This is the third part of our roundtable on the Washington Wizards’ offseason. If you have missed the first and second parts, please click on the links below:
Ian Decker: I give the Wizards an A- for the moves they’ve made. The one-year-of-Russell-Westbrook experiment was a novelty, but getting his contract off the books AND getting a pick in return, as opposed to sending one away, was a massive win.
I also like what Tommy Sheppard got in return for Russ. Kyle Kuzma’s stock may be low, but Washington gets a player who could finally have his long-anticipated breakout in D.C. And if it doesn’t work out, Kuzma could be moved down the line.
Bringing in a recent Sixth Man of the Year like Montrezl Harrell never hurts. Harrell isn’t going to knock your socks off on defense, but he brings incredible energy to the court and is only one season removed from averaging 18.6 a game. With the added floor spacing (more on that later) the Wizards added in the offseason, Harrell will be able to go to work in the paint.
Two of the things Washington needed ahead of the offseason: more spacing and wing defenders. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might not be the flashiest player, but he’s a legitimate threat from behind the arc — 41-percent on 4.4 attempts last season — and has the ability to lock it down on the wing.
In terms of Sheppard’s moves, he essentially turned Wall’s bear of a contract into three quality role players, a backup point guard in Holiday and a draft pick (Todd). That’s pretty good business if you ask me.
The GM then got creative and acquired Dinwiddie, who will be an excellent fit next to Beal, and drafted the top three-point shooter of the draft in Kispert. And I know it didn’t happen this offseason, but landing Gafford, who needs to be the team’s starting five because of his defensive acumen, at last year’s trade deadline was one of the more underrated moves. Sheppard certainly has made the most out of what was at his disposal.
Albert: All great points so far. To Marcus Atkinson’s point (from Part One), do you all think the team would still make similar moves if they kept Scott Brooks as the head coach? After all, it may have been enough for them to keep Westbrook, but that also means they aren’t as deep of a squad as before.
John Heiser: Marcus is right that I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about the moves if Scotty was still the head coach.
I do think they would have pulled the trigger on that Russ deal regardless of the coach because its just too good of a return for him and his contract with very few realistic options beyond the Lakers. Scotty may not have liked it but he himself said they “ran out of players” in the playoffs.
Ben Becker: I’d like to add something: while the totality of the Westbrook trade was great, I am concerned Tommy got a little too cute with the Indiana inclusion.
I don’t know what Kevin’s PPA metric says, but by most low-hanging statistical criteria, Aaron Holiday has been a fairly unproductive offensive player through his first three seasons in the league. I understand that the Wizards wanted better defense out of the backup point guard position, but this smacks a little bit of the classic Wizards overcorrection whereby they identify an area of need and address it without taking a holistic view of the player.
Need someone to play pick and pop off the bench? Sign Darius Songaila for the full mid-level. Need a physical backup center? Give Ian Mahinmi $64 million over four years. Need to lock up a shooter? Martell Webster, Davis Bertans, how much would you like?
The lesson is that you can’t pick and choose which aspects of a guy’s game you take. In basketball there are no kickers or lefty specialist relievers. You have to take the whole player, and guys with major weaknesses are going to get exposed over time. Holiday is going to make $4 million this year and his money carries an opportunity cost — a roster spot, the cap resources, and the pick equity it took to acquire him. Moreover, he’s almost 25 and in the final year of his rookie deal. In the unlikely event that Holiday dramatically out-produces his contract, he’s going to hit restricted free agency and cost the Wizards more than they want to pay to keep him.
There would have been much cheaper ways to address a backup guard spot. For one, Raul Neto re-upped for the minimum. Frank Ntilikina is known for his defense and is still unsigned. Elfrid Payton signed for the minimum in Phoenix. Hell, Dennis Schroeder just signed for the taxpayer MLE for a year in Boston — that’s just $2M more than Holiday will make and Schroeder, warts and all, is a far better player.
Point being, if you trade down nine spots, you should come away with more than middling backup PG in the final year of his deal. The Knicks, for example, got far more out of their pick trades on draft night. Hopefully Holiday plays great and re-ups on the cheap, and Isaiah Todd is the next Rashard Lewis. If either happens, then this will look great. But this didn’t strike me as a smart piece of business. As usual, I hope I’m wrong.
