One positive development for the Wizards in The Bubble is the emergence of Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. as legitimate NBA rotation players. Neither is going to be an All-Star next season, but both have shown they can play significant roles for a good team.
And, there’s at least a blueprint for each to become quality starters for — if not leaders of — good teams.
Bryant had already shown he was a dangerous offensive weapon but needed to improve on defense. He’s done that in The Bubble. In the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, for example, my defensive tracking showed the Pelicans had an effective field goal percentage of 42.7% on the 20.5 field goal attempts Bryant was involved in defending (the half shot comes from help defense situations where responsibility is split between defenders).
NBA tracking has Bryant’s defensive FG% at 43.4% in Orlando, a marked improvement from The Before Times season. He’s not cracking All-Defense anytime soon, but his defense has at least risen to the level of “acceptable.”
Brown has done well with expanded playing time and increased opportunity to have the ball in his hands on offense. His defense has been hit and miss in The Bubble (it was excellent against New Orleans), but he’s been an effective playmaker who’s shown some nice pick-and-roll chemistry with Bryant.
The problem with Bryant and Brown is that neither is an ideal fit for what the Wizards are likely to be next season. The offense will once again revolve around John Wall and Bradley Beal, which means Brown won’t have many opportunities to have the ball and be a primary initiator.
To optimize the offense, Washington needs a 3&D wing and that’s not Brown. He’s a big PG with a suspect jumper. His defensive abilities, while somewhat limited by his lack of explosive athleticism, is good. He can guard SFs and SGs, and even PGs on switches. And he rebounds like a PF.
Bryant’s offensive skills fit perfectly — every team has room for a big man who can score from anywhere without dominating the ball, who doesn’t lobby for post-ups, and who sets good screens, has terrific hands, finishes well around the rim, and has shooting range out to the three-point line.
But the defense.
“Improving” isn’t the same as “good.” If he maintains what’s he’s doing in Orlando and continues to work hard on his technique, knowledge, and body, Bryant might be an average defender next season. That probably won’t be enough for a team that hopes to be competitive but has no plus defenders. The ideal fit is an elite defender who will set screens, roll to the basket and grab offensive rebounds.
While they’re not likely to be the best fits for the Wizards next season, the Wizards should be pleased Bryant and Brown have played well enough to build interest around the league. Their improvement gives the team some options. They could keep them and let the coaching staff figures out a way to create roles where they can help the team. Or they could trade them to get players who fit with Wall, Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason.
Below are PPA scores from the Wizards 118-107 loss to the Pelicans. PPA is my overall production metric, which credits players for things they do that help a team win (score, rebound, defend, assist) and debits them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers and fouls). PPA is pace neutral and includes defense. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.