The Wizards acquire Tim Frazier in hopes of boosting their bench

The Washington Wizards acquired point guard Time Frazier from the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday evening in exchange for their second round pick, the 52nd overall. Although Frazier has only been in the league for three seasons, he’s bounced around but has made his mark as a reliable backup point guard.

If you watched the Wizards this year, you know that they desperately need a backup point guard as Trey Burke was a flop, Brandon Jennings didn’t provide much, and Tomas Satoransky has yet to come into his own in the NBA. As a result, John Wall was forced to play heavy minutes during the regular season and in the playoffs.

Frazier comes in hoping to take some of the burdens off of Wall. He isn’t the best shooter but can attack the rim and keeps his teammates involved evidenced by his 5.2 assists in just 23.5 minutes this past season with the Pelicans. He probably won’t leapfrog Satoranksy right away in the pecking order, but will have plenty of opportunities to do so as the season rolls along.

Trade Grade: A-

This trade was a huge win for the Wizards as they acquired a pretty reliable backup point guard for next to nothing. Most second round players never make it to an NBA roster let alone provide a spark for a team. So the fact that the Wizards were able to give up a low-level pick for a reliable player making just $2 million per year makes this trade a big win for the Wizards.

Yes, they won’t have a pick in this upcoming draft, but hopefully, they’ve filled a void that they’ve been searching for, for a very long time.

The Warriors are sitting back laughing as the rest of the NBA is in scramble mode

The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in three years on June 12th. And ever since that day, every team not named the Warriors is scrambling to try and play catch up. The blueprint is out on how to win a championship. Just years ago, a “Big 3” would be enough to get the job done. But as we just recently saw, having three all-stars including LeBron James, was barely enough to keep the Cavaliers from getting swept which would have been the ultimate embarrassment.

A “Big 4” is now required to compete for a championship. And as a result, teams are in full-on scramble mode in trying to orchestrate a team that will give them a fighting chance against the Golden State Warriors over the next few years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made three-straight finals appearances and won one of them. However, in the owner, Dan Gilbert’s mind, that plus “disagreement on the direction of the future” led to the termination of General Manager, David Griffin.

Let’s think about that. A General Manager who made the finals three straight times and under extreme circumstances (having to consult LeBron James on every decision) still wasn’t enough to warrant an extension.

Now that Cleveland is aware that a “Big 3” of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving isn’t enough to compete with the Warriors, they’ve started reaching out to the Pacers and Bulls to gauge the interest of Paul George and Jimmy Butler respectively.

Even with Cleveland’s success, the Cavaliers are still left scrambling as they were trying to acquire star Jimmy Butler from Chicago. After it felt like Kevin Love had found his niche with the Cavs, he’ll now be the centerpiece in all trade talks that the Cavs are involved with.

And remember the Lakers? The lowly Lakers who finished 26-56 this past season? Well, they’re just as much in the mix as Cleveland is. Just last night, The Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov (salary dump) to the Nets in exchange for Brooke Lopez and their first round draft pick.

This is significant because with the Lakers expected to draft Lonzo Ball on Thursday night’s draft, they’ve now cleared up roughly $60 million in salary cap space which will allow them to sign one and potentially two max deal free agents in the summer of 2018.

Now that Paul George has made it clear that he’s leaving the Pacers after next year to go to the Lakers, teams are in a bind debating whether they should take a shot on the all-star for one year knowing that he’ll leave or just stay away altogether. About a half a dozen teams are interested in George but realistically, he’s going to be in either a Pacers, Cavaliers, or Lakers uniform next year.

And remember that Lebron James guy? He can also opt out of his deal in the summer of 2018 and has been linked to the Lakers on several occasions. Now the Lakers have the cap space necessary to sign both James and George next summer including other aging stars if they are willing to take pay cuts to form yet another super-team.

To recap: A GM who won a title just one year ago has been fired. The best player in the league is unsettled with the firing of his GM and now looks more likely than ever to leave for L.A. after next year. A perennial all-star has demanded out of his current situation. The Lakers have cleared an enormous amount of cap space to make a run at one, maybe two more free agents. And the NBA season ended just nine days ago.

