Anzejs Pasecniks was the 25th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers eventually waived him to clear cap space for their free agency spending spree prior to this season. Tommy Sheppard’s strategy for 2019-20 personnel moves was based on acquiring young players with upside whose original team may have given up on them too early.
Pasecniks fits that mold but to a lesser degree than players like Moe Wagner or Jerome Robinson. He originally signed with the Wizards in October 2019 as an Exhibit 10 player and was released from that deal just prior to the start of the season.
Pasecniks started with the Capital City Go-Go and put up a relatively modest 10 points and 5 rebounds in 15 games. When the injuries started piling up, the Wizards called him up from the minors and the rest was history. The player I affectionately dubbed “The Latvian Ladder” (trademark pending) managed to exceed my relatively low expectations given the inauspicious start to his career.
And yes, I have the receipts on coining the nickname that ended up being used during the television broadcasts.
Pasecniks averaged a seemingly pedestrian 5.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks in 16.2 minutes per game. Those statistics may not pop off of the screen but he did that as a 24 year old in his first NBA season. The Wizards paid Pasecniks $482,144 for his contributions. Accordingly, I think its fair to say he out-performed his contract.
For comparison sake, let’s take a look at his competition for the Wizards’ third center roster spot: Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi averaged 7.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 21.3 minutes. In fact, as you’ll see in the table below, their numbers (especially per 36) are eerily similar. The major difference is Mahinmi isn’t still improving and he was slightly more expensive at $15.5 million.
Considering that’s an extremely low bar to hurdle, let’s trying looking at Pasecniks in comparison to a few other back up centers. Let’s start with Jahlil Okafor who played in a very similar sample size to Pasecniks this year. Unfortunately, Okafor, who isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, looks like the superior player across the board. To be fair, he also made like four times as much money as Pasecniks (at $1.7 million) and was a former number two overall pick.
Trying it again with another third string center like Kyle O’Quinn yields similar results. O’Quinn is superior in most statistical categories that you would care about for a back-up center. To be fair, he is also in his ninth season while Pasecniks is in his first. So if you buy that Pasecniks has some room to grow then this shouldn’t be overly discouraging.
It’s slim pickings here in terms of games where Pasecniks really stood out in the box score. However, his presence and impact extend far beyond the box score. Well, maybe not “far beyond” but he definitely filled in admirably for the Wizards a couple of times.
On December 30th against the Miami Heat, Bradley Beal sat out and the Wizards still managed to pull off a 123-105 upset. Now, I’m not saying that was mostly due to Pasecniks’ efforts but he did play a role. He gave them solid minutes, was big, and smartly used four of his fouls when they were shorthanded.
That’s exactly what you want from your third center. He had 2 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 18 minutes. I know +/- isn’t the most valuable measurement but he was a +16 in this game and that feels appropriate based on how he played.
Another noteworthy Pasecniks performance came on January 4 against the Denver Nuggets. He recorded 13 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block in 22 minutes and was a +22. Ish Smith had 32 points and 8 assists while Troy Brown Jr. added 25 points and 14 rebounds so they will get most of the credit for this win. But Pasecniks was a big presence in the paint and used five of his fouls to frustrate Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, and Jerami Grant.
Pasecniks might be the closest thing to a traditional rim-protector that the Wizards have on the roster. That’s probably more of a knock on the Wizards than it is a compliment to Pasecniks but he’s long, he’s active, and he seems to hustle.
I think it’s fairly safe to say he won’t ever be a “stretch big” considering he made zero three-pointers this season. You could pick apart Pasecniks’ game if you really wanted to do so but I’d prefer to focus on the positives and say he does just enough to be a good option as the last guy on the bench on an affordable deal. If you lower your expectations enough, even this franchise can't disappoint you! (Knocking on wood as I type that...)
Future with the Wizards
Pasecniks is a free agent and seems likely to at least creep into the low seven figure salary range. But I can’t see anyone starting a bidding war over Pasecniks and I wouldn’t mind seeing him back on the team next year. If his friendship with Davis Bertans just so happens to provide extra incentive for Bertans to stay in Washington as well, so be it! You're getting pretty limited value from the last guy on the bench traditionally anyway so if that at all helps us keep Bertans around, I'm not mad at it.
Maybe it's a cry for help that I'm actually making an argument FOR Pasecniks but sadly we can and have done worse (for a lot more money too). As the saying goes, the third string center you know is better than the third string center you don’t. That is a saying, right?