After the presumed end of the KD2DC movement (Thanks Jake!), it looks like the Wizards will be moving on to their Plan B.
J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that the Wizards are now making Ryan Anderson their priority in free agency. Anderson is said to command upwards of $17 million dollars a year on the open market, even as he comes off a difficult, inconsistent season with the Pelicans, which was wrought with trade rumors. Uniting with one of teams that was rumored to be interested in him last season could help Anderson get back on track next season, but spending a majority of their cap space on a player like Anderson is still questionable for a number of reasons.
First of all, Anderson’s value in today’s NBA has diminished relative to what it used to be. The league has evolved rapidly over the years, and players asked to fill the stretch four role need to do more than ever. Shooting is still very valuable at all positions, especially among big men, but gone are the days where you could get away with slotting in one dimensional power forwards because of their three-point shooting, as Zach Lowe of ESPN elegantly pointed out in his breakdown of the Serge Ibaka trade:
Switching defenses have transformed the "stretch 4" into an almost antiquated concept. A big who can launch stand-still 3s is much less of a threat if defenses just switch every screening action, preventing him from popping open and daring him to do something against a smaller defender.
While Anderson has proven to be an effective post-up option against smaller defenders, teams will still easily take that over him getting an open three or giving John Wall an open lane to the rim. This isn’t to say he still isn’t a helpful player. Any power forward who averages 17 & 6 and shoots 37 percent from deep in a bench role is going to help in one way or another, but it would have been a much more impactful signing if they had done three years ago instead of using their cap space on Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
And we haven’t even gotten to his defense. Lineups with him and Gortat would lack mobility and lineups with him and Morris would lack rim protection. This would probably be forgivable for the most part in the regular season, but in playoffs, this kind of weakness can render guys unplayable. Given that one of the big themes for next season is regaining their defensive identity, it doesn’t send a great message to that identity when a majority of your cap space is being spent on a one-dimensional offensive player like Anderson. Not to mention, his rebounding the past few years has declined, so he likely won’t make even that much of a contribution on either end aside from his shooting.
Of course, the question that comes after all this questioning of Anderson is “What other option do the Wizards have?”. It’s a fair one. Washington has been preparing for this summer for quite some time. Coming away with nothing is not an option when you have John Wall on a bargain contract for three more years. The time to win is now.
However, the Wizards are better served using their cap space to address more pressing needs such as athleticism, youth, and defensive prowess. While he’d likely make the team better overall, Anderson provides neither of these things, and it will be much more difficult to address this problem if you spend a majority of your cap space on him.
Last season, the Toronto Raptors last season showed how to shift into a defensive identity while keeping mostly the same roster, and what resulted was their best season in franchise history. The Portland Trailblazers showed how to utilize cap space without making a big splash, nabbing young free agents with upside for value contract. The Wizards would be best served using a combination of these strategies if they strike out on all the bigger names this offseason.
Overall, there is nothing wrong with the Wizards shifting focus after their pursuit of Durant. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to make a splash and trying to win now with a new coach, and Wall in his prime on a great contract. However, Ryan Anderson is probably not the kind of player that helps you take the next step. His skillset is still valuable to some extent, and would probably make the Wizards better in the short-term, but he does not fill their most pressing needs. Given that they just sat out the draft and only have five players under contract, Washington should be utilizing cap space to plug holes on their roster rather than spending it on a player who is more of a luxury at this point.