Kevin Broom: Middling backup PG is generous. Last season, Holiday rated at replacement level. The previous season, he posted a career-best 79 — average is 100.
Heiser: Completely agree with Becker’s take here. We’ve seen this repeatedly from the front office. A big piece of the Grizzlies-Pelicans trade was Memphis taking on salary and in exchange they moved up 7 spots from 17-10.
In the Wizards-Pacers trade the Pacers unloaded $4 million in salary AND moved up from 31 to 22. They also sent the Wizards $1 million in cash considerations. With the way the moving parts worked we eventually needed to clear $4 million to stay under the luxury tax line. Washington had to send a 2nd to the Spurs to take Chandler Hutchison. Thats a 2nd rounder that should have come from Indy, if not more!
As for Holiday, it was reported the Wizards liked his Defensive Box Plus Minus last season, which was the metric they leaned on when acquiring Raul Neto. We wanted an analytical front office. Again I say, be careful what you wish for. They just used that DBPM carve out as justification to make an unbalanced trade, at least where Holiday is concerned. A Holiday for Hutch trade could have been another of Tommy’s 1st round disappointment swaps, worth a shot. Taking on Holiday as a plus piece is part of why the trade has be expanded.
Ben Mehic: A+. Look, the Wizards gave the most recognizable player up in the five-team trade, but those who watched the team closely know that Westbrook isn’t the same Westbrook at this point in his career. He’s bounced around the league over the past three or four years for a reason.
Teams have a really hard time playing cohesively with Westbrook on the floor because he’s an inefficient shooter and, despite leading the NBA in assists, turns the ball over at the highest rate in the league and doesn’t do much unless the ball is in his hands. Washington saw how that hurt the team’s development.
Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija became afterthoughts. Now, the team has actual depth — 9 or 10 players that can play without being total liabilities. That may seem like a low bar, but compare this roster to last year’s.
Out of respect for last year’s players, I won’t name names — but a good chunk of those players are no longer in the NBA. The fact that the team made the playoffs with some of the rotations they were playing is a small miracle. With a more developed coaching strategy, and real depth, the Wizards will be very competitive, and it’s all thanks to Tommy Sheppard’s creativity. With no cap room and no assets, Sheppard still found a way to bolster the team’s depth. It took a historically complex trade, but Sheppard did it.
Osman Baig: I agree with Ben Becker in that I’m a little underwhelmed by the Holiday acquisition. Maybe when I see his defense in game action I quickly pivot. That said, I don’t really see going down 9 spots at the end of the first round as comparable to moving up to the 10th pick, a lottery pick like the Grizzlies did.
I’ll defer to someone who has interacted with front office executives but I’d imagine at that point of the draft, unless someone they love slid, the board begins to even out. If they had a handful of prospects graded evenly when they were on the clock at 22, doesn’t it stand to reason that a trade down to 31 and picking up a player they may like isn’t a bad play - especially when it’s the 1st pick of the 2nd round where contract structures change?
But back to Holiday, he is now the fifth 2018 first round pick to end up in a Wizards uniform. They must have really loved that draft - although none of the prior four seemed to work out for them. I just hope they know what they’re doing this time.
Kevin: I gotta push back just a bit on the idea that Avdija or Hachimura became afterthoughts because of Westbrook. Hachimura’s usage fell from 19.0 percent as a rookie to 18.1 percent. He got about a shot per 100 possessions fewer than he did a year ago. That’s not afterthought territory. I mean, how many stories did we all read about Westbrook mentoring and riding Hachimura to get him to work harder, play better, and be more aggressive?
As for Avdija, I’ll repeat what I said in my conversation with Yanir — he had lots of opportunities to take shots or to make plays off the bounce. He routinely turned down open threes (as did Hachimura) and cut drives short by picking up his dribble and waiting for Beal or Westbrook to come get the ball (As did Hachimura. And Mathews. And Robinson. And Bonga. And...).
There will be more possessions to go around with Westbrook gone. My guess is that Hachimura will still be right around 18-19 percentage usage, and Avdija won’t get much past 15 percent (he was at 12.0 last season). Dinwiddie, Kuzma, KCP and Harrell are all likely to be more aggressive offensively than either of the Wizards’ youngsters.