The Washington Wizards have really relied on their All-Stars to carry a heavy burden over the last twenty-plus years. Former President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld, specifically, was famous for surrounding them with past-their-prime veterans or potential-laden youngsters with maturity problems. This led me to wonder, who was the best of the rest? If I had to name the best former Wizards that never made an All-Star team, who would be on that list?
So here’s the challenge: build a team of Wizards that you think could compete in the modern NBA. The catch is, you can use any current or former Wizards…as long as they never made an All-Star team. That means John Wall, Bradley Beal, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, and anyone else I missed are off the table.
They also have to have played for the Wizards specifically. Players that only played for the Bullets do not count. For example, someone like Chris Whitney, who played for both, is fair game. Gheorghe Muresan would be off-limits, however.
You’re not bound by traditional positions for this either. The point is to pick six players (five starters and one bench player) who would most enable your squad to be competitive according to today’s style of play. Based on that, I prioritized perimeter shooting as much as possible and having long, switchable defenders.
Now that we’ve established the ground rules, here’s my list! Please leave yours in the comments.
The 6’3 point guard played 304 games in Washington from 1996-2001. During his tenure in Washington, he averaged 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, and 1.6 steals. His best season came in 1997-1998 when he averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and 1.7 steals. Strickland led the NBA in assists that year. Somehow, he was named to the All-NBA Second Team but didn’t make the All-Star team.
The lone knock on Strickland for this exercise would be his lack of three-point shooting. Strickland was a career 28 percent three-point shooter and was much closer to 20 percent while with the Wizards. However, Strickland was a literal wizard at getting into the lane and finishing around the basketball. He displayed impressive touch, an affinity for putting spin on the ball, and scoring from tough angles.
His poor perimeter percentages came on limited attempts (.6 per game for his career) because that wasn’t prioritized in his era. On my hypothetical team, we are banking on Strickland’s reasonable 72 percent free-throw shooting and soft-touch translating into at least respectable outside shooting with more attempts to get into a rhythm. His ability to create for others is just way too important to pass up.
I’m a bit biased as Hughes is now my cohost on the Bleav in Wizards podcast but he’s still a no-brainer addition to the team based on his play in Washington. Objectively, I think I could make the case that he was the best defender to ever wear the teal, gold, and black.
A 6’5 bouncy athlete, Hughes could play everything from point guard to small forward and took on the toughest defensive assignment every night. When you consider the value of someone like Jrue Holiday, a nearly 20 point per game scorer who guards multiple positions, you can see that Hughes’ offensive and defensive versatility would still be highly sought after today.
In 2004-05, he guarded everyone from Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade and did so as well as anyone in the league. That season, he led the NBA in steals and made the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. In 189 games for the Wizards, Hughes averaged 17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.9 steals. During the 04-05 season, Hughes was really hitting his stride as a player and averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.9 steals.
He was well on his way to making an All-Star team before a hand injury midway through the year set him back. Hughes’ injury prevented him from making the team that year but opened up a guard spot for Gilbert Arenas to make his first All-Star team, according to Arenas on our podcast. Unfortunately for Hughes, a series of injuries prevented him from reaching the same heights later in his career.
Like Strickland, the only potential question mark about Hughes’ fit on this team is his perimeter shooting. If you look at the raw percentages during his time in Washington, Hughes only shot 32-percent overall from the three-point line.
But if you remove his 2004-2005 campaign, which was more of an outlier due to that hand injury, Hughes was in the mid-30s during his other two seasons in Washington. It was also just a different game then and many coaches directed players not to shoot them. Hughes adapted and ended up shooting close to 40-percent later in his career when it became more of an emphasis for teams.
For this exercise, we are assuming all players are healthy and at their peak, so I have faith in my cohost’s ability to make defenses pay for leaving him open. Especially with his explosiveness early in his career, Hughes was terrific in transition. He could finish above the rim (he competed in the 2000 Dunk Contest) or get to the free-throw line (which teams today love). My team will want to get out and run and Hughes will really help us do that.
