Blake Griffin not a fit with the Wizards

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin opted out of his contract this weekend, becoming a free agent and sparking talk about which teams should pursue the five-time All-Star.

The Wizards have been discussed as a team that should consider Griffin, even with how tight the cap situation is in Washington. From a positional standpoint, the move would make sense. Griffin is an upgrade over Markieff Morris in almost every aspect of the game – he’s a better scorer, rebounder, and pick-and-roll defender. Morris is a marginally better post defender and three-point shooter, but the differences are negligible.

The problem with this comparison, however, is Morris is under contract for another two seasons. Griffin wouldn’t be replacing Morris unless the Wizards could find a trade partner first. Secondly, the Wizards would have to let Otto Porter walk, as his demand for what will likely be close to a max contract wouldn’t be an offer the Wizards could make in addition to a Griffin max.

In this scenario, you end up with Griffin at power forward, and Kelly Oubre would take over as starting small forward. While Oubre’s potential is tantalizing, one thing he may never give the Wizards is the ability to shoot the three at the rate Porter did last season. Suddenly, the slight decrease in three-point shooting from Morris to Griffin becomes more glaring.

With a point guard in John Wall, whose strength isn’t the long ball, a need for shooters around him is extremely important. Leaving Bradley Beal as the only real threat from three in the starting lineup seems like a move backwards in the realm of today’s game, not forward.

The only way acquiring Griffin would work to push the Wizards forward as a true contender in the East is if Griffin and Oubre both improve as three-point shooters, the Wizards find a way to keep Porter, or they find a cheaper replacement at small forward. Otherwise, chasing Griffin may not be in the best interest for this particular team.

Wizards sign Kris Jenkins, Marcus Keene to summer deals

Watching the NBA Draft as a fan of a team with no picks isn’t nearly as fun as when your team does have the pressure of getting it right; just ask any Wizards fan after the team went a second straight year without drafting.

But following the draft, things got interesting for Washington by way of undrafted signees. The Wizards scooped up Villanova forward Kris Jenkins and Central Michigan guard Marcus Keene for the summer.

Jenkins may be familiar to D.C.-area sports fans from his time as Gonzaga College High School after being adopted by the family of Upper Marlboro-native and University of North Carolina guard Nate Britt. Jenkins entered the national consciousness when he hit a buzzer beater against Britt and the Tar Heels to win the 2016 NCAA championship game.

People may not be as familiar with Keene because of where he went to school, but all he did last season was lead the nation in scoring at 30.0 PPG.

The reasons why each wasn’t drafted are physically obvious. At 6’6″, Jenkins is the rare undersized small forward. He can shoot the lights out when he’s feeling it but may be a little too unathletic to play shooting guard. Jenkins will likely be a bench specialist if he ever makes a regular-season NBA roster. Having his former Villanova teammate, Daniel Ochefu, on the Wizards’ roster should help make him more comfortable going into the summer

Despite being nearly unstoppable in college last season, Keene is a miniature 5’9″. He has drawn comparisons to Isaiah Thomas, who showed potential early in his career but took a few years to develop into the All-Star player he was last season.

Keene and Jenkins each have the potential to carve out roles in the NBA, but it will require a team to have the patience to allow them to adjust to the game. Neither is a lock to make this roster, but if they show some flashes on the court who knows what happens.

Update: Wizards also reportedly signed Florida forward Devin Robinson.

Wizards trade No. 52 pick for Tim Frazier

Ahead of Thursday’s draft, the Wizards traded their only pick, No. 52 overall, for Pelicans guard Tim Frazier.

Frazier is likely coming in to compete as the primary backup to John Wall and immediately becomes the favorite with Trey Burke and Brandon Jennings both headed for free agency. Even in the unlikely event Jennings and/or Burke did return, Frazier would still be the best option based on how they all performed last season.

Still, this isn’t a move Wizards fans should be overly excited about. If anything, Frazier only serves as a player who can be plugged in right away and won’t have to adjust to the speed and nuances of the NBA the way a 2nd-round draft choice would. But one thing a draftee may have provided that Frazier can’t is potential and a high ceiling.

At this point in his career, Frazier probably is who he is. Last season, he played in a career-high 65 games, with a career-high 35 starts, and shot just 40% from the field. That number aligns with his 3-year career’s average, as did his 31% shooting from three.

Still, Frazier’s shooting is better than what Jennings provided, and his defense is better than Jennings and Burke. Best-case scenario, Frazier finds the form he had when he first arrived to New Orleans after being cut by the Trail Blazers at the end of the 2015-16 season. In 16 games, he shot 45% from the field and 42% from three to earn a full-time promotion from a 10-day contract. His role was more defined at that time, as he only needed to worry about running the second-team offense.

