May 13, 2016, 12:00 pm
After upsetting the Raptors and pushing the Hawks to six games in the 2015 playoffs, the Washington Wizards looked a team ready to break out. They found a new small ball identity during their playoff run, which they hoped would carry them back to NBA respectability prior to the summer of Kevin Durant. Instead they floundered. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem explains why the Wizards struggled in 2015-16.
It took until the first round of last year’s playoffs before Randy Wittman unleashed Paul Pierce at the four, and in doing so he reinvented the Wizards on the fly. By dotting the floor with shooters around John Wall and Marcin Gortat, Washington opened up their offense and played to the strengths of their best player. The results were dynamic against Toronto, and helped to galvanize the offense even after John Wall injured his hand in the second round.
Paul Pierce opted-out of the last year of his deal last summer, but that move alone didn’t derail the Wizards hopes of becoming a pace-and-space power in the East. The team traded for Jared Dudley – who had proven a capable small ball power forward in Milwaukee – in the hopes of replicating their playoff success. A starting five boasting Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Dudley and Gortat seemed well equipped to compete for a seed in the upper half of the Eastern conference.
The team crumbled, however, and finished just 41-41 on the season, as John Wall’s efficiency regressed and Beal played just 55 games. The end result was a team that floundered offensively, struggling to find new wrinkles on that end of the floor despite finishing an impressive 5th in defensive efficiency. The Wizards slouched their way to a 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
After a year of frustration how Washington attempts to right the ship, especially when faced with Beal’s looming restricted free agency, makes them a team to watch this offseason.
For years the primary knock against Wittman centered on his lack of creativity, and it showed in 2015-16. While the Wizards were sound on defense, their inability to generate shots dropped their offensive efficiency rating to 19th. Some of these woes can be blamed on Washington’s general lack of outside shooting, but they were overly dependent on John Wall creating offense out of thin air to score consistently.
After missing the playoffs, the Wizards finally decided to move on from Wittman, ushering in the Scott Brooks era in our nation’s capital. Brooks was much maligned at the end of his tenure in Oklahoma City, and he may not be the most creative coach on the offensive end, but his strong track record of player development and sound defensive principles make him an interesting fit for the Wizards.
ADP: 12/16 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 11/19 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 11/22 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 77
Despite the Wizards’ lost season, Wall’s fantasy owners had little to complain about in 2015-16. His field goal percentage dipped a bit (down to 42.4%), and he continues to be one of the league leaders in turnovers (4.1 per game in 2015-16), but Wall improved in nearly every other statistical category and finished higher than ever before on the player rater.
With the ball in his hands Wall might be the fastest player in the league not named Russell Westbrook, and his court vision – coupled with his ability to get into the paint at will – makes him special. When he’s able to turn the corner on the pick-and-roll Wall creates chaos, and the extra attention he draws from defenders led to an embarassment of corner threes for Beal and Porter.
Wall averaged 19.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.5 triples and 0.8 blocks, continuing his run as one of fantasy’s premier point guards. His combination of points and assists is among the best in the league, and that’s before owners factor in his exceptional rebounding and defensive stats. Wall was the 6th best rebounding point guard in the NBA and led the position in blocked shots per game, making him as versatile as any guard in the association.
As a fantasy asset, Wall presents an exceptional blend of athletic upside and safety. The turnovers are a sunk cost, and by accepting them owners benefit immensely from his blend of traditional point guard stats and out of position contributions in rebounding and blocks. Given his combination of durability, youth, and current production, it’s hard to imagine seeing Wall fall out of the first round in eight category leagues next fall.
ADP: 93/52 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 39/31 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 49/33 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
With the exception of one down year in Phoenix, Gortat has been a fantasy stalwart over his last five seasons. He took another step forward this season, largely as a result of the Wizards’ decision to deploy smaller lineups more frequently, as the team transitioned to a pace-and-space offensive philosophy. Without another traditional big clogging the lane Gortat was able to play downhill in the pick-and-roll, as he combined with Wall to form the most consistent and efficient component of the Wizard’s offense.
Gortat’s counting stats were impressive across the board, as he averaged 13.5 points, nearly 10 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. Gortat has always been a consistent shot blocker and rebounder, and while the assists and steals don’t necessarily jump off the page they are meaningful contributions from the five spot. He also shot a dynamite 56.7% from the floor and didn’t hurt you at the line, where he’s been able to shoot above 70% for the last two seasons.
Finding a center who helps out across the board without having a negative impact on your free throw percentage is rare in fantasy, making Gortat all the more valuable. He slid on draft day last October because some were skeptical that his second half finish in 2014-15 was unsustainable. Instead of fading, however, he ended up being one of the year’s best bargains.
