A GIF combining pictures of the Washington Wizards’ additions ahead of the 2018-2019 NBA regular season. (Photo Credits: Joe Buglewicz/Washington Post; Casey Sapio/USA Today Sports; Devin Roux/Daily Emerald; Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images; Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images; Brett Davis/USA Today Sports; Sam Sharpe/USA Today Sports; Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images; Brad Mills/USA Today Sports; Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports; Steve Dykes/AP Photo; Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)
It’s fair to say the Washington Wizards did not achieve the same success last season that they had seen a year prior. The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Wizards in six games in the first round of the 2018 postseason, following an eighth-placed conference finish by Washington.
Reports of “problems in the locker room” and “fair-weather Wizards” were confirmed after the 2017-2018 season in a press conference with the team’s floor general, John Wall. Wall’s statements hinted at speculation that he and former Wiz center Marcin Gortat had tension off the court, a rumor sparked by a tweet Gortat made midway through last season.
The “Wall Star” analyzed issues that had impeded Washington’s success and requested for the Wizards’ management to deepen the team’s roster over the offseason.
“I think the way the league is going, you need athletic bigs, you need scoring off the bench, you need all of those types of things,” Wall said in an extended interview with media. “We don’t really have an athletic big.
“We got this summer that’s really an opportunity to try to make more switches, then make it a deeper team and a stronger team.”
After an underwhelming playoff performance, in which Washington was outplayed by a deeper, more versatile Raptors squad, the Wizards’ front office took steps forward to fulfill Wall’s request. The team’s General Manager Ernie Grunfeld made new additions that create a revamped, well-rounded Washington team.
It’s time to meet each new player on the team and discuss the abilities and skills they can contribute.
Rookie Ambitions: Washington Selects Troy Brown Jr.
In their first acquisition of the 2018 offseason, the Wizards drafted former-Oregon freshman and guard-forward Troy Brown Jr. with their 15th pick in the the NBA Draft.
The 6’7″ Las Vegas-native, who played at forward for the Oregon Ducks, helped the squad tie for a sixth-placed finish in a Pac-12 conference crowded with talent. Brown played in and started 35 of Oregon’s games last year, missing just one matchup.
Brown did well during his only college season, averaging over 11 points, more than six rebounds, greater than three assists and 1.6 steals per contest. He also played a pivotal role for Oregon, averaging the second-highest number of minutes on the team (31.2 minutes) and the highest two-point shooting accuracy (52.4 percent), according to SportsReference.com.
Brown and the Ducks reached conference-tournament play, but Oregon was eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention after bowing out 74-54 to Southern California. Brown did play in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), helping Oregon defeat Rider University before being beat by Marquette.
Brown was ranked 12th at the end of the season on the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), which represents a player’s final standing within their high school class in a given year. Following a successful season with Oregon, Brown was selected by Ernie Grunfeld and Washington’s front office to become a Wizard.
So what can Brown contribute to the Wiz? Besides Brown displaying ability to get to the line in college, making 105 free-throw attempts, he also showed defensive intensity, something the Wizards have needed as a team for some time.
Brown made over 50 steals with Oregon and grabbed 164 defensive rebounds. He also committed a relatively little amount of personal fouls, 78, averaging just over two per game.
While Brown must improve his field-goal shooting accuracy (44.4 percent in college), namely his three-point accuracy (29 percent with Oregon), he was consistent at the line with the Ducks, making over 74 percent of his attempts.
When the Wizards played their first preseason game against the New York Knicks on Oct. 1, Brown hit two two-point baskets, including a circus shot in overtime. However, he did not score on any of his three three-point attempts, or his one free-throw shot, areas that are key for players to succeed.
Brown did contribute in other ways, though, grabbing seven defensive rebounds and dishing out one assist. Tonight in the Wizards’ preseason game against the Miami Heat, Brown did not receive ample time to contribute, playing just five minutes and recording no points and one assist.
In With Austin, Out with Marcin
Almost two months after the Raptors eliminated the Wizards, the team’s front office decided to trade Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers. In return, the Wiz acquired versatile guard Austin Rivers, who has played at both the 1 (point guard) and 2 (shooting guard) positions during his six seasons in the league.
The 6’4″ combination guard averaged single-season career highs of 15 points, four assists and over two rebounds per game last year. Rivers started 59 games, his most of any season, and played an average of 33.7 minutes per contest, according to BasketballReference.com.
Despite missing 21 games due to a right Achilles injury and concussion, Rivers finished ’17-’18 with his highest single-season averages for three-point shooting percentage (37.8 percent) and steals (1.2). Despite decreases in Rivers’ two-point accuracy (down 30 percent from the year prior) and free-throw shooting average (around 64 percent for the season), he took on a more significant role for the short-handed Clippers squad led by his father, Doc Rivers.
Now that Gortat is gone, what can the addition of Rivers bring to the team? For one, the 25-year-old is able to contribute a keen eye for assists and a stingy defensive presence.
Rivers might also help Washington keep better control of the ball. The Wizards averaged 14.6 turnovers last season, the 18th-most in the league, according to NBA.com. This is an area where the Wiz must improve.
