Until recently the Wizards’ bench was the team’s Kryptonite. The Wizards are second to last in bench scoring, and the starters have logged heavy minutes. In December, the Wizards lost all four games in which John Wall or Bradley Beal did not play.
In recent weeks, however, the Wizards have improved their bench significantly. Ian Mahinmi’s knees slowly recovered, then the Wizards traded for Bojan Bagdonvoic and signed Brandon Jennings. Through these moves, the Wizards addressed all of their weaknesses —post defense, wing scoring and a backup point guard to run the offense when Wall sits.
Having a bench allows the starters to rest and provides coach Scott Brooks with the flexibility to adjust his lineups. With that in mind, here are four key lineups to keep an eye on during the last month before the playoffs.
1. The Bread and Butter
Despite their newfound bench, the Wizards’ success, particularly at the end of games, depends on their play with Wall-Beal-Porter-Morris-Gortat on the floor. This lineup has logged 1,195 minutes together this season, over 35 percent more than the league’s next most used lineup. Extensive time playing together has turned this lineup into a finely tuned machine, with Marcin Gortat setting screens, Wall handling the ball, Beal racing around for open shots, Markieff Morris cutting to the rim for alley oops and Otto Porter lurking in the corner ready for a 3-point attempt. This lineup outscores opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating better than any team in the league. The Wizards can compete against any lineup in the league with this quintet on the floor at the end of games.
2. Small Ball Lineup
In the fourth quarter of the Wizards' recent win against the Golden State Warriors, Brooks unveiled a small ball lineup featuring Wall-Beal-Porter-Bogdanovic-Morris. This lineup, with Morris at center, features four plus 3-point shooters flanking Wall. While Morris isn’t a traditional center, standing 6 feet 10 inches and weighing 245 pounds, he is large enough to perform serviceably against smaller centers, as well as dragging opposing big men away from the rim with his 36 percent 3-point shooting. This lineup has now played 31 minutes together, amassing an offensive rating of 125.0, which is better than the Golden State Warriors’ lineup of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Durant-Green.
Although Brooks has utilized this lineup in the fourth quarter of recent games, the group is currently lacking on the defensive end, allowing 128.7 points per 100 possessions. The lineup would need significant improvement in this area if it were to be employed both successfully and more frequently in the future.
3. All-Reserve Team
Thanks to their recently improved bench, the Wizards can now safely play lineups without a starter on the floor, an idea which was unthinkable just a month ago. In two recent games, Brooks played the lineup of Jennings-Satoransky-Bogdanovic-Smith-Mahinmi at the start of the second quarter. And this lineup still leaves Kelly Oubre Jr. planted on the bench. Brandon Jennings has been a passing wizard since joining the team, averaging a career high of 12.1 assists per 36 minutes. Bogdanovic and Jason Smith supply this lineup with offensive power. Since joining the Wizards, Bogdanovic is averaging a career-best 22.1 points per 36 minutes and shooting 46 percent from deep on more than five 3-point attempts a game. Meanwhile, Smith is shooting 51 percent on 3-pointers for the season and 53 percent on mid-range jumpers from ten feet to the 3-point line.
While this lineup likely won’t see much time during the playoffs, its real value will be providing the starters with much-needed rest over the last month of the regular season.
4. Twin Towers
When everyone is healthy, the Wizards have a logjam at center, with three seven-footers — Gortat, Mahinmi, and Smith — all of which are deserving of minutes. Brooks has gotten around this conundrum by playing Mahinmi and Smith together. Mahinmi plays closer to the basket and provides elite rim protection, while Smith can stray farther from the basket. While the sample size is small, the lineup of Wall-Beal-Porter-Smith-Mahinmi has now played together in six games, and the results have been impressive. Offensively, this team scores a remarkable, albeit unsustainable, 149.6 points per 100 possessions. Beal’s outside shooting is essential for this lineup. Since his All-Star snub, Beal has been a prolific scorer, averaging 26.4 points a game and shooting 41 percent from the three on almost eight attempts per game.
Brooks is still tinkering with his lineups as the playoffs rapidly approach. Given recent additions, the Wizards are fortunate to sport the depth and flexibility needed to combat any opponent. Ultimately, the Wizards’ fortunes depend on the play of their Bread and Butter Lineup, but the other lineups outlined above will provide crucial minutes that also determine how far this Wizards’ team advances.