Thank you everyone for your answers to this month’s mailbag. Selected questions are below and this is the first part. We will have two more parts given the number of questions and answers.
Our next mailbag will be in mid-December!
Is Spencer Dinwiddie really a PG or a SG? I think John Wall will make everyone’s offense look easier. With that said, Should Tommy Sheppard try to bring Wall back? (GreatWallofWizards)
Albert: Regarding Wall, if he ever plays for Washington again, it won’t be until AFTER his current contract is over. I’m assuming you’re open to Wall coming back after that time, right?
Matt Modderno: Does it matter what you label him? In this era of position-less basketball it’s a luxury to have a versatile player like Dinwiddie who can operate in either role.
There is a ZERO percent chance that John Wall plays for the Wizards this season so I think we can put that one to bed. He’s a big loyalty guy and Ted threw a lot of shade at him on the way out so he would not want to come here. Similarly, the current front office isn’t going to risk the chemistry they have to try and reintegrate someone like Wall, who seems unlikely to want to play a backup role. And Dinwiddie came here to play and start so they’re not going to rock the boat with him by bringing in Wall.
Lyndie Wood: Is Dinwiddie a good enough playmaker to be the primary guy running the offense? That’s sort of a tough answer because while I think the Wizards absolutely need better passing and playmaking, I’m not sure they need it from the point guard spot necessarily. My bigger concern with Dinwiddie is more approach than skill: He seems a little too content to fade into the background. I’d like to see him make more plays about him, whether that ends in a shot or a pass. The nice thing about the Wizards right now is that they can be patient and opportunistic. Give Coach Unseld time to figure out how to get the most out of this group. From a positional perspective, I don’t think there is any one spot they have to upgrade, but they do have to upgrade somewhere if they want to be competitive with the best teams in the East in the playoffs.
As for whether the Wizards should bring Wall back: My heart says yes but my head says absolutely not. If Wall were to come back to the Wizards it would have to be with new expectations about what his role was (both on the court and off it), and it feels too soon for that. I would love for Wall to finish his playing career in D.C., but given how things ended my guess would be that both sides need more time and distance from the breakup for that to be possible.
Renzo Salao: Spencer feels like the definition of a combo guard. He’s got the size to play both, and the skill set to match. That’s probably what’s caused some passiveness playing alongside Brad so far, given that he’s not sure which hat to put on when they’re both out there.
But nevertheless, I feel like bringing John Wall back won’t help us going forward. The talent might still be there, but this Wizards team is forming an identity, one that used to revolve around him but no longer does. It feels like a recipe for friction we don’t need this season.
First: I thought Coach Wes Unseld, Jr. did a good job of managing the irrational exuberance issue during the media session last evening. Picking up on a key point he made (“let’s see how it looks at 25 games...”) I would ask you all: What are the key milestones we should be looking at here based on the number of games played at a given point, the timing of big road trips and variations in the strength of schedule? (Warsaw Ken)
Lyndie: There’s a brutal stretch in December that goes: Jazz, @Nuggets, @Kings, @Suns, @Jazz, @Nets, @Knicks, 76ers, @Heat. That will be a pretty good stress test, I think. The Wizards schedule so far hasn’t been easy, necessarily. They have played a lot of good teams - but they haven’t played a lot of great teams, much less on the road.
Modderno: I think the Heat games are meaningful because that’s the caliber of team competing for the type of seed the Wizards want. Plus, they’re a savvy, gritty team and that’s what the Wizards want to be. Even if you lose both it would be good to have a strong showing and match their intensity and level of play.
Albert: To Matt’s point, the Heat are also in the Southeast Division. And they somehow win that division most of the time, even when they aren’t at their peak.
Do you think the defense will be sustainable throughout the year? Especially Deni Avdija (who is playing at All-Defense level) and Montrezl Harrell who is doing a whole lot better than ever on defense? (Abala)
Yanir Rubinstein: Unseld has apparently a reputation for being good on the defensive end, and I can see why Tommy thought it would be great to have him, especially after a couple of years of Scott Brooks and Michael Longabardi.
By the way, Longabardi was brought in to the Sacramento Kings, his current team, with the same expectations (“defensive expert”) as when he was brought in to Washington. So far it isn’t looking too great for them though it’s hard to do any worse than last year when the Kings were dead-last in defense in the league in some metrics.
Anyway, to get back to the question, I do think that the Wizards’ DNA this year is about defense and passing. Definitely a big shift from last year’s Brooks’ philosophy of “outscoring the opponent” by pushing up the pace (and ultimately fatiguing his players not named Russell Westbrook).
As far as Deni goes, I can only see him getting better on D with more reps. Sure, he will get tougher assignments and will log more minutes so that could bring down his defensive stats which are spectacular right now. In fact, Deni leads the league in isolation defense according to Second Spectrum data among guys that defended at least 45 iso possessions, see this comment MeToo wrote recently in this link right here.
Modderno: I think maintaining a top 5 level is probably tough but top 10 seems doable given the group they have.
John Morrow: Yes, I do. It’s a group of young-ish veterans and the expectation and mentality have been established. I think it will continue.
Will Beal be able to lead this team to the “next level” if he starts regaining his All-NBA form last year? His defense already significantly improved. Will his offense take another step from current, or will the “sharing” mentality cap him at a lower PPG/Usage rate? (Abala)
Modderno: Odds are he isn’t going to shoot the ball worse as the season goes on so even a slight uptick would help them move up to around the middle of the pack offensively. I love that he’s being more of a creator. It makes him and the team more multi-dimensional and teams have to account for that in scouting reports. He’s had 5 consecutive games of 7+ assists (as of the Hornets game), which is the second-longest stretch of his career. Sign me up for more of that, please.
