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A conversation on the Wizards’ off-season Part 2: Analyzing trades, free agency and the outlook for next season

Broom and Rubinstein chat about the Wizards’ trades, free agent signings and more.

Washington Wizards v San Antonio Spurs
Bertans and Beal: the future of Death Row D.C.?
Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

In the second part of Kevin Broom’s and Yanir Rubinstein’s two-part conversation, they talk about the Wizards’ trades and moves in free agency.

And if you missed part one yesterday, click here to read their thoughts on Sheppard’s promotion to GM, culture, and more.

Yanir Rubinstein: Let’s get into the off-season moves with a four-headed question. What was the single most surprising/delighting/awkward/awful Wizards free agency move, in your eyes?

Kevin Broom: Dang, a hydra question?

YR: Are you complaining already?

KB: That’s my move. I mean, have you listened to my podcast with Ben Becker?

  • Surprising: The Wizards acquiring second round picks. Ernie Grunfeld thought they were of limited value, except to add to trades, which always struck me as strange because he was the guy who picked Michael Redd in the second round. But, Sheppard purchased a second to take Admiral Schofield, and then picked up second rounders by getting involved in the Anthony Davis trade, and by leveraging the ability to match Chicago’s offer to Tomas Satoransky.
  • Delighting: Using the exception they got in the Markieff Morris trade to acquire Davis Bertans from the Spurs for free. Bertans is limited, but he’s a terrific high-volume three-point shooter, and Wizards fans will enjoy watching him.
  • Awkward: Tossup between signing Isaiah Thomas and trading Dwight Howard. Adding Thomas, even at the minimum, is an odd move. He’s tiny, he’s 30 years old and he just missed the bulk of two seasons due to serious injuries. If he somehow recaptures past form, he’s probably trade bait. Howard was a weird fit from the start and they concluded whatever he can isn’t worth the trouble.
  • Awful: Ish Smith is their worst move of the offseason. At the league minimum, no problem. He can’t shoot, but he’s fast, he’s a veteran and he’s cut down on turnovers in recent years, so it’s possible to squint and side-eye your way to thinking he could be OK in a limited role. But, they used a portion of the MLE to sign him on the second day of free agency, and he’s basically a replacement level player.

YR: Great sum-up, thanks. Is it only me, or did you also hear that, in a sort of weird twist of events, Bertans being in DC is actually thanks to both of the Morris twins (shoutout to Marcus)?

KB: That was strange. Giving up Bertans was supposed to net the Spurs DeMarre Carroll and Marcus Morris, but Morris backed out to sign with the Knicks. Also weird: the Knicks “strategy.” But, their moves have always been puzzling.

YR: Makes you wonder if Bertans is going to buy a Death Row D.C. T-shirt once he arrives, right...?

KB: I think we can all agree no one personifies “Death Row D.C.” more than Davis Bertans.

YR: We’ve seen a lot of criticism go toward Scott Brooks during the season and at some point reports surfaced that he was on the hot seat, but as soon as Grunfeld was fired it appears that he stays for next season. People have had mixed opinions on Brooks as far as player development. What’s your take on that? And in view of that how do you view their acquisitions on the younger end: Bonga, Hachimura, Robinson, Schofield, Wagner?

KB: When it comes to player development, it’s a good idea not to put too much credit/blame on the head coach. He has a role, but his job is mostly managing the time and resources of his staff. There’s a reason teams have so many assistant coaches.

And, much of the responsibility for development falls on the players themselves because they have to spend the time in the gym endlessly repeating what they’re being taught. The greatest teacher in the world is powerless if the student doesn’t practice.

All that said, in Oklahoma City Brooks led a group that helped develop stars like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, as well as useful professionals of varying quality like Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefalosha, Jeff Green, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Roberson.

They didn’t do so well with other young players, but it’s impossible to know how much of that is the coaching staff and how much of that is the player’s mix of talent, work ethic, focus, personality, and so on.

In D.C., player development under Brooks has been a mixed bag. Kelly Oubre persisted in having seemingly fixable flaws. But, Tomas Satoransky was overwhelmed in his rookie season, but grew into a solid (though largely unappreciated) player in year two. He was older when he got to the NBA, of course.

And, Thomas Bryant went from being a second-round pick who got cut by the Lakers to a bona fide rotation big in a single season. Again, it’s hard to know how much of that is coaching and how much is the player. And, Troy Brown languished on the bench for most of the season while the Wizards pursued playoffs fantasies.

Of the youngsters they’ve added this offseason, they’re like most young players — talented and full of potential, but flawed. If they put in the work, any of them could become good pros. Hachimura looks like he’ll be solid. Robinson might make an acceptable backup PG. The odds are a bit longer for Schofield, but he has rotation 3 & D potential. Wagner and Bonga are probably longer shots, but could earn a spot in an NBA rotation if they put in the work.

YR: I tend to disagree on Wagner. I saw him play against the Wizards last December and was quite impressed. I also saw him warm-up with Bonga that day and let me tell you I have never seen two players go at it harder during warm-up! He is full or energy and also a great kid overall, my personal impression from talking to him.

That day the Lakers lost by 18 but he was +11 (highest in the Lakers, agreed some in garbage time, but mind you he was not the only one playing in those minutes) in the 17 minutes he played and punished the Wizards a couple times from deep. He is not a rebound machine, but when you put him in the right line-ups/match-ups he spaces and runs the floor, and brings just a ton energy.