Although Rivers recorded the highest turnover rate of his career, 1.8, he also played his greatest number of minutes during a season. Wall averaged slightly more playing time than Rivers, 34.4 minutes per game in 41 matchups, but committed 3.9 turnovers per contest, over double as many as Rivers.
Washington’s bench was in need of depth, lacking guards who could distribute the ball as effectively and adeptly as Wall. With Rivers, the team may have found just that.
In the Wizards’ first preseason matchup, Rivers played 22 minutes, converting three mid-range shots and scoring one of two free throws. He also collected three rebounds, made three assists and recorded a steal, while making zero turnovers during his playing time.
In 21 minutes against the Heat tonight, Rivers scored five points, including one three-pointer, on eight total attempts. He also made two defensive rebounds, three assists and one steal during the game. The Wizards pulled away down the stretch to win 121-114.
While it is too early to tell if Rivers can make a substantial impact on the Wiz, his game may help boost the bench, and he might be an appropriate backup for Wall.
“Superman” Comes To Play In The District
During the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, all-star center Dwight Howard lit up New Orleans by performing this feat:
Thus providing an explanation for this subhed. Over his 14 seasons in the league, Howard has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds each year, including his last season with the Charlotte Hornets, and been voted an all-star eight times from 2007 through 2014.
Despite the Hornets failing to reach the playoffs in ’17-’18, Howard had an impressive year, averaging over 16 points, 12.5 rebounds and more than one block and one assist per game. The 6’11” Atlanta big man played in all but one game last season, averaging greater than 30 minutes per matchup.
Though Howard is in the middle stage of his career, he is still a reliable player and capable of being an offensive threat. He can still be on-target, converting over 55 percent of his two-point attempts and 57.4 percent of his free throws on average with Charlotte.
Howard certainly can contribute a dominant presence in the paint and on the offensive boards. Fans will not want to miss the opportunity to see him connect on Beal or Wall’s lobs.
Though it has been a while since Howard last gelled with a team, the potential benefits he might bring to the Wizards during his two-year deal in D.C. could be substantial. If Howard succeeds with the Wiz, he would prove his value to the Brooklyn Nets, who have a contract buyout with him, and other squads seeking to sign him later in his career.
Jeff Green Returns Home
Ten-season veteran of the league and Georgetown University alum Jeff Green is coming back to his home region to play. Green signed with the Wizards on July 10 after completing a one-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Despite reaching the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were swept in four games by a more talented Golden State Warriors squad. The 6’9″ power forward played a key role for Cleveland’s reserves last season, contributing nearly 11 points, 3.2 rebounds and over one assist per matchup.
Green averaged 23 minutes of playing time per contest and made an average of 54 percent of his two-pointers, the highest percentage of any season during his career. He also scored an average of 86.8 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Green will bring his abilties to create offense off the dribble, drain free throws and grab defensive boards to the Wizards. In 23 minutes against the Knicks, Green scored eight points, including two free throws, gathered two defensive rebounds and made an assist and a block.
Earlier tonight, Green provided a spark off the bench for the Wizards, scoring 15 points on five-for-seven shooting, making both of his free throws and contributing three rebounds.
If Washington is to consider bringing on Green for longer than one season, he must improve his three-point accuracy this year. Green attempted an average of only 2.2 three-pointers last season, converting just 31 percent of them (less than one on average). Tonight against the Heat, Green connected on three of his four three-point attempts.
Green is still very much capable of making plays, like this one against Ian Mahinimi before the beginning of last season:
“No Limit TB” Looks To Shine In D.C.
The last recent addition to the Wizards is Thomas Bryant, a 21-year-old prospect and former-Los Angeles Laker. Bryant was waived by the Lakers and claimed by Washington on July 2.
Bryant has a relatively fresh start in the NBA because the Lakers assigned him to their G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, for most of the time he spent with them. Bryant signed a multi-year contract with L.A. on July 30, 2017, but he was assigned to the G-League shortly after the season started.
Here is a sample of the work Bryant put in during a Nov. 8, 2017 G-League game, in which he scored 30 points:
Though Bryant was recalled from South Bay to play with the Los Angeles Lakers for 15 games in ’17-’18, he averaged more than 10 minutes of playing time in only one of these contests.
It is not fair to gauge Bryant’s ability to contribute by reviewing the statistics from the limited number of NBA games he played last year. So instead, I am deciding to highlight stats from his season in the G-League.
In 37 contests, 35 of which he started, the 6’11” Indiana University alum averaged nearly 20 points, 7.4 rebounds, over two assists and more than one block per game. Additionally, Bryant scored an average of 59.5 percent of his attempted shots, including close to two converted three-pointers each matchup.
While the NBA clearly is different from the G-League, these numbers for a young player are solid. During the 2018 Summer League, Bryant averaged just over 15 points, nearly nine rebounds and two blocks per contest, and converted 59 percent of his attempted shots.
Tonight, Bryant made the most of his six minutes of playing time. He scored six points on three two-point attempts, including a dunk in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and collected two defensive rebounds.
While he has room to sculpt his playing style and grow comfortable as a contributor, Bryant has demonstrated his ability to make shots, space the floor and protect the rim. Having a talented, young player who the Wizards can help teach and improve is advantageous for Washington.