • The Lakers' third big man is arguably one of the top 50 players in the league right now.
  • The Spurs have added McDyess and Blair while retaining their second and third big men for most of last year to surrounded the best big man of his era.

And before you say the Wizards can beat those guys by going small, every one of those teams (except maybe San Antonio) listed above can do that too, now that Cleveland has Jamario Moon.  The Magic essentially start a 3/4 hybrid, the Cavaliers can play Moon with LeBron James at power forward, the Lakers can play Ron Artest at power forward and the Celtics can put a healthy Kevin Garnett on anybody.  They have rosters that can address pretty much any countermove one could make.

I don't mean to throw these names out to say we should mimic the contenders' style of play, but they drive home loud and clear that the Wizards can only become elite if they match the other contenders' frontcourts in terms of depth and reliability. 

The best way to ensure that weakness is solved is to make an in-season trade.  Otherwise, our only hopes are to:

  • Pray for the five zillionth season in a row that Blatche develops some game-to-game reliability,
  • Assume McGee will go from being possibly the league's rawest player to one of its most polished, or
  • Lead Oberto to a fountain of youth that will allow him to recapture his effectiveness and have a career year at age 34

I'd rather not have to rely on hopes when the playoffs roll around.