One could point to his low 3P% last year (below 29%) but I will say that it’s partly a product of coming off the bench sporadically. In Michigan he was excellent and near 40% from deep. The Lakers have not been good in developing their talent and at this point we all know why, but I can see how he becomes an even more important piece than Thomas Bryant.

Remember, Bryant got almost no minutes with the Lakers in his year there, and look where he got. Wagner is arriving here less of a raw product, in my eyes. He also carried that Michigan team on their unforgettable NCAA Finals run. He is a leader.

I don’t know enough about Bonga but I hope that he gets a chance. If allowed to play point he could develop into a Sato type player.

KB: I love the enthusiasm for Wagner. That game against the Wizards might have been his best performance of the year. He can shoot, but in limited minutes last season what stands out are elevated turnovers and fouls, and a low at-rim conversion rate.

YR: Let’s talk point guards

KB: (sigh) ...

YR: I knew you would love this. Your thoughts on Sato out, Ish and IT in?

KB: I sorta gave away the surprise when I called the Ish Smith signing the team’s worst move of the offseason. The Wizards’ PG play is going to be worse. Satoransky isn’t dynamic, but he was a steady and competent professional. Smith is basically replacement level. There’s no telling what Thomas has left, but there isn’t much reason to think it’ll be good.

YR: I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem management really has the patience to develop a young point guard given the IT and Smith signings... It almost feels as if there is no desire to have a good backup to Wall. I truly wonder why.

KB: Thing is, they’ve been trying to have a good backup, they’re just bad at it. Eric Maynor. Trey Burke. Brandon Jennings. Tim Frazier. Ty Lawson. In that awful 2011 draft, the best player they chose was Shelvin Mack (now entering his ninth season), who they cut twice to keep less productive guys.

To varying degrees, the Wizards front office thought those guys would be good backups. They were thrilled to get Maynor. This year it’s Smith. Their history with backup PGs suggests they’ve had an evaluation problem.

YR: Or like I said above, could Bonga be Sato’s replacement in some hypothetical world? Or, maybe the plan is to bring the young stashed Ukrainian rising star Issuf Sanon? By the way, he did have a great game last week dropping 30 against Serbia in the U20 European Championship in Tel-Aviv, but then again was a non-factor in his team’s elimination loss to France 68-40 a couple days later and had a rather abysmal performance as a Wizard in the Summer League in Las Vegas...

KB: I can sorta see the hope with Bonga, who was pretty good in summer league. Perhaps he could learn to be a caretaker ballhandler in the Satoransky mold.

Sanon? When I ran him through my stat-based draft analysis in 2018, I had him with a firm “don’t draft” grade. I repeated the analysis this summer, and came out with the same result. And, he was astonishingly bad in summer league. As a primary ballhandler, he had zero assists in 48 minutes. He was 0-4 on threes, 2-6 from the FT line, and 2-7 on twos.

YR: When I go back and read again what Grunfeld had to say on drafting Sanon it just all makes sense:

“There were some players that we liked that were picked ahead of him. We have 10 players under contract already and the first-round pick, so that’s 11. There’s a couple of other guys that we want to get on our roster, so we wanted to get a young, developing player... He’s a good ballhandler, very competitive and a lot like Tomas. We drafted Tomas at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA.”

Just the way this quote starts is epic, right? The enthusiasm flowing and sort of a great encouragement for the young kid reading what the team thinks of him... And then at the end Grunfeld states that Sato was drafted at a younger age!?!

KB: This reminds me of Grunfeld’s “ ...he knows how to play...” comment about Maynor.

YR: The funky part is that both Sato and Sanon were born on October 30. Sato is eight years older (b. 1991) and was drafted six years earlier. Doing the math I guess that makes Sanon two years younger when drafted. Oh God, talk about a culture of counting, uhh I mean accountability...

KB: (laughing) My guess is Grunfeld meant Satoransky was younger in the sense that they drafted him when he was young, which also doesn’t make a lot of sense because he was basically the same age as many draft prospects. But, it’s interesting that the primary selling point on Sanon is his age.

YR: Maybe John Wall will just be the team’s backup point guard eventually and that will solve the backup PG problem once and for all...

KB: Not any time soon. They’ve gone out of their way this offseason to leave themselves deficient at PG. A hobbling Wall would still be better than Smith or Robinson. If they want him to come off the bench, they’ll need to go get a starter.

YR: What do you see for the team this season?

KB: During a Twitter conversation, I took a look at FiveThirtyEight’s forecast for the Wizards roster and was gobsmacked by how bad things look for the team’s bench. Of the 15 players most likely to be on the opening night roster, 11 of them are predicted at replacement level or worse. I haven’t done my own projections yet, but my process usually comes up with a result that’s in the same ballpark as FiveThirtyEight’s.

What might us stat goobers be missing?

YR: Not too much I would guess... Like I said above, I would take Wagner off the replacement level list based on my eye-test. But indeed, the picture you are portraying is probably quite accurate. The amazing thing to me is that we haven’t even touched upon the (second) elephant in the room: what’s next with Brad? But let’s talk about that in a future chat.

Kevin, it was superfun chatting with you. Let’s do this more often!

KB: This was great. Anytime.