beal wall
Getty Images

Three questions the Washington Wizards must answer this season

Leave a comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 49-33, advanced to the second round of the playoffs but fell in seven games to Boston.

I know what you did last summer: John Wall was dreaming big, he was trying to recruit Paul George to come to Washington. It’s a nice thought, but the Wizards never had the cap space or assets to come close to a deal for another star player. What the Wizards could do was lock up their own and make small moves to try to improve a 49-win team. Wall got a four-year, $170 million contract extension that keeps him in Washington through his prime. When Brooklyn came in with a $106 million offer for Otto Porter the Wizards matched it, not that they had much of a choice — it was match or create a massive hole in their roster (without the money to replace him with anywhere near the same quality). The Wizards got Tim Frazier for the 52nd pick to give them some needed help at the point behind Wall. Mike Scott is a bit of a gamble but a low-cost one and maybe he can be a stretch four. They picked up Jodie Meeks, who if he’s healthy can knock down shots.

THREE QUESTIONS THE WIZARDS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will there be any help off the bench this year? Last season the Wizard’s bench play was flat-out terrible. Don’t take my word for it, Marcin Gortat said they had one of the worst benches in the league. Or, think back to the playoffs when the Wizards were falling to the Celtics in Game 7 and Wall was obviously exhausted, walking back on defense, but Scott Brooks couldn’t take him out for a rest because he didn’t trust anyone off the bench for even a few minutes.

To help, Washington picked up Tim Frazier as a backup point guard this summer, he is solid and will be better than Trey Burke was last season (or Brandon Jennings, who was brought in to take Burke’s minutes mid-season because Burke was that bad). Jodie Meeks was signed this summer and can space the floor and knock down shots if he’s healthy. Mike Scott maybe plays some minutes as a stretch four.

However, what the Wizards are really counting on to help the bench this season is internal improvement. Kelly Oubre should take a step forward going into his third season, have a good one and he can push for a contract extension next summer. Tomas Satoransky was up and down as a rookie and faded as the season went on, hopefully his shot can improve and he can contribute more. Then there is Ian Mahinmi. If his knees let him — and he recently had another surgery on them — he certainly can help get some stops off the bench, providing a presence in the paint.

Notice there is a lot of betting on health and players developing, still if a couple of those bets pay off the bench will be less of a black hole than a season ago. However, it’s likely still going to be a weakness and the Wizards will lean heavily on a strong starting backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal.

2) Can the Wizards play more consistent defense? For the month of January last season, the Wizards had the sixth best defense in the NBA allowing 103.5 points per 100 possessions, and not so coincidentally they went 12-4 that month. After the All-Star break last season, the Wizards were the fourth worst defense in the NBA, allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions (worse than the Kings without DeMarcus Cousins, worse than the tanking Suns, and worse than the Knicks). They were just above .500 in that stretch.

The Wizards are capable of good defense, but they don’t bring it night in and night out. This is a team that is by far at its most dangerous when Wall is leading them in transition, but for the best running teams (including the current Warriors) that starts with stops and steals on the defensive end. If Washington gets more stops, Wall gets out in transition more often, and the Wizards are just better.

With most of the same players back in the same system, an improved defense will be more about focus and effort than some dramatic change. Coach Scott Brooks has to get through to them and get them focused on that end.

3) Is Kelly Oubre ready to step up? Earlier in this preview we talked about how the Wizards are banking on internal development to push them past the 50-win mark and deeper into the playoffs. The biggest question here is Kelly Oubre. There was a time when some around the Wizards thought he could develop into a guy who would push Otto Porter and give them more wing options, but last season Oubre played 20 minutes a night scoring 6.3 points and pulling down 3.3 rebounds a contest. He shot 28.7 percent from three and had a single digit PER of 9.1. His defense gives him some value (he can defend pretty well on the wing), but last season he was still a slightly below average NBA player.

This is his third year and the Wizards are counting on him to take a big step forward. Do it, and he can start to push for a contract extension next summer, but he’s got a lot to prove first. If he’s going to be a quality 3&D guy in the NBA, he has to shoot better than the 28.7 percent he did from deep last season. His defense can get him on the court, but he needs to score more consistently to stay there. In theory, and improved Oubre could play in a small lineup with Porter and Morris, and that would have potential. But Oubre has to be more of an offensive threat for any of that to work.

It’s a tight market recently, and teams are not paying on potential the same way they used to. Oubre needs to show he’s ready for the next step, then the rest of it will fall in line for him.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

image

The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens
Leave a comment

Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
3 Comments

Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer
Leave a comment

The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.