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Diamonds in the rough: Could the Wizards find some talent for 2020-21 in the G League?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards
The Wizards will need some low-cost help next season as they seek to reload around John Wall. Who might they find from the G League?
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards 2019-20 season was supposed to be about collecting assets for the future, developing young players into rotation-quality NBA performers, and creating some financial flexibility to add talent for a playoffs run led by John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has injected uncertainty into everything the Wizards want to do this offseason. The missed games will cost the league revenue, which is going to show up in salary cap and luxury tax limits, possibly over the next several seasons. Cap smoothing — spreading the hit over several seasons instead of loading it into a single offseason — is under consideration, but for a top-heavy team like Washington, any reduction could force them to adjust their strategies.

Regardless of what happens with league revenues and spending limits, the Wizards will need to find contributors at bargain prices. They’ll need to hit on some of those second round picks they’ve acquired and continue worming their way into other teams’ transactions to extract some value for themselves. And, they’ll need to look at hard at the G League.

Unfortunately, their own G League team probably isn’t going to be a good source for NBA-ready talent — at least not yet. According to my production metric, Player Production Average (PPA), the Capital City Go-Go’s most productive player was Johnathan Williams, who has already been up and down to the Wizards’ roster multiple times.

Williams, who was signed under an injury hardship exception, was productive in limited minutes with the parent team, but the team prioritized other big men, including 33-year old Ian Mahinmi. This was an odd choice for a team in a developmental season.

Other Go-Go players who rated as average or better in the G League this season include:

  • Jerian GrantThis former first round pick (he went 19th overall) has more than 4900 minutes in the NBA, and considering that his play was below average but decent, it’s a little surprising he didn’t get an NBA look this season. He’s considered a PG, but his size and possibly improved shooting make him a candidate for either guard spot. His defense has always been suspect and rated about average for the G League this season. At 27, he’s not going to be a long-term solution, but he may be able to fill a fifth guard role next season.
  • Mike Cobbins — He’s had a good season with the Go-Go, but what he does well doesn’t translate to the NBA. Cobbins is a solid interior player for the G League, but at 6-8, 230, he has a center’s game in the body of a small forward. He doesn’t shoot threes at all, and there doesn’t seem to be much potential in that area because his free throw shooting is below average. And, his defense is poor even for the G League, which is an ominous sign if he ever got NBA minutes. At 27 years old, he should look to maximize his income in the G League or overseas.
  • Jalen JonesJones scores a lot on high usage and slightly subpar efficiency. His shooting is marginal and his play-making for teammates nonexistent, but he rebounds well for a small forward and is active on defense. His 70% free throw shooting at age 26 doesn’t bode well for improving his in-game shooting, but he seems to have NBA athleticism and might be able to compete for an end-of-the-bench swingman spot.

Several Wizards players have shuttled between the big team and the G League. Gary Payton II’s impressive play with the South Bay Lakers got him a 10-day contract in Washington. His production suggested he’d be an average or better performer in the NBA, especially on defense, and that’s exactly what’s he been.

Admiral Schofield, the team’s 2019 second round selection, hasn’t demonstrated on either level that he’s going to crack Washington’s forward rotation. His shooting has been okay, but his overall efficiency and production was below average for the G League this season. Drafted to fit a 3&D mold, Schofield’s defense has been subpar — few steals or blocks and an elevated rate of fouling.

Garrison Mathews and Anzejs Pasecniks were both below average in limited G League minutes this season. Outside of a couple terrific games from Mathews, including one in which he scored 28 points on 9 field goal attempts, that’s held up too. Pasecniks has been a replacement level big man for the Wizards; Mathews’ shooting could eventually land him as an end-of-rotation G/F.

When shopping the G League, it’s difficult to be too picky because few players are likely to to fill a significant NBA role. Still, some guys are productive enough to merit a spot just outside the regular rotation and could help in case of injury, illness or foul trouble.

Top performers in the G League this season who might be able to make the leap to the NBA, according to PPA:

  • Donta Hall — Currently on a 10-day contract with the Pistons, Hall is a 6-9 PF who rebounds and defends, but hasn’t shot well from range. Just 22 years old, his NBA future is likely predicated on learning to shoot threes — he’s too undersized to play much center at the NBA level.
  • Moses BrownAt 7-2, Brown is a project big, but he’s been in classic big man ways — rebounds, blocked shots, scoring around the basket. He also has classic big man negatives — turnovers, fouls, slow feet.
  • Henry EllensonA 6-10 F/C, Ellenson makes shots from everywhere and is a decent playmaker. His defense isn’t much good and he’s not super-athletic, but it’d be interesting to see what this 23 year old could do with a mentor like Bertans.
  • Christ KoumadjeWhether or not he can actually play in the NBA (he probably can’t), a franchise that drafted God Shammgod needs to add a guy named Christ to the roster.
  • Frank Mason III — Mason, a 5-11 speedster, fits well with Brooks’ PG preferences. He even shoots a lot (and well) and is defensively challenged. He hasn’t performed well in brief stints with Sacramento and Milwaukee, but could compete for a third PG role.

There are likely some other players who could help an NBA team, if they do the work to improve.