The Washington Wizards are paying Ian Mahinmi $16 million this season — just like they did the three seasons prior.
As the third highest-paid player on the roster, behind only All-Stars Bradley Beal and John Wall, it’s expected that Mahinmi would be a top contributor on the team.
Except, he’s been anything but a contributor — at least in a positive sense.
Fans of the team haven’t seen Mahinmi on the court in quite some time. He’s spent most of his career in Washington on the bench, wearing a swagged-out turtle neck sweater and fresh shoes. There’s no question that a good chunk of the cash he’s gotten from the Wizards has went into expanding his closet — but as far as his on-court presence, he’s been basically invisible.
Washington had no intention of playing Mahinmi this season. It was clear that Tommy Sheppard was content with riding out the rest of his contract and wiping his hands clean of that horrendous deal in 2016 — the wicked year that Washington was supposed to land the hometown hero Kevin Durant, but instead signed a big man with an obsolete skill-set as the consolation prize.
Mahinmi played just 34 games last season, mostly due to the fact that he averaged over six fouls per-36 minutes, making him unplayable without fouling out. The year prior, Mahinmi led the league with 7.2 fouls per-36. Of course, when he’s on the court, he’s been less than impressive — in a league full of hyper-skilled players, Mahinmi is a remnant of the early 2000s, when centers could get away with possessing limited skill by being 7-feet-tall and somewhat mobile.
The Wizards had moved on with younger bigs with modern skills — Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner, neither of which are perfect by any means, but who can dribble a ball without falling over themselves and knock down the occasional shot beyond five feet.
Both Bryant and Wagner epitomize what it means to be a center in today’s NBA — an expanding skill-set, at times mimicking that of a guard. Mahinmi, bless his heart, tried to develop an outside shot, but his attempt became a microcosm of the Wizards’ 2018-19 season.
Needless to say, Mahinmi is a part of the roster, but barely — as much as the person filling the players’ cups with water during timeouts. He’s on the payroll, but no one on the coaching staff had any intention of calling his name to check into the game this season.
Yet, he’s playing — and he’s going to play a substantial role in Washington moving forward.
Washington, again, has been bit by the injury bug, leaving Bryant, who was diagnosed with a stress reaction, out for at least the next three weeks until he’s re-evaluated. That leaves the team with just Wagner and Mahinmi at center.
In his first game of the season on Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, Mahinmi scored 7 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in just 13 minutes.
Prior to his debut, Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington that “this cannot be the end of this story.” Whether the Wizards like it or not, Mahinmi is right. Washington will have to give Mahinmi at least another chapter — one that will either capture the disaster that was handing him a multi-year deal in the first place or one that will extend his time in the league.
Mahinmi is in a unique situation, because although the Wizards would rather not play him, his old-school game can benefit the team. Washington has the worst defensive rating in the NBA and their two young centers are far from anchors on that side of the floor. Mahinmi, a strong, defensive-oriented center, will provide, if nothing else, a physical body for a team that lacks strength in the post.