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.
Kevin Broom: So, does Tommy Sheppard get Executive of the Year now, or do we have to wait until the All-Star break?
Yanir Rubinstein: As I wrote last year, already the Wall trade showed that Tommy Sheppard is truly in charge.
Being able to then continue the chain reaction and have Rob Pelinka bite the bait is truly commendable.
With all seriousness, this is a major accomplishment. It’s also probably a good trade for the Lakers. It just made sense all around.
True, as a side-effect they own merely one of their next seven second round picks: their next own second round pick is in 2028 (their other second rounder comes in 2025 but could be swapped with Golden State’s).
But, and this is a big but, they got rid of the albatross that was Wall’s supermax (rendered untradeable (we thought) once Wall tore his Achilles).
I don’t know though that Sheppard deserves Executive of the Year for that. After all, Pelinka was desperate here. But combined with his letting Scott Brooks go (obvious move) and hiring Wes Unseld as coach (another obvious move), he does make Wizards fans hopeful.
KB: Let’s not forget that the entire Westbrook trade was made possible by Westbrook asking for a deal. If he doesn’t ask, the off-season looks a bit different.
YR: That’s actually a very good point. And Leonsis was giving Westbrook a hard time for that request, which sort-of-kind-of suggests that had the request not come, indeed things might have just been “let’s contend for the playoffs again with Beal and Mr. Triple Double”.
KB: The Wizards are lucky Pelinka, and Lebron, and Anthony Davis exist.
Quick aside: I thought Leonsis’ dog whistle sneer at Westbrook was disgusting. As was his backhanded insult of Scott Brooks when they were introducing Wes Unseld. As was his snide dig at John Wall when they made that trade. Those things make him look small and petty.
Aside over, I like Sheppard’s moves. In a series of trades, he’s now gone from an “untradeable” contract, a protected first round pick and a bunch of second rounders...
YR: ...exactly five (5) second-rounders were given up in the trade.
KB: Right, so they turned those assets into a passel of rotation players that give them some depth and set them up for future moves. That’s good work.
YR: We are on the same page here clearly.
KB: Still, given their goal of winning now — however that’s defined — so they can persuade Bradley Beal to stay — a dubious goal — we have to ask the question of whether these moves actually make the team better on the court in a way that significantly changes their record and their playoffs fortunes. My guess is no.
YR: I’m no expert on guessing. However, if you just told me that, somehow, someone in the league has agreed to take Westbrook’s contract for three players who earn each in the ballpark of $10 million, I’d be thrilled. If you told me one of these players was Montrezl Harrell, former Sixth Man of the Year, I’d be amazed. If you told me another one of these was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a decent 3&D wing without a big ego, I’d be jumping up and down. If you told me the remaining one was Kyle Kuzma, who possibly just needs the right situation to thrive, I’d be in disbelief.
So, back to your first question — chapeau, Monsieur Sheppard. And to your second question — I definitely think this trade makes the team better. I’d actually be disappointed if they let any of these three guys go — I like what each one of them brings to the table.
But, I’ve talked plenty... I’m curious as to why you think the trade doesn’t make them better.
KB: The big reason is that everyone they got back is a different flavor of average. That’s still an upgrade at the forward and backup shooting guard spots, but they do it at the expense of potential higher-end production. Over the last couple months of last season, Westbrook was producing at All-Star level, and no one they’ve brought in to replace him — including Spencer Dinwiddie — has that kind of potential.
YR: But, I’d argue that the pieces are bigger than the whole. Westbrook perhaps performed at a high level for some portion of the season, but he also was a big drag on production at other times. And he dominated the ball too much overall, in my humble opinion.
KB: Westbrook is surely an imperfect player. He was also a big driver of the push that got them to the postseason, and the NBA is a star-driven league.
YR: Oh come on... the push that got them to 8th was largely due to Brooks desperation to hang on to his job, and was successful because the Hornets and the Pacers couldn’t see the point of losing a chance to participate in the lottery just to be eliminated at the hands of the 76ers.
KB: Whatever the motivation, Westbrook still played outstanding All-Star level basketball the last couple months of the season. And I gotta say, Brooks never looked desperate to me. They ran the same stuff they’d run all season. He shortened the rotation, but that looked more like due to injury and running out of bodies than desperation. Overall, I don’t think they won down the stretch because of Brooks any more than they did a bunch of losing earlier in the year because of him. He seemed largely inconsequential to me.
Back on topic, their moves this summer layers in some possible redundancies and should enable them to make additional moves.
Overall, it was probably as good a deal as could have been gotten for Westbrook, even if Sheppard had been given the option to trade him anywhere in the league. On the other hand, the deal was surely juiced a bit by the facts that Westbrook wanted Los Angeles, the Lakers wanted him, and there was basically nothing else they could give up to make the numbers work.
Let me ask you about both Corey Kispert and Isaiah Todd. Chatting to people around the league, I got the impression — and this is pre-draft — that neither of them are valued as high as how the Wizards view them. I even asked an executive if Todd (who went at 31) was worth a midrange second round pick and was told “no way.” Similar impression for Kispert: he probably was a reach at 15, though it’s not clear he would have been available at 22 (the Lakers’ pick that came via the big trade). By the way, I’m not alone claiming Kispert was a conservative pick.
I just get a similar vibe to the Hachimura pick: solid pick but was most likely a conservative pick available significantly lower on the board.
