The conference finals begin today, which means it’s time for my annual tradition of pondering what the Wizards need to do to reach this part of the playoffs. If we’re honest, this team is no where near ready for that step and the whole list of what they need is probably too long for the internet.
That said, I have three things the team could realistically do this season to improve. It would be unrealistic to expect these moves to make them a contender, but at least these move them closer.
Acquire An Athletic Rim Running Center
If you look at the recent (and not-so-recent) history of the Wizards, they haven’t done a great job of getting quality centers. Marcin Gortat and Brendan Haywood were the best they’ve had since the early 2000s, but both had their limitations.
With the changing of the style of play league wide, where teams are pushing towards a position-less game, centers have lost their importance. But, as we saw in the Rockets’ struggle against the Lakers, going completely small ball isn’t sustainable. Good teams will still need serviceable big men.
For the Wizards, the right type of big man is important. Some in the fan base clamor for the Wizards to get John Wall’s college roommate, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is talented, but his injury history is a concern, and he’s never been a good defender. The Wizards need a big man who is strong on that end.
At least since Haywood was at his best, the Wizards have lacked a big man who can protect the rim. Ian Mahinmi did it sometimes, but his inconsistency and lack of durability made it impossible for them rely on him. With the Wizards porous perimeter defense, having a player capable of coming from the weak side to erase mistakes is invaluable.
On the offensive end, the modern big man’s role is fairly simple. With good shooters and passers around him, he can typically be productive rim running and catching lobs. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Obtaining this player by draft seems the most likely option, especially given the lack of cap space the team has available.
Get at least one 3&D player
The Wizards have struggled to find players who can contribute on both ends of the floor. For so many years, this team has had a penchant for acquiring one-dimensional players. Last year, much of the roster was effective on offense, but left a lot to be desired on the defensive end. The Wizards are set with ball handlers. They need players who can play defense and spread the floor on offense.
A 3&D player would give the Wizards someone to take the difficult defensive assignments. Having Wall or Beal defend the other team’s best perimeter player is less than ideal. An ideal 3&D candidate can shoulder that load in the way that Trevor Ariza (the first stint) did for the Wizards.
There are a number of cheap options in free agency. Players like Mo Harkless, Torrey Craig, or James Ennis are just some who are available. None of these guys are more than respectable shooters, but they bring a lot of value on defense. If the team is willing to spend a bit, Jerami Grant could decline his player option and become a free agent. He’d likely want more than his $9.1 million price tag.
None of these options are great, but adding a quality defender without giving up too much on offense can go a long way in balancing the roster with better defenders.
If the Wizards can’t get a big man with the 9th pick, a 3&D guy would be an ideal next option.
Value from a 2nd Round Pick
Of Washington’s second round picks over the past 10 years, only Admiral Schofield and Tomas Satoransky are still in the NBA. Satoransky was productive for the Wizards, even when pressed into service as a starter when John Wall was injured.
Good teams aren’t built exclusively with first round picks. Hitting on a few second round selections can build depth and stockpile assets for potential trades. This, of course, is not a particularly deep draft, but getting a player that may be a bit of a project or a diamond in the rough would be huge. If the Wizards can get a viable NBA player out of the second round this year, that is a big step in the right direction.
While these won’t turn the Wizards into title contenders next season, they would make the team tougher, more competitive and provide more options for potential postseason matchups.