Morrow: The shooting will rebound. My personal hope is that the scoring stays under 27 per game so that the offense stays more egalitarian as it’s been. There are a lot of mouths to feed on this team and playing good team ball will lead to greater efficiency than the do-everything model we’ve seen from Beal the past few seasons.
Yanir: The sharing mentality should actually make Beal better: lower usage should mean fresher legs on D, and hopefully more efficient shooting.
How do you incorporate Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant back into the fold when the Wizards are doing well as they are right now? (Abala)
Yanir: It is easy to incorporate Bertans especially in low-punch lineups where he could provide microwave scoring. The issue with Bertans is that he really does not deserve too many minutes. Probably around 5-15 minutes a night. And given his huge contract, it is hard for coach to let him play for so few minutes.
Regarding Bryant, I think it will be easy to incorporate since this is a long season and the Wizards don’t have that much of depth in the C position. So some nights you let Gafford play more, some Trez, some Bryant. Depending on the match-ups.
Regarding Rui, I really don’t know - since I don’t know what he is going through.
Modderno: You could plug Hachimura into the second unit right away. Given how the team has struggled shooting, I think they certainly would benefit from Bertans or Bryant being able to space the floor. And they finally seem to have the necessary defenders to cover for them. Consistent minutes might be tough initially but it’s a long season and guys will get banged up so there’s a lot of potential opportunity to plug those guys in and start to ramp up their minutes. At least enough to see if they have any potential trade value.
Morrow: I think with the struggles from the offense over the past week or two will allow for opportunities for each. It comes down to defense. Bertans & Rui will have a harder time finding minutes than we thought with the way Avdija is contributing on defense, and Kuzma has given no reason to think he should see less time.
If Bertans plays like he did prior to the injury, he’ll get squeezed. I see Rui having a role and I think he and Kuzma can play together - if KCP plays as streakily as he has, he’ll lose time. Harrell has been relied upon maybe a little too much so Bryant being back will help. But there isn’t a silver bullet...some of these guys are going to get DNP-CD and how they respond will be worth monitoring.
You’re GM for a moment with a proactive approach: now that you’ve seen the new guys for a few games, what decisions do you make on contracts? In detail:
- When do you make a decision on Harrell and/or Bryant? An extension or trade would be the proactive approach. Do you wait till Bryant has played 20 games? Wait till free agency?
- Do you think KCP is here to stay or would you consider trading him next off-season? So yes, any player profile in mind that you’d want in return? What roster flaws are there or would appear if KCP was gone?
- Would you bring back the backup backcourt?
Anything to add? Takes on Kuzma, Deni or Rui and how you’d plan with them long-term? Who’s a great fit, who’s more of a trade asset? (WhyNotTyler)
John Morrow: My answer is to each of your bullet points:
- To the first, I think wait until free agency. Nowadays with the increase in sign & trades, the risk of waiting is somewhat decreased. I trust in Sheppard’s ability to negotiate and think he won’t overpay Harrell to a bad degree. It’s a great problem to have and I don’t think they should trade until much closer to the deadline, if at all. Bryant can contribute to what is a playoff team and trading Harrell won’t happen with his level of contribution.
- To the second point, KCP is here to stay unless he’s traded in a package for a star. His contract status is a really good thing because it gives the Wizards leverage. He’s a good team player, should hopefully age well with his play style, and he can definitely transition to a bench gunner role like Terrence Ross if needed.
- And to the third, the Wizards won’t be able to bring back both Bryant & Harrell. They’ll re-sign one and then likely get a rookie or cheaper vet as the 3rd center next year.
Renzo: I would wait and try to re-sign Harrell in the offseason. No matter how great he is for us, everyone knows his limitations and his unplayability depending on certain matchups. There’s a reason he’s a career bench player, after all.
Regarding Thomas Bryant, I would quietly put on the trading block as soon as he’s healthy. We can try and get him spot minutes to help build a bit of his trade value. But I would definitely move him for anything of value at this point. Danial Gafford is our player under contract for the longest and should be a priority for on-court development.
As for KCP, he’s 100 percent expendable in my eyes. We have Deni for defense and we have Corey Kispert and Davis Bertans for shooting. We have more bodies than we would need and he’s not exactly shooting like his hair is on fire at this point.
From the backup guards, I would want Raul Neto back over Aaron Holiday.
Modderno: I think the decision on Harrell has already been made. He’s been invaluable to their success so far, he’s a good complement to what Gafford provides as the starter, and he and Beal seem to be attached at the hip already. I would expect him to be in a Wizards’ uniform next season, assuming he doesn’t want to leave or the price tag isn’t insanely high. That pretty much means Bryant is gone, in which case I would expect for them to try to move him for any type of asset at the deadline.
Wes Unseld Jr. has said repeatedly that Caldwell-Pope is the team’s best defender so I think that makes trading him unlikely unless it’s some slam dunk, can’t-pass-up deal. Personally, I think he’s too feast or famine offensively for this particular team to rely on down the stretch of meaningful games so I’d be looking to find someone more consistent from the perimeter. Yes, Caldwell-Pope shoots a good percentage but if you look at his game logs, there’s a lot of 0-of-5 nights followed by 3-of-4 ones. That volatility scares me a bit, personally.
If they are determined to make a trade, that’s the position where I’d try to upgrade. Bringing Caldwell-Pope off the bench instead would be a nice luxury.