ADP: 58/81 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 141/148 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 77/93 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 55
Beal missed 27 games while dealing with variety of ailments throughout the season (most notably a stress reaction to his lower right fibula that cost him several weeks), but also showed some signs of growth. He posted career highs in both points (17.4 per game) and field goal percentage (44.9%), and chipped in a steal and nearly two threes per contest.
That said, Wizards fans and fantasy owners alike were again left waiting for Beal to finally break out. He continues to underwhelm as a playmaker, averaging just 2.9 assists compared to two turnovers per game. The upside is tantalizing, but at some point Beal will have to offer more as a distributer if we hope to consider him a fantasy starter.
Additionally, the injuries have become a real concern, as Beal has now played 73 or fewer games in each season of his career. He hasn’t suffered a cataclysmic injury that is guaranteed to slow him down going forward, but the sheer number of lower leg issues should give potential owners pause in October.
ADP: 113/135 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 66/50 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 76/58 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
Porter was one of the steals of the season, grabbing on to Washington’s starting small forward spot and taking an impressive step forward in his third season. His playing time increased from 19.4 minutes per game in 2014-15 to over 30 this year, and his production increased in kind. On the season, Porter averaged 11.6 points, 5.2 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.3 threes.
Porter’s versatility made him a consistent fantasy contributor across the board, buoyed by his strong shooting percentage from the floor (47.2%) and low turnover rate (he averaged just 0.9 per game). Porter is the latest player to remind fantasy owners that points aren’t everything, as his 11.6 per game fail to represent the all-around positive impact he had for fantasy squads. He will likely cost a pick in the middle rounds next fall, as there’s no way he falls outside the top-100 again, but his combination of versatility and room to continue improving make him a tantalizing gamble.
ADP: 78/94 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 158/186 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 140/182 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 64
What a bizarre season for Morris. At the end of 2014-15 he was considered a key part of the Suns future, and the prospect of Morris evolving into a legitimate playmaker at power forward was considered quite likely. That potential wasn’t realized in 2015-16, as an ongoing feud with Jeff Hornacek and the Suns’ organization ultimately led to Morris being shipped to Washington at the trade deadline. Given the turmoil, it’s challenging to know what we should take away from his season from a fantasy perspective.
Morris finished the year with averages of 12 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.7 3pg. Those numbers seem a lot like the versatile totals put up by Porter, but Morris shot a mere 42.5% from the floor and turned the ball over more than twice per contest, making him one of the bigger draft day busts of the season.
To be fair to Morris, however, things did start to rebound in Washington. He saw a marginal jump in his minutes and counting stats, but more importantly experienced a positive regression in shooting percentage as well (rising to 46.7% after the trade compared to 39.7% before). Morris shot 46.5% or better in each of his previous two seasons, so his efficiency with the Wizards is likely the real deal. All told, Morris might have one of the widest range of possible outcomes next season, but his performance late in 2015-16 makes him a prime bounce back candidate.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 124/111 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 160/144 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Dudley was brought in to fill the void left by Paul Pierce, and ended up a meaningful, if low end, fantasy contributor. Averaging 7.9 points, 3.5 boards, 2.1 assists, 1.2 treys, 0.9 steals and 0.2 blocks he showed some good versatility, but fantasy owners will need to check back after he’s signed this summer to assess Dudley’s role and value next year.
ADP: 140/137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 220/228 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 196/207 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 57
There isn’t a lot left to say about Nene at this point: he’s always hurt. Across his 57 games this season Nene posted 9.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks, and frankly didn’t contribute enough to remain on standard league rosters even when he was healthy enough to play. At 33 Nene isn’t exactly brimming with upside, and will likely go undrafted in most leagues next year.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 234/227 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 231/213 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 61
Thornton has always been a one dimensional fantasy player and just didn’t see the playing time in 2015-16 to be relevant outside of very deep leagues. He averaged 9.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.5 threes per game this season, and shot a truly abysmal 39.9% from the floor. A jump in playing time could make Thornton an intriguing three point specialist again, but we’re not counting on it happening next season.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 190/175 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 237/215 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Temple offered little to fantasy owners this season, and actively hurt those who rostered him with his 39.8% shooting. Averaging 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.1 threes, he failed to make an impact in standard leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: / (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: / (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Sessions averaged just 9.9 points, 2.5 boards, 2.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.4 threes per game in 2016-17. In his last season in Milwaukee he maintained value as a low end option for those in need of assists, but he hasn’t seen enough minutes in Washington to crack relevancy in standard leagues.
A year removed from playoff contention finds the Wizards casting about for answers. Barring some miracle in free agency, the franchise is counting on Scott Brooks to help Wall, Beal and Porter reach a new level of excellence. If they can take another step, and Beal can stay healthy, Brooks will get to mold a talented group of young players into one of the East’s more impressive units. If things don’t go as planned, however, 2016-17 could become a referendum on the viability of this core in Washington.