Note: Please welcome John Morrow to our team! He’s a long-time community member who went by jahidiwhite. — Albert
As it becomes clearer that the 2019-20 NBA season is, if not completely, then mostly over, we have plenty of time to look ahead to the coming offseason and to think about what it could mean for the Washington Wizards.
The need for a defensive presence in the middle is quite clear. The draft will be a great opportunity to add a big man, but there’s a good chance that the Wizards leadership will be considering free agency as a way to add to that deficiency as well.
Many think that the wing and the big spots are the areas that need the most help in D.C., and if the draft provides the team with a young wing or guard, there will be an opportunity to add a positive contributor from free agency by way of the full Mid-Level Exception (MLE), splitting the MLE, or by potentially leveraging the Bi-Annual Exception (BLE). Or, if a big is drafted with the 1st round pick, it could work out the other way around with a wing addition in free agency.
I’ll plan to explore the pool of available free agents and give my take on which players might be realistic in Washington, which ones Sheppard & Co. should be focusing on, and what the market looks like.
We’ll start with eight big men that are likely targets for the MLE in two posts. I’ll rank these players from most likely to least likely to end up in a Wizards uniform. This post will cover the four free agents who should be the likeliest targets.
1. Nerlens Noel
The contract outlook around Noel is what makes him especially available for the Wizards and other teams to poach from the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer. Due to Non-Bird rights, Noel cannot re-sign in OKC for more than 120 percent of his previous salary, which comes out to just less than $2.5M. Which, seemingly, will come as a disappointment for them based on what many of his teammates shared about Noel to The Athletic.
Noel excels as a shot-blocker, moves his feet well on the perimeter and also collects a surprising number of steals. He knows his role and has grown into a much-improved center over the past few years. On offense, his athleticism would seem to work well in tandem with Wall or Beal as a diver in the pick & roll and as a great lob threat.
So why has Noel been paid so minimally over the last couple seasons? His foul percentage is quite high, he’s not a very good defensive rebounder and he’s very limited offensively.
He wouldn’t be a perfect match as he isn’t going to single handedly boost the rebounding numbers to a great degree. But he checks many of the boxes of what the Wizards are looking for and he may have room to continue growing as he’ll be just 26 at the start of next season.
It may not take the full MLE, but I’d anticipate that Noel will be paid in that range and would have many suitors that’d likely be more appealing than the Wizards if it’s much below the MLE number.
2. Mason Plumlee
Plumlee should be quite available with the Nuggets having to choose between re-signing him, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig this offseason with limited funds to do so. He’s been a positive player for them over the past few years and could work as part of a committee with Washington.
There’ve been good reviews on his defense in Denver, he’s an excellent passer and a solid rebounder. He may not be a perfect fit in a center committee when paired with Thomas Bryant or Moritz Wagner, but he’d help the team overall.
But, he is already 30 and doesn’t seem to have much further upside. The MLE should be enough to sign him, I would think he’s a realistic target. That said, is he going to move the needle and meet the needs for this group?
I’d have some questions about that, but if the draft doesn’t bring a top-level prospect and the other options listed here choose to sign with proven contenders or sign above the MLE, Plumlee might end up being the guy. He is represented by Mark Bartelstein (Beal’s agent), so that is something to keep in mind as well.
3. Jakob Poeltl
Do the Spurs value Poeltl? It’s hard to think that they do based on his experience there so far. In his two years as a Spur, he has averaged 16.5 & 16.6 minutes per game. His stats paint him as an elite rim protector with a block rate of 4.4 percent this season which is in the 95th percentile for centers (per Cleaning the Glass). His numbers over his first year in San Antonio and his last in Toronto show that it’s not a fluke. His rebounding numbers are also above average for centers on each end. That has value and followers of the Spurs seem to see that.
So, why is Poeltl not playing more? Trey Lyles gets more playing time than him in the frontcourt as a Spur, and he’s been proven to be a below-average NBA player. Lamarcus Aldridge plays a vast majority of the Spurs’ minutes at center, and Poeltl does see consistent time, but something is keeping him off the court beyond his current minutes. He seems fairly skilled and makes smart plays in my experience watching him. What gives?
Poeltl has a $5 million qualifying offer this summer and based on how it’s gone so far in San Antonio, he seems obtainable. Is he worth the full MLE? I’m not 100 percent sure on that, but the Wizards have identified protecting the rim as a necessity and he is one of the best at it — it’d likely be needed to bring him here. He’d fit well in a committee with either Bryant or Wagner and will just be turning 25 at the start of next season.
4. Tristan Thompson
Thompson is in a similar situation to Derrick Favors but figures to be a more likely addition in D.C. The Cleveland Cavaliers showed their cards by bringing in Andre Drummond and it’s unlikely that Thompson will continue to be valued by the Cavs front office.
The Bird rights, allowing a sign-and-trade, could make it more complicated to bring him here and he figures to be valued by contenders but there’s a chance — though he is also represented by Rich Paul who always seems to get top dollar for his clients.
Also mirroring Favors, Thompson has injury concerns and will be nearing 30 at the start of next season. His rim protection is weaker than Favors though he remains a strong rebounder and his wealth of championship experience could prove invaluable and he can switch very well on the perimeter. His offense is nondescript but it’s not why he’d be a key addition here — his value is his defense and rebounding.
The rumors of the Wizards’ interest around the trade deadline leads me to believe they’ll be in on him. But at the MLE price, there will be many other suitors. I’d feel really uneasy about going beyond three years to sign him and that’s likely what it would take.
Tomorrow, we will go over four more posts whom the Wizards may be interested in free agency.