Last season, Frazier’s numbers declined as he was moved to the bench in December and his minutes became more sporadic. With no mistake as to who’s running point in Washington, worst-case scenario for Frazier with the Wizards is he’s slightly better than Jennings and Burke, which is still an upgrade nonetheless.

Wizards a long shot to land Paul George

The Pacers are shopping Paul George, and the Wizards have emerged as a potential trade partner along with the Cavaliers, Clippers, Lakers and Rockets.

George would be a great piece to roll out alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal, who the Wizards wisely wouldn’t move in any deal. Unfortunately, it’s for that same reason Washington is unlikely to land George.

The best deal Washington can offer without involving Wall, Beal or a third team is a sign-and-trade centered around Otto Porter. Moving George likely puts the Pacers in immediate rebuild mode, which makes a small forward with limitations on a near-max contract undesirable.

Indiana’s other suitors all have more reasonable offers to make. The Clippers could package a deal around Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. Individually, neither is as good as Porter at this point in their careers, but Crawford’s contract is only fully guaranteed through next season and Rivers is still young and showing improvement. The Rockets can trade Ryan Anderson, or work a deal around some combination of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley.

Cleveland likely wouldn’t move Kyrie Irving, but Kevin Love is certainly an option and would be the best player any team could offer. The Cavs could also deal any of Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert or Channing Frye.

Similarly the Lakers have a swath of players they could send to Indiana and probably the most desirable youth for a team that might want to rebuild. If the Lakers plan to draft Lonzo Ball, as expected, they may want to make a deal around D’Angelo Russell. They also have Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and the most desirable draft picks of any of these teams.

George has expressed a desire to play for the Lakers once he opts out of his contract next year, but that doesn’t mean another team won’t rent his services for a year with hopes of convincing him to stay longer. If the Wizards were able to acquire George, they would move into the conversation of top two teams in the East, but without another trade partner, they’re probably a long shot to get him at this point.

What’s left for Wizards in regular season with 4 games left

Entering Wednesday, the Wizards sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, already guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors, who currently have an identical 47-31 record and hold the tie breaker for third place, can either gain distance from or swap places with the Wizards in tonight’s game at the Detroit Pistons. But no matter the result, Washington is in a good position with a week left in the regular season.

It’s that very reason some may argue that it’s time for Washington to begin resting a starting unit that has played more minutes than all but one team in the NBA this season. There isn’t much the Wizards can realistically play for in their final four games, so why risk injury and fatigue ahead of the real season? The answer is simple: the things Washington can accomplish are potentially franchise altering and these opportunities don’t come around often in D.C.

50 WINS

It’s no secret the Wizards are in position to win 50 games for the first time since doing it as the Bullets in the 1978-79 season. Reaching this milestone would be a tremendous boost to the perception of the franchise outside of the district and to the overall pride of the fan base within. It would also mean a lot to the players on this roster, who have made it known that winning 50 games is important to them.

The Wizards have already checked off a few milestones this season, including a division title and at least 47 wins for the first time since that 78-79 season. The Bullets lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in the finals that year.

In its final four games, Washington plays the Miami Heat twice, the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. These are teams the Wizards are better than and more than capable of beating, but two of which could still be playing for a playoff spot and won’t go out without a fight. Still, with this monumental goal in sight, the Wizards should make the push for 50. The opportunity isn’t guaranteed to come around again. Washington would become a lot more attractive to free agents and a place its own players would want to stick around.

PLAYOFF SEEDING

The Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers currently hold down the 5-8 seeds in the Eastern Conference, separated by just 2.5 games. Miami, Charlotte and Detroit aren’t far behind. So things at the bottom of the playoff chase can move around just as easy as the top. Furthermore, Washington’s record against those teams currently in is an identical 3-1, so on the surface it would seem fruitless to play for seeding. The Bucks are rolling down this final stretch of season however, and if it was one team of that bunch to avoid it would be them. Chicago’s six wins in the last 10 games are as many as Milwaukee’s, but the Bulls aren’t seen as a threat, even with Dwyane Wade’s imminent return. In fact, Wade’s return may be seen as a hindrance to some. Atlanta has struggled mightily as of late and will be lucky to get in.

Washington still has a long shot to grab a top-two seed, which would ensure home-court advantage at least through the first two rounds. The Wizards need to make that a goal in order to not only take advantage of the second-best home record in the East, but to also get the most favorable playoff matchups. If Washington can’t jump to one or two, it may want three, depending on where Cleveland lands. Where the Wizards are now, they would likely face Milwaukee in the first round, Cleveland in the conference semifinals, and if they got past that, Boston or Toronto would be waiting in the conference finals. Not the easiest road.


