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Broom & Rubinstein Converse: Three Key Issues for the 11-6 Wizards

Miami Heat v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the latest edition of Broom and Rubinstein Converse (B&RC), a series of articles in which Kevin Broom and Yanir Rubinstein chat about Wizards-related topics. If you like nerds discussing hoops — this one’s for you.

For previous installments of B&RC check out: July 2019 — part I, part II, April 2020 and May 2020, July 2020, August 2020, February 2021.

Yanir Rubinstein: In the holiday spirit, I want to discuss whether Aaron Holiday is a legit NBA player. Oh, and Raul Neto too.

What’s on your mind?

Kevin Broom: Great topic. I suggest we also discuss the Lakers Three.

YR: You mean you want me to cut you some slack for saying I was wrong to believe in that move.

KB: If necessary. What else?

YR: I can only concentrate on three topics anyway. Let’s chat about something of central importance to this franchise: Is Beal’s game fixable?

KB: Ouch. Timely though.

Aaron Holiday and Raul’s Neto fit in the NBA

KB: I’ve wondered about this since the summer. Neto was pretty good last season, so I thought it made sense to bring him back — especially at the minimum. Holiday, I didn’t get because he’s basically replacement level. The problem with both is they’re really more shooting guard than point guard, and they’re both undersized for point guard.

YR: I mean they are a liability on both ends of the floor. What do your numbers say?

KB: Basically that. They’re both below replacement level so far this season. Neto will shoot better than 24% from three going forward, but both guys commit too many turnovers for their level of play-making and their defensive contributions are modest.

YR: Can you quantify that more precisely with some of the traditional metrics as well as your advanced ones? What I see is that both Holiday and Neto are right at 1.6 assist/turnover ratio. Among the 134 guards that played at least 18 minutes per game this season that puts them around 80th out of 134, which I suppose is below average, but not strikingly awful. How can we better quantify the eye-test on these two?

KB: Well, Neto’s about 11 points per 100 possessions below league average in offensive efficiency. Holiday is 14 points underwater despite shooting a decent percentage from three. My PPA metric, which accounts for how players contribute to wins have both of them below replacement level. I have 126 guards who have played at least 125 minutes so far this season. They’re numbers 100 and 101 in production per possession. In other words, the Wizards are getting next to nothing from their backcourt reserves.

YR: Like in that loss to the Hornets a couple days ago — what the heck was Holiday doing? You look at his statistical line which says he was +10 but the eye-test had him doing really questionable stuff like forcing drives, often not passing to obviously open guys on the perimeter. I’d want to look deeper into the advanced metrics.

What are your thoughts?

KB: Advanced analytics are often worth a deeper look, but in this case there’s not much hiding in the data. These guys aren’t secretly having a positive impact. Holiday didn’t cause that +10, for example. The team has been worse with him out there. They’ve been marginally better with Neto on the floor, but not because of Neto.

YR: Would you consider a Holiday-for-Satoransky swap? My rationale is that Satoransky was the inventor of the Everybody Eats mentality. Now, finally, there’s a coach that thinks that way too. I just think Satoransky would fit right into the system. Moreover, he would be a considerable upgrade over the undersized Holiday.

KB: That’d be fine. Satoransky is a solid caretaker type guard with some size — something they don’t have off the bench in the backcourt. Making it work financially could be a challenge.

YR: Before we get to the financials, why aren’t you more excited? I mean Sato is above 36% three-point shooter and has a nearly 3-to-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio. He was a big factor in that Wizards team making the playoffs in Wall’s first injury year.

KB: He’s fine, but I don’t see him moving the needle for the team by himself.

YR: If moving the needle means getting this team an extra 2-3 wins on the season (which could mean the difference between home-court advantage in the off-season or not) then I do see it. I mean, just benching Holiday would improve this team’s outlook.

Getting back to the financials, I don’t remember whether the Wizards still have a trade exception they can use to (partially) absorb the extra $7 million or so in salary. But I imagine that if they can (or if they can involve a third team) then just taking on the extra salary would mean they don’t have to give any picks. Maybe they could even get a second-rounder in return given how badly Satoransky has been in Pelicans uniform and the extra salary absorbed.

KB: The only trade exception they have left is too small to absorb that much salary.

YR: Oh, right the Moritz Wagner $2.1M exception from Boston.

KB: Right. And, they can’t combine it to make a deal.

YR: I learn something everyday.

KB: They could do something like get a third team involved (though Tommy Sheppard might bring in a fourth, fifth or sixth), or add something like Corey Kispert and Anthony Gill. Giving up Kispert would be tough considering the reality that Satoransky could sign elsewhere in the offseason.

YR: Agreed. I’d be happy with throwing in Gill.

KB: I think this team still needs a starting small forward so KCP can become a SG/SF reserve and they can drop one of Holiday or Neto from the rotation.

YR: Once Holiday and/or Neto is traded there are plenty of options for how to fill that roster spot.