Not to mention, the Celtics could potential land Blake Griffin or Gordon Hayward. The Clippers are now shopping De’Andre Jordan. And the Knicks (yes the Knicks!!!) have started shopping Kristaps Porzingis to gauge the interest level of other teams.

And why all the chaos? Because how the hell else are you going to beat the Golden State Warriors?

What should we make of the Washington Wizards season?

As the Golden State Warriors made quick work of the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night winning the championship in five games, we can officially put a bow on the 2016-2017 season. Yes, the Wizards’ season ended weeks ago but rather spitting out a bunch of hot takes after their Game 7 loss to Boston, I decided to let the tide settle to take a clearer, more holistic approach.

Was the Wizards’ season a success?

The short answer to this question is no. Now before you line up at my apartment with pitchforks, let me explain. The entire offseason, Wizards’ players, mainly Wall, kept stating that the goal of this season was to make the Eastern Conference Finals. However, for the third time in four years, Washington was bounced by the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. So based solely off of Wall’s statements, I wouldn’t call this a failure but rather the Wizards did come up short of their goal of appearing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With that being said, although the season wasn’t a success by the team’s standards, there were many improvements that they can tip their cap on. Some of these improvements include a career-high 52-point scoring outburst by John Wall against the Magic on December 6th, Bradley Beal turning into a borderline All-Star AND staying healthy for an entire season, a 17-game winning streak at home, Otto Porter ranking in the top-5 of three-point shooting for the season, capped off by the team winning 49 games, the most since 1979.

What do we make of the current roster?

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the cornerstones of this franchise as they’ve proven that they can lead and carry a team. But what about everyone else? It took a while but patience paid off as Otto Porter made the fourth season of his young career the best and is now likely looking at a max deal this summer (more on that later). Markieff Morris showed that he can be a very nice role player when motivated and engaged the issue is, keeping his motor turned on. And lastly for the starters, Marcin Gortat’s production dropped this season but the numbers indicate that it was more so due to his lack of touches and offensive opportunities rather than his sheer production.

And that brings us to the bench. The bench unit wasn’t just bad this year, they were historically bad. In what looked like a move to finally find that ever coveted backup point guard that the Wizards have been missing for years, that flopped as Trey Burke quickly found himself out of the rotation before the new year. After whiffing on Al Horford and Kevin Durant this offseason, the front office overpaid Ian Mahinmi in hopes that he could be a rim protector for the second unit. Unfortunately for Mahinmi, he was riddled with injury and played in just 31 regular season games and five of 13 playoff games without having much of an impact.

Jason Smith had a very slow start to the season but had his moments midway through the year where he was nearly automatic from the midrange only to go AWOL in the playoffs. While Kelly Oubre showed signs of improvements but clearly has a long ways to go still in his development. After overpaying for the last guy on in the bench in Andrew Nicholson, the Wizards were able to unload his deal but had to give up their first round pick in the process. Lastly, Bojan Bogdanovic, who was the other player in the Nicholson trade, showed that he can score in bursts but isn’t the most consistent player nor does he enjoy playing defense all too much.

What should the Wizards do this offseason?

The Wizards enter one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s history with very little cap space to maneuver many deals. It’s possible that we might look back at the 2017 summer and say to ourselves “that was the offseason which kept the core players intact” or “that was the offseason which ultimately led to John Wall’s departure”.

With the cap expected to jump again to $102 Million, the Wizards already have $89 Million tied up in roster salaries. Assuming the Wizards cut Trey Burke, the Wizards would have roughly $85 Million tied up in roster salaries with Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic set to hit the restricted free agent market.

Washington needs to re-sign Porter and do so before another suitor offers him a max deal (which the Wizards can match) but will likely be much higher than the Wizards original deal (remember Brooklyn’s offer to Allen Crabbe in 2016?). Porter has proven to be a knockdown shooter as he connected on 43 percent of shots from distance this season, the fourth-best in the league. And ultimately, he’s proven to be the ultimate glue guy who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t need plays called for him, makes all of the hustle plays, and still manages to stuff the stat sheet.

It isn’t ideal that the Wizards give him a max deal as he doesn’t fit the mold of a typical max player, however, if the Wizards don’t re-sign him, they’ll have a huge hole to fill.

What’s the biggest question mark going into next season?

