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The Wizards’ problems at center are getting worse

NBA: Miami Heat at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards’ production from the center position has been problematic all season, but it’s taken a sharp downturn over the past few weeks that appear to be forcing Scott Brooks’ hand with his rotations.

Marcin Gortat, ironically enough, has suffered the most from Washington’s shift to “team” basketball since John Wall went down. Over the 19 games since Wall went out, Gortat is averaging only 7.5 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting from the field. In the ten games since the All-Star break, he’s only shooting 40.3 percent from the field and the team has been outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

Tomas Satoransky does certain things very well, but he isn’t nearly as good at pick-and-roll as Wall, where Gortat thrives. Once you take those pick-and-roll chances away, Gortat just doesn’t have enough versatility in the rest of his offensive game to make up for it and it shows up quite clearly in the numbers.

The Wizards were able to overcome some of Gortat’s issues last month because Ian Mahinmi was playing his best basketball as a Wizard in February. He shot over 65 percent from the field, got to the line more often, and reined in his fouling a bit.

That’s all gone out the window over the past week. After an 8 point, 9 rebound performance against the Pacers on March 4, he was a -10 in 4 minutes against the Heat, committed two fouls in less than 6 minutes of action against the Pelicans, and then he picked up his first healthy scratch of the season Saturday night in Miami in a game the Wizards lost by 27. Granted, the Pelicans and Heat both had to play small last week thanks to injuries to Anthony Davis and Hassan Whiteside, but it’s not a good sign when your highest-paid players can be schemed off the floor so easily.

Here are performance EKGs for Gortat and Mahinmi, which are based on PPA, where average = 100, higher = better, and replacement level is 45. The blue line is their rolling ten-game average and the orange line is their full season average, via Kevin Broom:

The silver lining here is some of the Wizards’ best lineups both recently and over the course of the season have come without either of their centers. The trio of Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter, and Markieff Morris have played well together this season without a center. They’re a +14 in 81 minutes alongside Wall and Beal and they’re a +60 in 67 minutes with Satoransky and Beal.

Still, that’s not going to cut it if they have to face a team with quality bigs in the playoffs like the 76ers or Heat (assuming Whiteside is healthy). Even if they’re still at their best with Morris at the five, they’re going to need Gortat and Mahinmi to absorb some of the body blows and cover in case he gets in foul trouble. Plus, Morris at the five only seems to work when he’s playing with the starters. The Wizards have a -20.3 net rating when he plays with Mike Scott.

Hopefully John Wall’s return will be a simple fix to the Wizards’ issues at center. Not only will Gortat reunite with the point guard who gets the most out of his abilities, but Mahinmi would get to play more with Satoransky instead of Ramon Sessions or Tim Frazier. If not, we may see a lot small lineups in the playoffs out of necessity, rather than strategy in the playoffs.