CHEMISTRY

A week ago, 50 wins and at least a top-three seed seemed more likely than not. The Wizards were in the midst of a four-game winning streak, including a rout of the Cavaliers. They followed that up with three straight duds against Western Conference playoff teams and have been playing .500 ball over the last 10 games. The previous span of 10 games saw the team go 7-3. The difference in those stretches are a decline in production by the team’s starting unit and a dip in three-point shooting. Markieff Morris is the only starter to have increased his offensive production over the last 10 games, but even he has dropped off dramatically in rebounding. John Wall made a higher percentage of his two-point shots, but his assists are just under 10 a game over that stretch. Still really good, but down from the 11 he averaged over the previous 10 games. It would behoove the Wizards to get that chemistry back between the starting unit as they head into the playoffs, as this team will only go as far as one of the league’s best starting fives will take it. Washington doesn’t want to stumble into the playoffs and have to play a team that likely scratched and clawed to get in and figured it out along the way.

Wizards can win ugly

As John Wall secured an inbound pass in OT of Wednesday’s game against the Nets, it was assumed he would be fouled and hit a couple of free throws to put the game out of reach. Instead, he stepped out of bounds trying to avoid the foul and gave the Nets an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds. Fortunately, Brooklyn failed to hit a tying three-pointer and the Wizards eked out a 114-110 victory in their 2nd consecutive overtime game.

Through 3 1/2 quarters, the Wizards felt like they were in control. Even without Markieff Morris, who sat due to calf tightness, Washington was the better team and played like it. Then, it was as if the Wizards tried to put their superiority on autopilot and coast to a victory – something you can’t do against any team in the NBA – and it almost proved disastrous.

Brooklyn made big shot downs the stretch as Washington struggled to defend the paint. And buckets didn’t come as easily for the Wizards as they did earlier in the game – or even as they did in Monday’s OT loss to Cleveland. Granted, the refs decided not to call fouls late in the game, but it was consistent for both sides.

All that being said, Washington still won the game. It wasn’t due to extraordinary plays or late-game heroics, it was simply from being the better team. They didn’t have to necessarily play as the better team. These are the type of games that Washington would’ve found a way to lose last season, and though moral victories aren’t needed in actual victories, it’s a bonus that the Wizards can incidentally win close games.

It’s very similar to how the Cavaliers beat the Wizards. They didn’t play better, but the team with the better players always seems to get more of the ‘lucky’ bounces and incidental plays. No, the Nets game wasn’t as good as the Cavs game, but it proved the same point in case you didn’t catch it yet. The Wizards aren’t just an avereage team playing good basketball right now; they’re actually a good basketball team.

What can Wizards expect from backup point guard

When it was time for John Wall to catch a breath last season and the second unit rolled into the game, Ramon Sessions was the man called upon to initiate the offense.

Sessions provided the Wizards with a steady and consistent presence, appearing in all 82 games and often giving Washington exactly what it expected from him. Sessions was a penetrating guard, who got to the free throw line often. In fact, Dennis Schroder was the only guard with more games of 20 or fewer minutes and 4+ free throw attempts. Sessions wasn’t a great shooter but knew his limitations and didn’t attempt a lot of long shots. If he couldn’t get to hole, he got the Wizards into their offense, which usually meant dumping the ball into the inside.

Sessions is now in Charlotte, and Washington acquired Trey Burke to assume the duties of Wall’s backup. Burke, the former Michigan Wolverine, has a smaller frame than Sessions and plays a different game. His numbers declined almost across the board in each of his first three seasons in Utah, and now he’s looking to get his career back on track.

One immediate upgrade Burke provides over Sessions is his ability, and more importantly willingness, to score from the outside. Burke shot a career-high 34% on threes last season, which isn’t great, but in 18 fewer games he attempted over twice as many as Sessions (32%). Burke is also 7 years younger and should be able to push the tempo more for the second unit, not that Sessions wasn’t shy about getting into transition.

Burke doesn’t get to the free-throw line nearly as much as his predecessor, but if he’s able to improve on a career 1.6 attempts per game, he knocks them down over 80% of the time. The biggest downgrade going from Sessions to Burke will likely be on the defensive end of the floor where Burke’s defensive real plus-minus was 75th out of 79 qualified point guards, 27 spots behind Sessions.

The change at guard plays into the NBA’s change in offensive philosophy – that guards who play on the perimeter are more efficient than their mid-range counterparts. If Burke can improve defensively, Scott Brooks should be able to put him in positions to succeed on offense. And with Burke’s game still in the development stage, there’s a good chance his best days are ahead of him. The Wizards are hoping those days are more immediate. If not, Burke will have to look over his shoulder for Czech rookie Tomas Satoransky, who will be competing for minutes at both guard spots and small forward. Satoransky’s ability to finish at the rim adds a drive-and-kick dynamic to the second unit that Burke does not. Whether the move to Burke will be an upgrade this season remains to be seen, but the ceiling for what he can become is way higher than Sessions and that’s a good thing.