The bench, and more specifically, how do the Wizards upgrade their reserves without spending a ton of money? If Porter receives a contract for say $20 Million per year, that would put the Wizards roster at $98 Million, just 4 million under the cap. They’d still have to figure out what to do with Bogdanovic as well as what to do at the backup point guard position, as that position has been vacant for years.

Rather than throwing a ton of money at Bogdanovic, the Wizards would be best suited in trying to sign a veteran point guard to back up John Wall. In Game 7 of the Boston series, Scott Brooks clearly didn’t trust Brandon Jennings enough to play him at all in the second half forcing Wall to play the entire second half. Wall looked gassed and we all know how that ended.

Therefore, outside of Porter, the Wizards main offseason agenda item needs to be getting a productive backup behind Wall so he’s not forced to play an exhausting amount of minutes.

Where do the Wizards rank in the Eastern Conference?

The Wizards have solidified their spot as the third or fourth best team in the Eastern Conference behind just Cleveland and Boston. Unfortunately for the Wizards, Boston holds the number 1 pick in this year’s draft and also has the cap space to sign a max player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. The Cavs on the other hand, will do whatever they need to, to try and compete with the Warriors. It’s likely that these two teams will get better this offseason while the Wizards will essentially stand pat at where they are.

If the Wizards can manage to re-sign Porter at a reasonable price and get a durable and productive backup point guard, that will solidify the Wizards as the third best team in the Eastern Conference heading into next season.

Marcin Gortat had an underappreciated, but uneven season with the Wizards

As the NBA evolves into a shooter’s league, traditional centers are quickly becoming extinct and Marcin Gortat is no exception. Once the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris during the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that the Wizards were shifting their focus away from muscle to spacing. And just this offseason, the Wizards made a run at Al Horford in hopes of putting four shooters around John Wall.

Even though traditional centers are fading away, Marcin Gortat managed to turn in his best season as a Wizard averaging a double-double for the year with 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. On top of that, the 33-year-old was the only Wizards player who played and started all 82 games this season.

Gortat was rock solid for a majority of the season. However, he went through a bit of a slump in late February and March as his numbers dipped to 7.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. This happened to coincide with the Wizards’ team struggles so like years past, Gortat became the punching bag for Wizards faithful.

Things didn’t get easier for Gortat when the Wizards entered the playoffs as he had arguably the hardest individual matchups in both rounds. First, he had to guard the bruising Dwight Howard and then he had to try to lock down the rangy Al Horford.

Gortat struggled to score in the Atlanta series but managed double-digit rebounding numbers in four of the six games (including 18 rebounds in Game 4). In the second round against theCeltics, he was able to move more freely on the offensive end. He notched three double-doubles in the series with double-digit rebounding efforts in six of the seven games.

There’s no denying it, Gortat is getting older, but he’s adjusted to the evolving NBA. He’s not a stat stuffer anymore but performs many little things that don’t show up in the box score. This season, Gortat led the NBA in screens leading to baskets. So although he doesn’t get an assist per se, he’s accounting for a minimum of 12 additional points on a nightly basis.

He continues to make the most of his touches around the rim, making 68.9 percent of his attempts there this season. The issue here is that his touches and shot attempts went down from previous years. He only attempted 8.2 shots per game, the fewest of his career since arriving in Washington.

As the Wizards switched their offensive scheme, Gortat received fewer and fewer touches in the post as most of his points either came on pick-and-rolls or putbacks. In the rare instance that Gortat would get the ball in the post, it often felt like he needed to take the shot as he wasn’t sure when he’d touch the ball next. He struggled on those opportunities, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint and 40.9 percent in the midrange area.

Gortat isn’t in an ideal situation as he’s on the wrong side of 30 playing a position that is slowly dissolving. He mentioned in his exit interviews that he’ll talk with his agent this offseason to see if Washington is the best place for him as it’s clear that the Wizards are looking to get younger and more athletic at the center position.

His season didn’t end on a high note as he became less and less involved in the offense as the season wore on. However, his durability, rebounding, and ability to do the dirty work can’t be questioned.

Kelly Oubre made some improvements, but still has a ways to go

Kelly Oubre Jr. played just six seconds in Game 7 as the Wizards lost to theBoston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And just like that, his season ended the same way it began; with one big question mark.