The Lakers Three Musketeers

YR: I have a feeling you have something controversial to say about this topic. For me, the trade pieces are bigger than the whole and the three egos are smaller than the ego that was traded to Los Angeles. I also realize that for salary-cap experts like yourself the issue is that the three salaries were smaller than Westbrook’s salary this year but you’re probably worried that in order to keep the Lakers Three Musketeers we’ll have to pay them more than we would have paid Westbrook next year. Am I reading you correctly?

KB: Not really, but a big reason for that is that I’m not convinced any of them are long-term keepers.

YR: For me, keeping both Harrell and Kuzma is a no-brainer on team-friendly contracts.

KB: Meaning?

YR: Hard to say. Without knowing exactly what cap will be in 2022 but assuming that Beal will be sup-maxed in July, I would ideally not want to pay Harrell, Kuzma, and KCP combined more than 80% of what I had to pay Westbrook.

That’s ideal but probably not possible. Given that Westbrook will make about $47 million in 2022-2023 that means I’m willing to pay these three about $38 million. Now, Kuz and KCP are already locked into $27 million ($13 million and $14 million). So that leaves about $11M to pay Harrell. He’s currently being paid almost $10 million. That’s not an enticing enough pay raise. I’d go all the way up to $13 million to keep Harrell, so $40 million for the three but probably would stop there.

Another possibility would be to put Harrell on a longer deal to make it worthwhile for him. He will soon be 28 years old, so even a five-year deal might not be such a bad idea for the team.

How do you feel about a five-year, $70 million deal?

KB: There’s no way I’d go five years for an undersized center who makes his living with athleticism and effort, who’s having the best season of his career in a contract year at age 28. He seems a prime candidate to start having a rash of injuries after 30.

As important as Harrell has been to the team this season, they may still be better off trading him for a starting SF.

OR, they could clear money to pay him say $45 million over three seasons if they trade Thomas Bryant, Davis Bertans and/or others for a wing.

YR: When I say lock him up for five years, I am actually thinking inflation: the salary cap is poised to go up in a couple years, and paying Harrell $14 million in 2026 might actually be cheap. I mean, even many rookie contracts might be eight digits by then.

KB: I think caution on the number of years is warranted. Keep in mind the cap won’t move up as much as it might have based on annual revenues because they’re spreading pandemic-related losses through at least 2024. And Harrell’s way of playing doesn’t typically age well.

As for Kuzma and KCP, they’re fine for what they do. They’re both about average, not building blocks or even key components. They’re the kind of guys a good team can swap out for as good or better.

YR: Why do people discount Kuzma? I don’t get it. The guy was important in the Lakers winning a championship. He’s already been clutch with the Wizards a couple times. To me it’s like — pay Beal a little less in order to keep Kuzma. How is Kuzma not worth $10-15 million? He gives the team depth they have never had before (in the 21st century at least).

KB: I don’t know about “discounting” Kuzma. He’s okay. Some nights he looks awesome. Other nights he’s firing blanks, committing turnovers and disappearing. Kinda the nature of an average player. I agree with you he’s worth in the neighborhood of $15 million. But what he does is replaceable. Probably for less.

YR: Replaceable is a big word. I’d keep him for the price. I like his swagger.

Is Beal’s game fixable?

YR: Honestly, I love Beal’s game and have been a big supporter over the years. But it does feel like he is forcing too many shots, and making many poor decisions, especially in the clutch. His defense also seems a bit iffy. What are your thoughts?

KB: His defense has taken a big step forward this year. He’s fine on that end this season.

YR: According to which metrics?

KB: The defense part of PPA has him above average. The team is about the same defensively whether he’s on or off the floor, and they’ve ranked in the top 10 all season. And opponents are shooting worse when he’s involved in defending. Progress.

YR: Interesting. Let’s move to the offense.

KB: He’s forced shots the past several seasons. What’s different this year is he’s missing and he’s not getting to the free throw line. Last season, he attempted 9.9 free throw attempts per 100 team possessions. This season: 5.8 — his lowest number since 2015-16.

The change in officiating and his inability to hit threes seems to have affected his ability to score efficiently.

YR: The question is, I guess, at what point do you change his role on the team, ask him to do things differently (reduce his FGA, for instance), play more for his teammates?

KB: One possible fix is for him to be more of a playmaker, which he’s been trying to do. Unfortunately, it’s coming with a lot of turnovers.

YR: So, any other ideas for a quick fix?

KB: Big thing he needs to do is starting hitting threes.

YR: Would you still super-max him if he continues to produce at a similar level for the whole season?

KB: I wouldn’t want to be the team paying him that 35% max. He’s been very good, and he’ll bounce back from a poor start. But I don’t think he’s in that elite echelon of players — I think he’d be ideal as a “second star” with a truly elite player.

Realistically, he’s going to get that maximum contract. He won’t opt out because a) he likes it in DC, and b) he’s not going to be The Franchise Player anywhere else.

YR: It’s one of those things where the script is already written and it just has to play out — a bit like when Wall was up for the super-max and everybody was saying it was inevitable.

KB: When you have a chance to end with a Thanos gif, you gotta take it. Happy Thanksgiving!

YR: Indeed, this is a great opportunity to thank our readers for their support and comments year-round. Thanks so much and happy holiday!