I Attempt to Fix the Wizards: A 2020 Offseason Preview for Washington
With the 2020 NBA draft happening tonight, officially starting the offseason for the league with the free agency period starting this Friday and the regular season starting on December 22, I wanted to take a look at what the Washington Wizards could do this upcoming offseason to their roster that could make them legitimate playoff contenders for the this season and the future.
The Washington Wizards are entering an interesting time for the franchise in 2021 and beyond. The window that holds the John Wall/Bradley Beal era is closing, as both stars become unrestricted free agents in 2023 after the duration of their super max contracts expire. The team has a 3 year window where they can capitalize on all of the money they have been paying their backcourt. In this article I’m going to outline the potential steps we can take to our roster this offseason that I believe would help the Wizards be competitive for this upcoming season and beyond.
To figure out what Washington needs to do, let’s look back at our recent history. After what looked like a promising step for the franchise in the 2017 postseason run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics. The last 3 seasons have not been as inspiring, with our best season coming the year after losing in the first round of the playoffs in six games to the Toronto Raptors and the team has missed the playoffs the last two seasons.
The team moved on from longtime President Ernie Grunfeld after the 2018-2019 season, hoping to get a fresh look of the franchise from new General Manager Tommy Sheppard, who has served in the Wizards Front Office for 16 years in various roles. He is preparing for his second offseason as GM, the first of which brought Washington starting PF Rui Hachimura from Gonzaga as well as the acquisitions of Moritz Wagner and Davis Bertans, the former of which I will talk about soon.
The scary trend for the team since the last three seasons is the amount of time their 5x All Star PG John Wall has played. Since the 2017 postseason run, Wall has played 73 of a possible 236 games, missing the 2019-2020 season entirely with a ruptured achilles. The Wizards have gone 100-136 in that span. Wall looks like he will be ready to return this season and says he plans to come back better than ever, with videos of him training in the gym on Twitter show like he might be able to come back to full form.
A nice trend for the Wizards has been the emergence of Bradley Beal becoming a legitimate superstar in this league. Beal has been an all star two of the past three seasons, with his only mind boggling snub coming last year when he averaged 30.5/6.1/4.5 at 45% shooting, numbers only Steph Curry, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Michael Jordan have matched in a single season. Beal of which was the only one not to get an All Star Game and/or All NBA selection that season, but I digress.
This team has its building blocks in its back court. Finding the superstars is supposed to be the hard part. The Wizards only need a few pieces and a couple of role players I believe to take them to the next level in the Eastern Conference and get out of the second round of the playoffs.
Draft a Legitimate Small Forward
I have to be honest going into the draft I was a bit conflicted on whether or not we try to build depth in our big men or draft a potential starting small forward. If center Onyeka Okongwu (16.2 ppg/8.6 rpg/1.1 apg at USC) is still available for the Wizards at the ninth pick I think you need to have a serious conversation about taking him but I honestly don’t think he will and that the Wizards should and will ultimately go with a small forward, a position with more depth in this draft.
A trade that I believe sent the Wizards back years was trading Kelly Oubre Jr for Trevor Ariza in 2018. Ever since then the Wizards have lacked a legitimate starting small forward who can score the basketball and run the fast break with Wall and Beal. Troy Brown Jr (10.4/5.6/2.6 in 2020) and Isaac Bonga (5.0/3.4/1.2 in 2020) have filled in primarily as our small forwards since the trade, but are both mid to below average on best and would fit roles better suited coming off the bench.
The small forward position is loaded this draft, among the likes of Isaac Okoro (12.9/4.4/2.0 at Auburn), Devin Vassell (12.7/5.1/1.6 last season at Florida State), and reigning Naismith Player of the Year Obi Toppin (20.0/7.5/2.2 last season at Dayton). All three I believe have great upside and can be exactly the right piece the Wizards need at a cheap cost that can make this roster feel whole at every position.
If the Wizards end up selecting Okongwu or end up picking outside the small forward position in the draft, it would need to be paramount that they would need to address in free agency. Notable options this year would be young prospects with room to grow such as Jerami Grant (12.0/3.5/1.2 in 2020), Josh Jackson (9.0/3.0/1.6 in 2020), and Derrick Jones Jr (8.5/3.9/1.1 in 2020).
Re-Sign Davis Bertans
The first and utmost priority the Wizards need to do entering free agency is to re-sign Davis Bertans. At 6’10”, 225 lb, the man known as the Latvian Laser had the best season of his four year career in his first with Washington with 15.4 PPG and was absolutely deadly from deep range with 3.7 three pointers per game, fourth most in the NBA at 42.4% on from behind the arc.
