WASHINGTON — The Wizards bench is among the worst reserve units in basketball, almost everybody will agree.
The Wizards’ reserves are minus-114 so far this season, the fifth-worst mark in the NBA, and they have a netRTG of minus-5.6, the fourth-worst mark in the NBA. The only benches arguably worse than Washington’s are those of the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers — none of those teams has won even 22 games, while the Wizards have won 33 games.
And that’s all while playing the fewest minutes of any bench unit in the league.
The return of backup center Ian Mahinmi, who has started to make his way back from a lengthy knee injury, should provide a boost. However, he’s a defensive-minded player who offers rim protection and an interior presence, but little on the offensive side of the ball. While the defense definitely needs to be improved — Jason Smith has his skills, but rim protection isn’t one of them — the offense is also a problem. Trey Burke and Tomas Satoransky have both spent time running the point, with Burke the primary ball-handler, but neither have thrived in the role, and the offense has remained stagnant.
Washington desperately needs a player who can initiate offense for the reserves. Burke isn’t a good enough or willing enough passer, and Satoransky is a capable passer who doesn’t draw defenses because of his weak jump shot and hesitation to shoot. Kelly Oubre is a valuable piece for the second unit, but he is still learning how to create for himself.
John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing huge minutes and have carried the Wizards all season, but they can’t keep playing as much as they are; Wall is playing 36.6 minutes per game while Beal is playing 34.4 per game, each the second-highest of their careers. In addition, Marcin Gortat, who turns 33 on Friday, is playing a career-high (by far) 34.5 minutes per game, a rate that seems unsustainable.
Only 27 players average at least 34.4 minutes per game this season, and three of them are on the Wizards, per Basketball-Reference.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks was asked about his bench during his weekly call with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan Thursday morning, and while he did his best to not throw his guys under the bus, he acknowledged he and GM Ernie Grunfeld have looked into a possible upgrade.
“I know you don’t have control over trades and stuff like that,” Jason “Lurch” Bishop began, noting the Toronto Raptors’ addition of Serge Ibaka as competition. “But your bench hasn’t given you the production that you’d hoped, you’re playing your starters a lot, your starting five is legit, but is that something you’re thinking about, adding a piece? Do you think that’s going to happen?”
“Well that’s definitely something that Ernie and I have talked about, and continue to talk about. It’s hard to make trades in this league. There’s a lot of rumors every year, this time of the year, and the summer before the draft, those are all a lot of rumors. But very rarely trades happen. But we’re definitely going to look, always, to make our team better, but I’m comfortable with our group. I know our bench has played pretty good. … We’ve won a lot of games because we have a pretty good team.”
For Wizards fans, it’s certainly reassuring that Grunfeld and Brooks are investigating a potential trade. The concern is that Washington will mortgage its future for a chance to win now, but with the Wizards threatening to make a run at the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in decades, perhaps the front office will go all in on the 2016-17 season.