Jake Whitacre: Andrew Nicholson, the Wizards' sixth-highest paid player, is currently 12th on the team in minutes played. The only players who have played less than Nicholson this season are either injured (Ian Mahinmi & Danuel House) or still learning their way through the NBA (Daniel Ochefu).
It's pretty clear why Nicholson has struggled to get on the floor. He's always been a bit of a liability on the defensive end with his lack of agility and height, but he's usually been able to at least compensate with shot-making ability on the other end. That hasn't been the case this season. He's shooting 39.5 percent from the field and he's 3-16 from deep this season.
As a result, the Wizards are getting walloped every time he's on the floor. Washington has been outscored by 12.6 points per 100 possessions when he's out there. The Wizards have only been 0.1 points better with him out there than they have been with Marcus Thornton this season.
But at least with Thornton, he's only getting paid the veteran's minimum. Nicholson is making six times as much money this season.
Most teams have a player like Nicholson on their roster, who is getting paid more than their playing time and performance should justify, but typically those players are on the tail end of their deals. Nicholson still has three years left on his contract after this one, and his salary goes up each year as he gets older.
So with all that said, is there any hope that he can turn it around in Washington? If not, where do the Wizards go from here? A rebuilding team would probably be willing to take his salary if the Wizards are willing to throw in a first round pick, but that's a suboptimal use of such a valuable asset. They could try to get another team to swap their albatross contract for Nicholson and hope that player fares better in Washington. Waiving him might even be in play here. They could use the stretch provision this summer to lower his cap hit, but it would keep him on the books until the end of the 2023-24 season, which would be Wall's 14th season in the NBA.
Ben Becker: I am not particularly hopeful that Nicholson can find a way to add value here. But given how inexplicable the Wizards success to date has been (I have dubbed this season's team the Stonehenge Wizards), far be it from me to rule it out completely. I suppose the hope is that once Mahinmi returns, Nicholson could play alongside him when he doesn't need to match up with a backup four who plays on the perimeter. But unless Nicholson is raining threes, I just don't see feeling compelled to give him minutes that would otherwise Oubre, Smith, Morris, Tracy Murray, Charles Jones, etc.
Assuming Nicholson keeps racking up DNP's, there's no immediate need to trade him -- certainly not at the cost of an asset. If his salary can be used as part of a deal to bring in material help, then sure. But if not, the decision of how to handle him going forward can be made over the summer.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: I more or less feel how Ben feels. If there is a deal to be had you trade him, but the one thing I would say different is if you cannot trade him, and you really need the cap space, then I think the stretch provision should be the last resort. I was one of those people that wanted to see how he would play alongside Mahinmi, but I just don't see the positives in his game that will overcome his defensive deficiencies, even with a rim protector next to him. I just think it was a huge mistake to give him such a long deal and it would be foolish to give up a 1st round pick just to rid of his contract. Even though his contract is long, it's not a huge inhibitor to making other moves. Using the stretch provision will give you at least some relief, but I think the most important thing is to keep the draft pick. If the Wizards continue to play well, and with the projection of how deep this year's draft is expected to be, the Wizards may be able to fix some potential holes on their bench with that pick, that will give them the opportunity to take another step towards contention.
Ben Becker: Just as an FYI, if the Wiz stretch Nicholson after this season (ironic term given his shortcomings), they'd save the $3.6 million, $3.8 million and $4.1 million over the next three seasons respectively, after which it would cost them $2.8 million against their cap for the subsequent four seasons though the 23-24 season. Not ideal, but I agree it is not something I would rule out.
Kevin Broom: I’m a bit surprised how clingy everyone’s being with the first round pick. This team has spent the past several years burning assets to make up for Ernie Grunfeld’s mistakes, so they could “compete” to make the playoffs. This year they might have a chance to burn assets to make up for Grunfeld mistakes to compete in the playoffs.
I understand the points about player development and obtaining young players for the future. Buy a second round pick or two, or maybe even a late first. But no one in the East is dominant and this could be an opportunity for a team like the Wizards to do something special – if they can shore up their biggest weaknesses (crappy bench and no depth).
They have frontcourt help coming if Mahinmi can get healthy. Dangle Nicholson and that first and see what backcourt help is available.
Alan Jenkins: I think it's because this draft is deemed to be super deep. With that in mind, the better the Wizards get, the less attractive that pick becomes. Right now, they’re looking at the 20-26 range. On the other hand, it would be nice to see the front office actually hit on one of these not so obvious picks and continue to build for the future while paying the guy a rookie salary.
Nick Bilka: I do think the changing reality of where they are likely to draft hasn't caught up with people's perception of the value of the pick. As of Saturday, they would be drafting 24th. I know people say this is a deep draft, but how much can they really expect in the next couple of years from that player?
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: The value is absolutely in the draft pick because of how deep the draft is, but you have to factor a few other things why the draft pick matters. They will still have roster spots to fill and very little money left over to attract free agents. If you trade that draft pick away, it's possible that you get a good rotation player in return, but you will still have the same financial issues going forward. You would have just gotten rid of two players (including the pick) to get one player, that you would not have shed any salary with so then you would have still have to find a way to fill that other roster spot and the ones still left over.
I think a draft pick at that range could still help. We're not looking for a superstar player. We are looking for either a backcourt player with the ability to put points up or a mobile big man with either coming off the bench. There are plenty examples of players who have been drafted in late rounds or even in the 2nd round and have helped. Does that mean I think the front office is capable of getting the pick right? Well that's another conversation, but I think ultimately you have to think about how many resources will be left to fill the rest of the roster out assuming that Otto is re-signed to a big deal.
