Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Ten games into their year of development, the Wizards’ emphasis is on patience with a young, inexperienced roster. They assembled the league’s seventh youngest roster by dismantling who they were — a veteran-laden group that had grown stale.
This dismantling included decisions not to bring back the majority of rotations players from last year’s roster. Of the 11 players who received 500 minutes or more for the Wizards last season nine were either traded during the 2018-2019 season (Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris, and Austin Rivers), traded during the offseason (Tomas Satoransky), or allowed to depart in the offseason (Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis, Jeff Green, and Trevor Ariza).
While “patience” is the buzzword with the current roster, it doesn’t apply to instant overreactions to ex-Wizards. Pretend if you want, but just like people lurk on their ex’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, fans are paying attention to what their team’s former players are doing.
As the season progresses, we’ll periodically monitor several of the ex-Wizards, updating raw numbers and advanced stats. We’re not here to say the Wizards made a mistake if an ex is playing well or that they made the right choice if they’re having a bad season. Variables beyond on-court production factor into that decision-making process, including the overall direction of the team, financial ramifications of retaining them, fit with the coaching staff, need to change the talent mix, age and the time horizon for the team’s return to competitiveness, player choice and much, much more.
What we want to do is look at the impact each player might have had, if they were substituted for their current replacement in terms of the team’s overall play, record, and forecast.
We also want to have a little fun here. If you’re active on Wizards twitter or message boards, you’ve undoubtedly stumbled across or participated in a heated conversation over some of the Wizards ex’s at some point. We’ll call those players, the “I spent too much time on Twitter talking about them” group.
Prime example: Otto Porter. He was and is a good player, but his usage and involvement in the offense was a multi-season running debate. Was it coaching? Was it Wall? Was it a lack of aggressiveness? Was it health? As the season takes shape, Porter’s performance in Chicago might give us a read on where the arrow should have been pointing because while Wall isn’t playing for the Wizards, he also didn’t follow Porter to Chicago.
On the other hand, Porter at this point isn’t the same player he was even a couple years ago. He’s sustained a few more injuries, and he hasn’t looked quite the same since straining his calf and participating in playoffs games while suffering from untreated compartment syndrome. In other words, his current performance may not say much about what he could have done two or three years ago. That goes for all the exes discussing here.
Wall didn’t follow Porter to Chicago, but Satoransky did. The guard’s merits are still debated and he’s probably the most appropriate player to run the “what if?” scenarios because the decision to trade him was made by current general manager Tommy Sheppard, and it was equally plausible and probable that he remained.
Sheppard, who played a large part in bringing Satoransky to the NBA, decided the guard wasn’t worth the mid-level offer he received from the Bulls, and traded him for a couple second round picks.
But, the Wizards could have kept him instead. Sure, he isn’t the type of lead guard preferred by Scott Brooks, but he’d already established himself as a competent, if not dynamic, point guard and he would have provided the team with professional-level guard play, which might have helped evaluate the rest of the roster.
They replaced Satoransky with Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas, who seem to be better stylistic fits with Brooks. Neither player is as good as Satoransky, however, and the Wizards defense with Thomas in the lineup has been historically bad.
Oubre was also a polarizing player. ‘Style over substance’ applies perfectly to his three-plus seasons in Washington. When he flashed, it was spectacular and fun, but a lot of the time, he was just over-aggressive and made poor decisions that resulted in a style of play with little passing, poor shooting, and undisciplined defense.
Oubre may be a guy who grew up a bit because he got traded. While he may work out for Phoenix, it’s possible it would never have happened for him in DC. Ironically, his youthful exuberance and extreme effort is a better fit for this iteration of the Wizards, which is trying to establish a try-hard culture.
We also have the “They were young enough, should they have? Probably not” group. This is where Parker and Portis fall; two players under age 25 who had some moments with the Wizards after coming over from Chicago. Finances were not a key driver in the departure of either player. The team had the ability to keep either, and the cost in Parker’s case in particular was small by NBA standards (two years and $13 million). The organization decided to go in another direction rather than trying to salvage value from the two players they received in return for Porter.
Lastly there’s the “It was time” group. Ariza was good for the Wizards in 2013-2014. Ernie Grunfeld brought him back last season in hopes that veteran leadership and professional defensive effort could change the team’s trajectory and push it back into the playoffs. The magic wasn’t there, however.
Green, the ultimate Wizards killer, came to Washington and was productive for the team last season but at 33 years old, he’s in a reserve role for a contender, which is where he belongs.