Coming into the 2016-2017 campaign, the expectation was that Oubre would step into the backup role left vacant as the Wizards opted not to re-sign guys likeGarrett Temple and Jared Dudley. The hope was that the second-year player would slowly morph into a 3 & D player that the Wizards have sought out sinceTrevor Ariza’s departure. And although Oubre did improve from his rookie season, he still has a ways to go.

Even though Oubre struggled to score at times, Scott Brooks often opted to play him over Markieff Morris with the starters to close out games during stretches in December and January. However, when he spent time playing alongside the second unit, he struggled to score.

Although Oubre’s minutes essentially doubled from last season to this season (10.7 to 20.3), his scoring never came around. The second-year player worked with Drew Hanlen this offseason to try and improve his offensive game but it never came to fruition. He averaged more points this season (6.3) but that was due to his increased usage and shot volume.

In what looked like it would be another ho-hum season with just minor improvements, Oubre turned in the best stretch of his career starting with a 16 point and 7 rebound game as the Wizards beat the Cavs, 127-115 on March 25th. That kicked off a stretch where Oubre would average 11.4 points per game over the next 10 games, the best stretch of his career.

Unfortunately, that hot stretch didn’t fully carry over to the playoffs as Oubre’s numbers reverted back to the mean as he averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds; very similar to his shaky and inconsistent regular season numbers.

Now, Oubre enters a very pivotal offseason. Unlike Porter, he will not be forced into a starting role in his third season. That means Oubre will need to continue to make strides in his game keeping in mind that his minutes will probably hover around the 20-minute mark again next season.

In a recent interview, Oubre stated that he’ll be working out with Bradley Beal this summer to work on creating his own shot and setting up others. This seems like a big mistake. Oubre still has not become a knockdown shooter or a lockdown defender. To flourish as a key bench player next season, he’ll have to raise his three-point shooting percentage. His jump shot did look much cleaner this season than when he entered the NBA but the only issue was, it still never went in at a high rate. Shooting 28.7 percent from distance isn’t going to cut it.

Like his rookie campaign, Oubre would either shoot a three-point shot or would try to drive all the way to the hole and finish in traffic. There was an improvement here as Oubre connected on 57 percent of his field goals within eight feet from the hoop, but keep in mind that includes plenty of easy, uncontested dunks off of turnovers. When he tried finishing over seven-footers in halfcourt situations, it often led to poor shot attempts or turnovers before he even got a chance to get a shot up.

In addition, Oubre should focus on improving his perimeter defense. Wizards fans salivate over Oubre’s physical tools as he stands at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, but he hasn’t become a great on-ball defender, yet. He still gambles too often on defense, is overzealous, and commits far too many fouls.

As Oubre enters one of the most important offseasons of his career, he’ll be best suited in trying to hone in his shooting and defense rather than worrying about creating his own shot. Because when it boils down to it, his evolution and ceiling as an NBA player most likely mimics that of Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter more than it does Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.

How the Wizards slowed down Isaiah Thomas in Game 3

Isaiah Thomas burned the Wizards in Boston through the first two games of this series. After a very impressive Game 1 performance where Thomas scored 33 points, he scored 53 in Game 2 with 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. There were a lot of opinions on what the Wizards should do to stop the little giant and in Game 3 on Thursday night; the Wizards made all of the right adjustments.

First off, the Wizards made Thomas work on the defensive end. If Thomas was guarding Wall, the Wizards would run the pick-and-roll with Gortat as the 5’9 Thomas could not fight over that mountain of a screen.

Once Washington exploited that matchup, coach Brad Stevens moved Thomas onto Bradley Beal. Scott Brooks countered this by running Beal off of screens. Once again, Thomas was put in a position where he had to fight through a Gortat screen and Beal was able to cash in with easy jumpers.

Lastly, the Celtics tried hiding Thomas on Otto Porter. That didn’t work out too well either. In Game 2, Wall, Beal, and Kelly Oubre tried posting up Thomas with only Wall having any real success. Last night, Washington ran isolation plays for Porter to catch the ball at the elbow, clear out the strong side of the court, and let the taller Porter go to work. Porter capitalized with two post-up jumpers he was able to get up without much of a challenge:

Defensively, Washington made several adjustments that threw Thomas off of his game. He finished the night with just 13 points on 3-8 shooting and missed both of his three-point attempts.