The most exciting prospect of Bertans re-signing is playing in a fully healthy lineup. Bertans can give Wall an asset he hasn’t quite had before. A big man that can be just as valuable on the pick-and-pop as he is on the roll.
Bertans is an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason and many teams will be going after the 27 year old with room to develop. Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington reports that the Nuggets, Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, and Hawks are all going to be pursuing the sharp shooting power forward, so Washington will have to entice him with a deal probably in the $12-17 million a year range. Luckily the Wizards will be dumping Ian Mahinmi’s dumpster of a contract this offseason but will still be tough to to work out the salary cap situation with most of the team’s money invested in the back court.
If the Wizards are unfortunately unable to sign Bertans, they would have to replace him through free agency. Power forwards in the same price range this offseason would be among the likes of Marcus Morris Sr (16.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg in 2020) Derrick Favors (9.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg in 2020), and Montrez Harrell (18.6 ppg 7.1 rpg in 2020).
Sign a Suitable Backup Guard Who Can Play Extended Minutes
Like I mentioned earlier, a scary trend for this team has been the absence of John Wall in the past three seasons. Another trade that I believe set the Wizards back years was trading backup guard Tomas Satoransky to the Chicago Bulls in 2019. Satoransky proved that he could play mid to above average basketball as a replacement for John Wall and keep the team afloat. Ever since the Satoransky trade, the Wizards have missed that guy off the bench who can play extended minutes to lighten the load on John Wall and even start in his absence and keep the team playing at an adequate level.
The man who primarily served that role this past season was Shabazz Napier, who played very well averaging 24 minutes, 10.7 points and 4.7 assists per game. Napier becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason but would be worth looking into re-signing him, as he proved he is very suitable for the position and would not cost much against Washington’s salary cap.
If the Wizards are unable to re-sign Napier, they will have to look for a suitable replacement in free agency. Suitable guards that would be in the Wizards price range would include DJ Augustin (10.5 ppg, 4..6 apg in 2020), Rajon Rondo (7.1/3.0/5.0 in 2020), Michael Carter-Williams (7.2/3.3/2.4 in 2020), Emmanuel Mudiay (7.3/2.2/2.3 in 2020) and PJ Dozier (5.8 ppg, 2.2 apg in 2020). All of them have proven to be great off the bench for their respective teams and I think any five of them can be the safety net that the Wizards need barring any significant time lost to injury from John Wall.
Continue to Develop and Add Depth to Our Big Men
What has been lacking during the Wall/Beal era in Washington is a true consistent center that can take over a game if need be. The closest the Wizards have had to that has been Marcin Gortat from 2013-2018, a span that saw Washington’s only four playoff appearances since Wall was drafted by the team in 2010. I truly believe they have that center now in Thomas Bryant, who averaged 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, and has proven that he can go for 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night.
Washington has also built up their 4 and 5 positions considerably with the acquisitions of Rui Hachimura (3rd Team All Rookie, 13.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg in rookie season), Moritz Wagner (8.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in second year) and Davis Bertans in the 2019 offseason. Hachimura and Wagner are both under contract through the 2022-2023 season, and I have expressed my interest earlier this article in re-signing Bertans. The Wizards also have center Anzejs Pasecniks (5.8 ppg and 4.0 rpg in first season) under contract through 2023 who they can develop but I have a feeling the 2017 first round pick could be a player that can easily be easily cut, traded, or released if he does not see significant improvement in his first full season with the team after coming over from Latvia last year.
If the Wizards really wanted to make a splash they could go for a big name free agent center such as Tristan Thompson (12.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg in 2020) but I just don’t think they have the cap situation to do so nor do I think it’s the correct route. I say add depth to the centers by adding a low cost veteran such as Alex Len (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 2020), Nerlens Noel (7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg in 2020) or Aron Baynes (11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg in 2020) who can add some experience and defensive presence in our front court next season.
I don’t think the Wizards are that far away from a potential run in the playoffs, I really don’t. The Heat proved last season that you can can still win in the Eastern Conference with one superstar and a lot of other guys playing their roles and stepping up when they’re needed. The Wizards have two superstars on their team and a lot more talent on this roster than I think people around the league realize.
If Washington addresses the key points I laid out in this article I truly believe the Wizards can be contenders in the Eastern Conference the upcoming season and in years to come.