A detailed preview of the Washington Wizards' bench for the 2017-2018 season.
John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat figure to again be one of the best starting fives in the NBA. With continuity coming off a successful 49-win season (the most since the 1978-1979 Bullets won 54), the starting five have a good chance of leading the Wizards to the much heralded 50-win benchmark in 2017-2018.
While reaching 50 wins would be a major accomplishment for the franchise, winning big in the regular season does not always translate to success in the playoffs. The Wizards have been plagued by second-round exits in three of the last four seasons. Bench deficiencies, such as lack of scoring and dependability, forced head coach Scott Brooks to use his starting lineup configuration in a league-leading 69 games for 19.5 minutes per game (third-most minutes per game for a lineup of any five players).
Bench production, consistency, and dependability will be important for the Wizards if they want to take the next step and land in the Eastern Conference finals. Here is a preview of D.C.’s bench personnel, listed in order of predicted production, consistency, and dependability.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
2016-2017 G: 79; MPG: 20.3; RPG: 3.3; APG: 0.6; SPG: 0.7; PPG: 6.3; PER: 9.1
His highlight dunks, stylish hair, short shorts, artistic vibe, and length make Kelly Oubre Jr. an exciting player, prospect, and sixth man. Oubre proved one of the most valuable pieces off the bench last season, appearing in 79 games and improving most of his traditional statistical splits from 2015-2016. This offensive improvement and evolution (trending toward an aggressive slasher and adequate jump shooter) is welcomed, as Oubre wasted his rookie campaign in former head coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse (playing only 10.7 MPG, many of which were in garbage time). Oubre’s offense will continue to develop and excite, but his active length and quickness on defense is what will be important for the Wizards. Coming off a season in which the Wizards’ defensive rating was 109.3 (tenth worst in Wizards/Bullets history), Oubre’s energy on defense for 20+ minutes each night will be crucial as the Wizards form a defensive identity.
2016-2017 G: 74; MPG: 14.4; RPG: 3.5; APG: 0.5; BPG: 0.7; PPG: 5.1; PER: 13.6
In what might be the most exciting and impressive offseason development for the Wizards, Jason Smith is playing like a stretch big man. Smith shot 40% from beyond the arc in four preseason games, draining four in a game against Miami and three against New York. If this outside shooting proficiency continues, Smith will be a dangerous weapon and matchup problem off the bench. Regardless, Smith was part of the Wizards’ most effective and utilized bench lineups last season, playing +23.9 basketball in 86 minutes with Oubre, Bojan Bogdanovich, Brandon Jennings, and Ian Mahinmi (the most utilized lineup without any starters and fifth-most utilized lineup all year). Expect Smith to make several starts while Morris recovers from sports hernia surgery.
2016-2017 G: 65; MPG: 23.5; RPG: 2.7; APG: 5.2; SPG: 0.9; PPG: 7.1; PER: 12.4
Since he entered the league, John Wall has not had a productive, consistent, and dependable backup point guard. The revolving door of Shelvin Mack (2011-2013), Eric Maynor (2013-2014), Ramon Sessions (2014-2016), and Trey Burke (2016-2017) has forced Wall to play heavy minutes over the years. Tim Frazier, however, may be a stopgap to the Wizards’ backup point guard dilemma. When Pelicans’ starting point guard Jrue Holiday battled injury last season, Frazier stepped in and started 35 games for New Orleans. Despite being hampered by a hamstring strain, Frazier played the final two preseason games, highlighted by a nine-dime game against Miami. A traditional point guard, Frazier will be able to command Brooks’ offensive system without a severe drop off like years’ past.
2016-2017 G: 31; MPG: 17.9; RPG: 4.8; APG: 0.6; BPG: 0.8; PPG: 5.6; PER: 14.1
If fans looked around asking who number 28 was on the Wizards last year, it would be hard to blame them. Mahinmi simply could not stay healthy long enough to productively contribute (he played in only 31 games). Serving as a traditional big man in a small man’s league, Mahinmi’s value is as a rim protector in half-court, closing-minute sets or as a physical enforcer in the playoffs. If Mahinmi can revert back to his 2015-2016 Indiana Pacers splits (translating to a productive 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes over 71 games), he could be invaluable as a pick-and-choose strategic piece and take pressure off Gortat. Many teams don’t have one traditional big anymore. Brooks has the luxury of two.