KB: My pre-draft analysis concurs with this executive on Todd (I had him ranked 59th overall) and disagrees on Kispert (I had him with a top 10 grade). Kispert doesn’t figure to be great in the NBA, but he’s an outstanding shooter with accuracy on the move who can also attack closeouts. Defense will likely be an adventure at first, but that’s true of most rookies.
Todd’s a project. He’s young, big and can shoot. If he works hard and is coachable, he has a chance in a few years.
I had Hachimura rated about where the Wizards picked him (though I did have higher-rated players still on the board when Washington got him). There were wildly different evaluations of him before the draft. Some had him in that 8-12 range, others had him as a second round pick.
The bigger misevaluation may be Deni Avdija. When I revised the strength of schedule measure in Ye Olde Draft Analyzer, Avdija dropped out of the top 10 — out of the lottery, in fact. Last season revealed some significant deficiencies in his game that need major work before he can be successful as the playmaking forward so many hoped he’d be.
All that said, what other teams think really doesn’t matter. If the Wizards’ evaluation is correct, and they and the players do the developmental work so they end up with good players with their picks, then they did a good job.
YR: I actually disagree on Avdija. When he got a chance to play his game early on in the season he was quite productive. Then the Brooks-Westbrook alliance kicked in bigtime and he stopped getting a green light to even advance the ball to the halfcourt and was basically just asked to spot up on the perimeter. Sure, he had his deficiencies on defense, but his defensive rating was behind only Ish Smith, Robin Lopez and Daniel Gafford.
KB: Well, I disagree with your disagreement. Brooks, Westbrook and Beal were practically begging Hachimura and Avdija to play more aggressively.
YR: That’s also what Brooks begged from Otto Porter, Jr. It’s pathetic. A coach should know how to set up his players for success. Avdija needs the ball in his hand, at least some of the time, and especially in transition, to succeed (watch some of his Euroleague tapes). Westbrook on the other hand dominated that aspect (as well as the defensive glass) in Brooks’ system. That was not setting Deni up for success.
KB: Avdija got plenty of touches and plenty of opportunities to make plays. Yes, Westbrook dominates the ball — that’s what he’s done everywhere he’s been regardless of who’s coaching. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens this year with Lebron and the Lakers.
That said, the coaching staff would have been happy for Avdija to make plays. Both him and Hachimura turned down lots of open threes. Repeatedly, they started drives and then stopped halfway and waited for Westbrook or Beal to come get the ball. If Avdija was truly a playmaker like his fans say, he’d have made plays on those dribble drives instead of picking up his dribble and waiting for help. The Wizards have to hope both Avdija and Hachimura play more assertively.
YR: What you’re describing is the state-of-affairs after Brooks and Westbrook stripped Avdija of his initial confidence. Initially, early on in the season he was making plays and taking initiative. Then things changed. It was a bit of a deja-vu of Satoransky’s rookie year.
KB: Why would we blame Brooks for stripping him of his confidence? He didn’t suddenly change the offense 10 games into the season. Much more likely is that Avdija had a bit of a hot streak early in the year, fell back to norms and lost confidence because of it.
YR: Maybe. It’s all clearly very subjective as is the term “confidence.” One thing is clear though: Brooks did not think Satoransky was a playmaker until Wall’s injury forced him to try, and he didn’t think Avdija could play-make either. I’m quite optimistic about Avdija now that Brooks is history.
KB: I’m not quite as optimistic, though I do think he has potential to be good.
YR: On another topic, I know you’ve said in the past how the Wizards front office will kind of latch on to one stat they cherish and build a narrative around that. I felt a bit that way with how they marketed Kispert as the best three-point shooter of the draft. True as a stat, but the bigger picture is also that he was part of a historic Gonzaga team with other threats at all positions basically and so perhaps not all of this shots were that contested. Yet, I don’t have access to that kind of data from the NCAA. Your thoughts here?
KB: A few thoughts. First, three-point shooting is extremely valuable in the NBA. Kispert is an excellent shooter. If he shoots a good percentage when defenders wander, they’ll be forced to stick with him, which then provides spacing for teammates to attack.
Second, team effects matter somewhat, though probably not as much as many think. Players often change teams and are able to do the same things and have the same kind of production in their new context with new teammates.
YR: For teams in the same league, sure. But, he’s coming from a Gonzaga team that played in a relatively easy conference to the NBA with a three-point line quite farther out.
KB: Sure, but those are very normal transitions for every college player. It’s one of the reasons why draft evaluations are still so variable and uncertain.
His role in Washington will almost certainly be different, but it’ll also be somewhat easier in the sense that he’ll be asked to do less offensively. Defensive attention will be focused on Bradley Beal and Dinwiddie, and then Bertans, Kuzma, etc.
As a rookie, he’s not someone who’ll get a lot of attention from defenders, so he’ll likely get some easy opportunities. Think back to how many open looks Avdija and Hachimura got — and turned down — last season. If Kispert just pulls the trigger and shoots a decent percentage, he’ll have value in his rookie year.
And last, every player has to make the transition from a lesser league to the NBA. Defense at the NBA level is better — players are bigger, more athletic, far more knowledgeable and much better coached. Kispert will have to negotiate that change like every other rookie. Some guys can do it, some can’t. His primary skill (shooting) generally translates well from college to the NBA.
YR: I hope so. I can see both why some execs are skeptic and why some fans are excited about him.