The game plan in the first half was the same as Game 1 & 2. Wall and Beal went over screens as the Wizards did not want to relinquish any clean three-point attempts. And while that strategy worked in the first half, they added another adjustment to keep Boston from making a comeback in the second half.

Bradley Beal was the primary defender on Thomas in the third quarter and the Wizards played him differently as a result. Markieff Morris or Marcin Gortat would show, allowing the screener to roll and forcing Thomas to go around the screen as the defender recovered or try to split the defense. As you can see here, the show from Morris allows Beal to recover enabling him to catch up with Thomas.

This is something that Washington did not do in Games 1 and 2.

Lastly, the Wizards exerted a great amount of desperation and hustle plays that we weren’t seeing in prior games. Back in Boston, when a high screen-and-roll was set, Wall and Beal looked like they were blindfolded running through a forest as they ran right into screens and gave up on the play shortly thereafter. This allowed Thomas to shoot open threes and pull up in the midrange where he is very dangerous and effective. That was not the case Thursday evening as rotations were crisp and players were able to recover resulting contested shots around the rim.

The Wizards played with an edge and tenacity on defense that was absent in Games 1 and 2. In fact, this was the first time since January 27th that Washington held an opponent under 90 points.

Now the Wizards have a blueprint that they can use and continue to add new wrinkles to in order to keep Thomas boxed in. It’s no easy task, but it’s pretty clear that if you can shut down Thomas, you can shut down the Celtics’ offense. If the Wizards make Thomas work hard on the defensive end and throw a bunch of different looks at him on the offensive end, it’ll give the Wizards a much better chance to win Game 4.

Kelly Oubre is playing the best basketball of his career and the timing couldn’t be better

Kelly Oubre has shown the Wizards faithful what he’s capable of in brief spurts during his two years in Washington but over the past few weeks, he’s finally strung together a series of strong performances for the first time in his NBA career. The timing couldn’t come at a more opportune time as the Wizards gear up for a deep playoff run and need more contributions from their bench to compensate for Ian Mahinmi’s injury.

After being a healthy scratch against the Mavericks on March 15, Oubre has shown everyone why he needs to be an important part of Washington’s rotation. After some solid spot performances in mid-March, his breakout game came on March 25th when the Wizards went to Cleveland on the second half of a back-to-back and beat the Cavs, 127-115. John Wall and Bradley Beal were the stars of the show, but it was Oubre who provided a spark off the bench with 16 points on 7-8 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and a steal.

Defense has never been the problem for Oubre. Yes, he tends to gamble for steals a little too often but for the most part, is a very good defender considering this is just his second season in the league. Oubre uses his long arms to lock guys down and deflect passes that either force the opposing team to reset their offense late in the shot clock or force turnovers. Since his breakout game in Cleveland, he’s averaging four deflections per game, the eighth-best mark in the league. All seven players who averaged more deflections also played more minutes per game than Oubre.

Not only has his defense picked up a notch, but he’s become a much better scorer, particularly from inside the arc. When Washington drafted Oubre, they thought that he’d turn into the 3 & D guy to replace the void left by Trevor Ariza. While he’s struggled with his three-point shot all season (29 percent), he is becoming much more effective in attacking the hole and with his midrange jump shot.

Prior to this recent run, if Oubre wasn’t shooting a three-point shot, he was driving all the way to the hole and trying to finish in traffic. Far too often, he would wind up taking a contested shot over a 7-footer or get rejected at the rim. After shooting just 30 percent from the midrange area most of the season, Oubre has started to show promise in the mid-range area. As his confidence grows, Brooks is starting to run plays for Oubre to curl off a screen and catch-and-shoot in the midrange.

This is a nice compromise that keeps Oubre engaged offensively in an area where he can be effective, and keeps him out of trouble near the paint. Yes, the sample size is small, but over the last 10 games, Oubre has upped his two-point field goal shooting from 50.3 percent to 57.6 percent.

Is this the new Kelly Oubre that we should all become accustomed to? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, he’s putting together his best stretch of play at the best possible time for Washington.