After missing out on Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and every other big-time free agent out there, the franchise had to pivot on their strategy in free agency. Since they couldn’t bolster their starting lineup, they spent most of their money on revamping their bench unit, which was one of the worst in the league last season.
The Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, Gortat lineup outscored opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. But when they were off the floor, it got ugly. Washington’s Net Rating was -2.6 when Gortat was off the floor. It was -4.0 with Wall on the bench. On an individual level, you can see there were specific players who struggled in particular (Drew Gooden: -12.0, DeJuan Blair: -11.4, J.J Hickson: -10.2, Gary Neal: -9.0, Kris Humphries: -7.0). But even the players who weren’t total minuses on the floor had issues last season. Dudley had an up and down year, Nene couldn’t stay healthy, and Ramon Sessions lacked the playmaking to make the rest of the bench better.
Though fixing the bench won’t solve all of Washington’s problems, upgrading it should help alleviate some of the issues Washington had last season. Let’s take a look at the team’s new additions and how they can make the Wizards’ bench a strength this season:
- Ian Mahinmi is a defensive minded big man who should protect the rim better than Nene and fit well in Scott Brooks’ defensive scheme. Last season, he had career highs in points, rebounds, blocks and games played in Indiana. As the team’s third-highest paid player, we should expect nothing less from him.
- Washington tried to make Humphries and Gooden into stretch fours. That was a bad idea. Nicholson has already shown he can be a versatile 4 in the league but didn’t get an opportunity to do it consistently in Orlando’s crowded frontcourt. Last season, he had his best shooting season averaging 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from the arc, and 78 percent on free throws while averaging 7 points per game. Even with the hardships he had, he’s ready for a breakout season in D.C.
- Trey Burke’s situation is similar to Nicholson’s. Burke showed a few glimpse of promise in Utah but injuries and poor play kept him from reaching his potential. Last season, he had career lows in points, assists, rebounds, but shot 41 percent from the field and 34 percent from the arc, which are both career highs. If he can improve on those shooting percentages just a little, and stay healthy like Sessions (who played all 82 games last season), he could prove to be a younger version of the man he’s replacing.
- After spending four years in Europe, Tomas Satoransky is finally in Washington and will be asked to be the team’s primary facilitator off the bench. Last season in Barcelona, he averaged career highs in points, games played, minutes played, field goal percentage and assists. If he can adjust to the challenges of the NBA, it will take pressure off Burke to be a facilitator and let him focus more on being a scorer.
- Kelly Oubre has all the potential to become a great two-way swingman in the league. He is coming off a strong Summer League is ready to take on a bigger role on the team’s second unit, where they’ll need his defense to cover for the defensive shortcomings of some of the other bench players. Though he may lack some of Alan Anderson’s veteran savvy, he should fill the role the Wizards wanted him to fill last season, and do it more productively.
- Even though he only played 26 games and only shot 32 percent from deep last season, Jarell Eddie could also add some scoring punch the Wizards. He’s a sharpshooter with a beautiful, quick release. Now that he has more experience in the NBA and another successful Summer League under his belt, he should be better prepared to contribute next season. If not, Marcus Thornton can still get how every now and then.
- Jason Smith has been a serviceable big man in his eight years in the league. Last season in Orlando, he averaged 7.2 points and 3 rebounds per year in 76 contests. If either Gortat or Mahinmi go down, the Wizards will still be in good hands.
That said, there are still some areas where they could struggle. The Wizards have a lot of bigs on their roster, lack some wing depth, and they have one of the youngest rosters in the league today. Having another veteran presence would help mentor younger players, Marcus Thornton is the only vet on the bench, and that probably won’t cut it.
This year’s bench is younger, more versatile and can bring a scoring punch Wizards desperately need when their stars are taking a break. Though they may not taken their starters to the next level, this year’s bench should help the team from getting into holes the starters can’t get the team out of when they return to the floor.