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Ian Mahinmi added a three-point shot but still declined during the 2018-19 season

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The Wizards center saw his role decline as the season went on, but he could still have a role in the 2019-20 season.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder
Ian Mahinmi made 34 appearances this season.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

On Oct. 9 of last year, I openly wrote out loud asking whether Ian Mahinmi could be the Wizards’ starting center after all. He was entering the third year of a four-year $64 million contract and was averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game in three preseason games. He added a three-point shot to his game. On the surface, Mahinmi looked like he was poised to take on a larger role. Kevin Broom then wrote why we shouldn’t fall too much in love with a three-game preseason sample.

Kevin was right.

Mahinmi did end up starting the first few games of the 2018-19 season but fell out of the rotation for most of the second half of the season though he was otherwise healthy enough to play. He averaged 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 34 games last season.

So, does Mahinmi deserve anything other than a failing grade? Not necessarily.

The Positives

It is true that Mahinmi’s role declined with the Wizards as the regular season went on, but he has been a team player on and off the court. Consider the following:

  • Mahinmi was still a net positive on defense — Mahinmi was brought to Washington to shore up the defense where he had a defensive rating of 111, which was highest on the team among players who played at least 20 games in a Washington uniform. That counts for something. Mahinmi was also able to steal the ball 0.7 times a game while averaging just 15 minutes per contest which is quite good for a center in his 30s.
  • His per-36 minute averages remained steady, even if they were declining — Mahinmi averaged 10 points and 9.3 rebounds per-36 minutes played which are relatively consistent with his per-36 numbers in each of the previous two seasons. His rebounding average dropped slowly since the 2014-15 season when he averaged 11.2 rebounds per-36 minutes played, but he’s been consistent with his production in this respect.
  • Mahinmi’s foul rate dropped! Only 6.1 fouls per-36 minutes. That’s still a very high foul rate, but it’s much lower than the absurd 7.2 fouls Mahinmi averaged in the 2017-18 season.
  • A willingness to expand his game — Mahinmi pledged to add a three-point shot to his game in the 2018-19 season and made 3-of-16 shots from deep. Before this season, he didn’t make any shots from three.
  • Mahinmi didn’t show open signs of discontent as his role diminished — Mahinmi started the 2018-19 season as the Wizards’ starting center in light of Dwight Howard’s injuries. But as the season went on, he went to the bench and was hardly in the picture with Thomas Bryant having a career season. There are many veterans who would openly say that they want more playing time or cause a ruckus. In a season where there was plenty of locker room drama, Mahinmi didn’t do that.

The Negatives

There are plenty of things to quibble about with Mahinmi of course. We won’t get into his salary, but here are the things on the court where he didn’t help himself. Though there aren’t as many bullet points with his negatives, it’s safe to say that each of them overshadowed his positives.

  • His foul rate is still way too high — 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes is still really, really high.
  • His defensive rating went up in each of his three years in Washington — Each of Mahinmi’s worst defensive ratings came as a Wizard. His rating was 104 points per 100 possessions, in 2016-17, 107 in 2017-18 and 111 in 2018-19. The Wizards’ poor defense doesn’t do him any favors but they are indicative signs of a player who is declining.
  • He shot a career-low 45.2 percent from the field — If Mahinmi were a guard, this is a good shooting percentage. But since he took the vast majority of his shots close to the basket, this isn’t acceptable.

Mahinmi’s outlook for 2019-20

Mahinmi will enter the fourth and final year of his four-year contract and will earn about $16 million. The Wizards’ next General Manager will have to decide whether to use the stretch provision on him or buy his contract out. If Mahinmi is stretched, he would be cut from the Wizards and the last $16 million of his contract will be spread out through the 2021-22 season in equal $5.33 million installments.

While the Wizards can use cap relief in almost any way possible, it is probably better to keep Mahinmi for his last season. Though he probably won’t see much time on the court, he has otherwise been a good teammate in the locker room. Mahinmi can still provide some rebounds and points in short spurts and has been healthier than Dwight Howard last season.

And finally, the Wizards will still be in a bind salary cap-wise even if Mahinmi were stretched. It’s just better for the Wizards to take the salary pain now so they can have an extra $16 million available for the 2020-21 season.