Morris was decent in DC, but his level of play declined, and the stretch-four who came to town with a little bounce and energy became a plodder who no longer fit the program. Even if any of these three play well in their new stops, there’s no reason to look back with regrets.
Every team is at least 10 games into the season so here’s our first lurk…umm…look. For reference, the Wizards current offensive rating is 112.4 points scored per 100 possessions, their defensive rating is 114.2, and league average is 107.7. A few additional notes:
- Stats below are on a per 100 possession basis (per Basketball Reference);
- 2018-2019 stats are representative of the respective player’s games played for the Wizards only;
- 2019-2020 stats are for games played through November 15, 2019
- Porter has been on a minutes restriction all season for unspecified reasons, and now is out with a foot contusion. It’s dubious whether this version of Porter would be much help to the current Wizards — his shooting would be a welcome addition, but his defense and rebounding are down. His defens
- Assuming Isaac Bonga and Troy Brown Jr were replaced with Otto Porter’s current production, the Wizards record would be unchanged — perhaps one more win because even a diminished Porter could help this group on defense.
- Oubre got off to a terrific start, but his performance has begun to taper back towards previously established norms. Despite his physical tools and effort, he’s still not an impact defender, in part because he fouls so much. Brown is one of the Wizards’ few plus defenders this season.
- Assuming Isaac Bonga and Troy Brown Jr were replaced with Kelly Oubre’s current production, the Wizards record: unchanged.
- Satoransky isn’t great defensively, but he’d be replacing Thomas, who’s the worst defender in the league, and Smith, who’s lack of size diminishes his effectiveness. This is low bar stuff, but Satoransky at least is tall and rarely gets out of position. On offense, he’s a savvy passer and excellent shooter, and the Wizards would still be rolling.
- Assuming Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas were replaced with Tomas Satoransky’s current production, add a win.
- Parker seems primed to be another example of regression to the mean. In most ways, he’s pretty much the same player he’s been throughout his career, except that he’s shooting an abnormally high percentage around the rim. Maybe that’s a new role with a new team and getting to play with Trae Young. More likely: regression to the mean is coming. Also, his defense is still bad.
- Assuming Davis Bertans were replaced with Jabari Parker’s current production, the Wizards record would probably be unchanged. Few can match Bertans shooting and floor spacing, and that certainly includes Parker. And while Bertans isn’t a plus defender, he’s not a net negative like Parker.
- Portis turned down an extension from the Bulls, which led to him getting traded to Washington. His bet on himself paid off somewhat when he got a sizable contract from the Knicks. Of course, so did seemingly every free agent PF/C. It seemed last season that Portis’ best position was center, even though he’s among the worst effort-giving defenders in the league. He’s playing center in New York, but just hasn’t been much good so far.
- Replace Mortiz Wagner in the lineup with Portis, and…this is one of the toughest ones to call. While Portis has been meh this season, Wagner’s performance has been up and down in extremes. Wagner has rotation potential, but he’s also a turnover and fouling machine, and those negatives count too. Best guess, replacing Wagner with Portis adds a loss so far.
- Morris is following a bad 2018-19 with an equally bad 2019-20. His shooting in Detroit has been good, but his defense? Bad. Rebounding? Poor. Turnovers? Egregious. Fouls? High. He’s marginally better than replacement level so far this season.
- In this exercise, he’d be taking the minutes of Rui Hachimura, who has been as solid as the Wizards could have dreamed. The rookie has a lot of work to do on his game, but he looks like a solid rotation player, at worst.
- Replace Hachimura with Morris, and the Wizards would have another loss or two to this point.
- Green is off to a horrific start in Utah. His three-point shooting has been solid, but he can’t buy a bucket from inside the arc, and the rest of his game is anemic. On one of the league’s best defensive teams, Green rates as a net negative defender.
- Assuming Davis Bertans was replaced with Jeff Green’s current production, the Wizards would be taking a significant step back on both ends of the floor. Bertans’ elite long-range shooting is a key ingredient to Washington’s offense, and Green doesn’t command that kind of respect. And while Bertans isn’t a good defender, he’s significantly better than Green at this point.
- Wizards record: minus two wins.
- Ariza appears to be in the age-related decline portion of his career. He may rally to his usual “about average” performance level, but so far he’s been only a little better than replacement level. His reputation for defense isn’t matched by performance — at least so far this season.
- Replacing Isaac Bonga with Ariza’s current production, and the team’s record would be unchanged.
Overall, the Wizards exes likely wouldn’t have changed the team’s fortunes much if they’d stayed. The lone exception so far is Satoransky, who would upgrade the team’s defense without putting a crimp in their offense.
We’ll take another lurk at the exes in 10 games.