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Trevor Ariza wasn’t the problem with the Wizards, but he certainly wasn’t the solution

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

This is the next installment of our player review series, where we look back at the individual performance of each Wizard this season. With so many players set to hit free agency this summer, we’ll also examine what kind of value they’ll have this summer. In this installment, we’ll look at Trevor Ariza.

Positives this season

Although Ariza’s shooting numbers were well below what he posted during his first stint in Washington, he still had a positive impact on Washington’s offense. Ariza finished fourth on the team in assists per game, averaging nearly four per game after they acquired him in mid-December.

His playmaking abilities helped balance Washington’s offense in the second half of the season. Washington scored 112.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, which was nearly eight points more than what they scored Kelly Oubre Jr. on the floor. In fact, it was the second-best offensive rating among Wizards who played at least 500 minutes with the team this season. That’s very encouraging, especially considering he only played 113 minutes over four games with John Wall before he was ruled out for the season.

Spots for improvement

Before we get into the negatives, it’s important to acknowledge the season went off the rails in ways no one could have expected when the deal went down. It was always going to be difficult for Ariza to salvage the season for the Wizards, but after John Wall’s season-ending surgery and subsequent cap-clearing moves at the trade deadline, it became impossible. It’s harder to get open for threes when there are fewer players to draw attention away from him, and it’s harder to establish his defensive value when he’s surrounded by players who either don’t care or aren’t good on that end of the floor.

Still, his shooting and defensive numbers are cause for concern. He shot 40.9 percent from the field and just 32.2 percent from deep. Only 13 players who attempted at least 300 threes last season shot worse from deep than Ariza last season (though it’s worth noting two of them were Oubre and Austin Rivers, the players on the other end of the deal).

He was a solid shooter in the corners, but only 95 of his 294 threes in Washington were taken there. Once you get out of the corners he’s below average everywhere else.

While Ariza is still defensively sound, he isn’t the defensive force he used to be. The Wizards gave up 113.9 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, which was the second-worst rate on the team last season, only behind Markieff Morris. He finished 82nd out of 92 small forwards in ESPN’s Real Defensive Plus/Minus. He gave up 1.17 points per possession in isolations, which put him in the league’s tenth percentile.

Again, it’s important to remember Ariza was stuck in a lousy situation. If he was around better playmakers and part of a better defensive unit, his numbers would have looked a lot better and his performance would have been more useful. It’s

also important to remember he turns 34 in June and has already logged 33,000 minutes in his career. His best chance at success will be in a situation where he doesn’t have to be the team’s best perimeter defender or a high-volume shooter.

Current value

The Wizards can offer Ariza up to $18 million per year with his Non-Bird Rights, but they don’t need to worry about anyone making the same mistakes the Suns did last summer. It’s hard to imagine anyone offering more than the mid-level exception (which will start around $9 million per year), and most of the contending teams that would be interested will only be able to offer the taxpayer mid-level exception (around $5.5 million).

Even if the Wizards could get him at the taxpayer MLE, they’d probably be better served letting someone else pay him. It only makes sense to bring him back if you can get him on a team-friendly deal to flip in a trade, or if you can surround him with enough talent so he can be the fourth or fifth-best starter. That seems unlikely given the Wizards’ spending constraints and Ariza’s track record of taking the most lucrative offer, even if means going to a subpar situation.

Only getting a half-season out of Ariza in a playoff-less season is a terrible return for Kelly Oubre, but there’s nothing Washington can do to recoup the potential value they lost. The only thing they can do now is make it worse by wasting his defensive skills and floor spacing on a team that isn’t in a place to take advantage.