Kevin Broom: I normally hate the “might as well trade the pick because Grunfeld is the one making it” argument, but I’m about to make it anyway. Grunfeld’s pattern later in the draft is to pick athletes who need to learn how to play. He doesn’t have a good record with those picks. Maybe they get lucky this year. But the odds are not in their favor with Grunfeld making the pick.
And, including Nicholson in the deal relieves some financial pressure and gives them some room to re-sign someone. Especially if they could later trade away other less productive salaries.
That said, I think they have a unique circumstance this year. The team looks good, but has flaws that are fixable. Worry about the future after the season is over.
Lyndie Wood: As someone who really doesn't pay attention to the draft until a few days before it happens: What is the projected value of your average mid-20s pick?
Jake Whitacre: Somewhere between Trevor Booker and Jordan Crawford.
Kevin Broom: I haven’t updated recently, but I once did an analysis of expected value by draft position. The average four-year PER for picks 20-26 was 13.7 – below average. As a group, they averaged 46.1 games and 946 minutes per season over their first four years.
In my analysis, I found a 14 percent chance of getting an average or better player, and a 1 percent chance of getting a PER 20 or better player in picks 20-26.
Ben Becker: By the same token, how much of a return could they expect for that pick? While I think there are some teams who might take on Nicholson in order to secure that first rounder, I don't know how many are going to give up good players that are signed for very long.
For example, Nicholson and the first for Darren Collison could help the Wizards a ton right away. Collison is a near-ideal third guard because his shooting range allows you to play him just fine with Wall (and they cross-match on D). But Collison is an impending free agent. Do you give up a first round pick for someone you are unlikely to be able to afford to keep going forward? Can someone convince me the Wizards could afford to keep him?
You can ask the same questions about guys like Taj Gibson, Tyreke Evans, etc.
Maybe you can get someone signed for two seasons, like the oft-mentioned Will Barton, Trevor Booker (sigh), Elfrid Payton, etc.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I am okay trading the pick, but it has to be with at least one eye on the future, because the Wizards aren't winning a title this year.
Jake Whitacre: Exactly, Ben. I wouldn't give up the first round pick for anyone that becomes an unrestricted free agent before Wall does because I think that puts you in a position where you're offering a worse product as Wall enters his final year.
Lyndie Wood: Assuming there is a decent deal to be made, I'm pro-trading the pick. I worry a lot about the bench guards and a lot about one of Wall or Beal getting hurt. If they could get someone who is under contract and can help for the next 3 years I think they should make a move.
Ben Becker: As an aside, I would caution the group against a deep belief in the "deep draft" conventional wisdom that is being passed around without doing your own analysis, or at least gaining a deeper understanding the draft's supposed depth. That's how you end up with quotes like these:
"I don't think there are any guarantees in the draft and people are saying this is a weaker draft than normal, so for us to be able to turn the No. 5 pick into two players who can help us immediately and help us for years to come, we felt very good about it."
So this draft is "deep," eh? How deep? Does the value of the 22nd-ish pick have the value of a typical #15 pick? #10? I tend to think there's some value in going against the grain, so if the marketplace is all excited about this draft class, that might incline me more to trade the pick.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: Who can this team realistically obtain that is signed past that time? Most of the players who are available in Nicholson's price range don't have that much time left on their deals. Making that trade is more or less putting all your chips on the table now. That may not be a bad strategy if, and only if this team thinks they are close to contention.
Nick Bilka: It's not without downside, but I don't see trading one late first round draft pick as putting all their chips on the table.
Ben Becker: Will someone convince me that without Nicholson or a pick to pay that the Wizards can afford to re-up Collison?
Kevin Broom: One good question that none of us can answer: Would Ted Leonsis be willing to pay luxury tax for a year or two? My assumption has been that he wouldn’t, and I’ve thought that was a reasonable spending limit for a team owner. But, with a weak East and a good team saddled with a bad bench and little depth, could he be talked into spending more to take a shot at making the Finals?
Kevin Broom: I think it would be tough to re-sign Porter and Collison AND stay under the luxury tax line. Of course, they’d have plenty of room if they hadn’t splurged this summer on Jason Smith.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: The reason why I say trading the pick kind of feels like a 'last piece' move is because what is the incentive of making that deal now? I would assume that they would want to bring someone in immediately as opposed to waiting for someone to develop or to come in next year. The reasoning behind the trade is important to consider here.
Lyndie Wood: I think the issue is that it's not necessarily next year - we're probably talking sophomore season before the player picked with this year's first would be ready to contribute. Even most "NBA ready" rookies need a year to adjust. So if the Wizards think that this is their window to make some noise, they should consider trading the pick.
Ben Becker: Nick, I don't think the Kings can credibly make moves with an eye towards securing the 8th seed. They have a .388 win percentage. They'd have to leap frog two better teams. They're tied with two others and the Pels are a game behind. That said, if they want to include Smith and Burke for Gay in our deal, then win-win right?
Collison and Gay for Nicholson, Smith, Burke and a first? Vlade would be a HERO!
Nick Bilka: I think there is some precedent for a 10th place team that is below .500 and several games out of a playoff spot making a trade at the deadline in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs.
Jake Whitacre: Especially when it involves an underperforming power forward.