2016-2017 G: 36; MPG: 20.5; RPG: 2.1; APG: 1.3; BPG: 0.1; PPG: 9.1; PER: 13.1
Remember Jodie Meeks? The guy that shot 40% from beyond the arc with the Lakers in 2013-2014? The guy that posted a respectable 14.7 PER that same year and 14.1 PER with the Pistons in 2014-2015? Jodie Meeks can fill up the basket. If healthy, Meeks will be the primary outside shooter off Brooks’ bench, replacing Bojan Bogdanovich. Brooks played Meeks in every preseason game, allowing Meeks to showcase his outside shooting. Meeks hit multiple threes in three of the five games.
2016-2017 G: 57; MPG: 12.6; RPG: 1.5; APG: 1.6; SPG: 0.5; PPG: 2.7; PER: 8.5
Unlike his Czech Republic teammate and Wizards’ predecessor, Jan Vesely, Tomas Satoransky might be an absolutely necessary piece to a bench that lacks versatility and dimension. A positionless player who can play point guard, shooting guard, and even compete up front against smaller lineups (Sato gets up), Satoransky is going to give Brooks options when parts of his traditional bench struggle or become injured. This versatility will prove invaluable if Frazier has lingering hamstring issues or if Wall needs to sit out for extended periods of time. Also, a competent Satoransky means Beal would not have to play on the ball for extended minutes.
2016-2017 G: 18; MPG: 10.8; RPG: 2.1; APG: 0.9; BPG: 0.2; PPG: 2.5; PER: 5.9
After the failed Andrew Nicholson experiment last season, the Wizards needed another front court player that could provide productive minutes on a nightly basis. General manager Ernie Grunfield signed Scott to fill this role. If Scott can emulate his best season (2013-2014 in Atlanta), the Wizards will be very pleased. Scott scored in double figures 35 times in 2013-2014, once netting 30 points in under 30 minutes. Expect Scott to play extra minutes early this season (in tandem with Smith) as Morris recovers from sports hernia surgery.
2016-2017 G: 16; MPG: 5.0; RPG: 1.2; APG: 0.1; BPG: 0.1; PPG: 2.3; PER: 1.1
Chris McCullough’s 2017-2018 production may be the most difficult to predict. The athletic 6’9” power forward from Syracuse came to Washington with Bogdanovich from Brooklyn last season, but played sparingly. McCullough was bounced back and forth between the D-League (now called the G-League) and the NBA, averaging 16.1 PPG and 7.0 RPG in D-League play. McCullough played heavier minutes in the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League and averaged 7.1 PPG and 5.6 RPG. Whether production can be translated to the NBA remains to be seen. Expect him to be the last big man off the bench.
Felix will serve as the traditional “energy” piece for Brooks. Brooks likes Felix’s competitive spirit and expects him to make players around him better, whether in practice or actual game minutes. Felix outlasted other training camp invites, such as Donald Sloan, to be one of the final Wizards to make the opening night roster. Expect this desperate drive to continue in whatever role he takes.
After a stellar four years at the University of Pittsburgh, where he finished his career as the only player with 1,800 points, 800 rebounds, and 200 assists, Michael Young will serve as one of the Wizards two designated “two-way” players. Young does not figure to make much of an impact at the NBA level this year, but will strive to develop his outside shooting in the G-League.
Devin Robinson will serve as the other “two-way” player for the Wizards. Robinson is a lengthy 6’8” forward that shot 39.1% from beyond the arc in his final season at the University of Florida. Like Young, Robinson does not figure to make much of an impact at the NBA level this year, but will continue to work on stretching his shot in the G-League.
2016-2017 G: 30; MPG: 9.6; RPG: 1.1; APG: 0.5; SPG: 0.3; PPG: 3.0; PER: 10.1
Sheldon Mac suffered a torn achilles during the preseason and is expected to miss the entire season.