Ariza is the player that many teams and fans think of when the “3-and-D” term is brought up. Being a 6’8, long, athletic defender with a career 35-percent three-point percentage has helped make Ariza the poster-child for the archetype.
In 176 games over three seasons with the Wizards, Ariza averaged 12.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 37 percent from three. His most impactful season in Washington was 2013-2014 when he averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 41-percent from the perimeter.
His elite defense and clutch shooting were vital on the team’s way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals that year. He also brought a championship swagger with him after winning the 2009 title with the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul Pierce took that to another level when he joined the team but Ariza certainly passed on key knowledge about what it takes to win in the postseason.
After departing the Wizards, he was a key contributor to several deep playoff runs for the Houston Rockets. The Wizards let Ariza leave in free agency in 2014 to help preserve cap space for future off-seasons. In my opinion, this was a mistake as 3-and-D wings only continued to gain importance and the Wizards lacked consistent perimeter defenders over the next few years.
Otto Porter Jr.
This might be controversial to some because of the terrible contract he eventually received and the limitations of his game that made it such a ludicrous deal in the first place. Putting that aside, the 6’8 Porter Jr. was pretty darn effective here for several seasons.
In 384 games in Washington, Porter Jr. averaged 10.7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 40 percent three-point shooting. He also routinely guarded the best player on the opposing team (excluding centers) and played some small-ball power forward. His best statistical season was 2017-2018, when he averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 44-percent from three.
Given that my guards aren’t necessarily lethal perimeter shooters, Porter Jr.’s shooting will be invaluable in creating the type of spacing we need. He may not have the offensive skill-set to justify a max contract but he was certainly effective at spreading the floor and creating room for his guards to operate. That plus his defensive “switchability” earned him a spot on my team.
This is the position I struggled with the most. There are several worthy candidates (or underwhelming options depending on how you look at it) that each bring different skills to the table. None of them are perfect but all are serviceable.
Nene was a bruiser in the paint but an underwhelming rebounder. Thomas Bryant provides additional shooting but has yet to show much defensive aptitude. Brendan Haywood is probably the closest thing to a legitimate rim-protector the Wizards have had but he was limited offensively. JaVale McGee had amazing physical tools but…there’s a reason he made so many appearances on Shaqtin’ a Fool. I even briefly considered Andray Blatche. Very briefly.
Ultimately, I went with Marcin Gortat. He personified the adage “the best ability is availability” by rarely missing games. He could set great screens to get our guards and wings open. And he would be effective rolling to the rim for Strickland the way he was for Wall.
Gortat’s time in Washington didn’t exactly have a storybook ending but someone on this team is going to have to rebound the ball and Gortat brings the physicality necessary to do that. In 402 games here, he averaged 11.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 blocks.
He brought a consistency that the other names I listed really didn’t. His 68.5 percent from the free-throw line is also good enough to prevent any “Hack-a-Gortat” strategies and higher than any of the others except for Bryant.
Adding Bertans would instantly create additional space for the guards on this team and help alleviate any shooting concerns. In his lone season (so far?) in Washington, Bertans averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and shot 42.4-percent from the three-point line on 8.7 attempts per game.
Again, you can argue whether he’s worth keeping long term or how much Tommy Sheppard should be willing to pay him. But for this exercise, my Non-All-Stars need what he provides.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I was attempting to prioritize defensive versatility as much as possible. Bertans is by no means a lockdown defender and some of the analytics aren’t pretty. He’s not strong or physical enough to bang with bigger power forwards and he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to contain quicker players on the perimeter.
However, I think being surrounded by “plus” defenders on this squad would help mitigate his physical limitations to some degree. Bertans may not have the tools to be a great individual defender but I think his team defense was undervalued this year considering no one else on the team could guard anyone either.
Plus, I trust anyone who played under Greg Popovich to understand a legitimate defensive scheme. He may not be a great defender for my team but I think with some help he’d be more than serviceable enough to capitalize on his offensive skills.
I’m sure I left some guys out so I can’t wait to see who you put on your teams. But before anyone kills me in the comments, please at least try to put together your own team and follow the parameters established at the beginning. With that, have fun assembling your own hypothetical squad!