While Otto Porter Jr.’s restricted free agency tops the summer story lines, the Washington Wizards have other details to address this offseason. When compared with the young core (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris), the bench may get overlooked, but throughout the 2016-17 season, the second unit became as pivotal to the team success as the starters. As fatigue played a role in the Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics, Beal logged a game-high 45:55 while Wall clocked in at 44:04, Morris at 41:47 and Porter finished just below 40 minutes.
“I think it’s important,” Beal said, when asked about the Wizards adding depth. “I think we definitely can use help a little bit. We played 45 minutes, 46 minutes [Monday] night, however many minutes it was. That does wear on you eventually. I think it’s definitely something Ernie [Grunfeld] would probably look into.”
Then, Beal responded to an inquiry focused on whether enough backup help already exists on the Wizards’ roster: “It’s kind of a toss up. You look at the box score and you think there’s no success but you’ve got to understand the course of the game. I have more than enough confidence in everybody we have on our team to get the job done. We’ve shown glimpses of what we can do. I think we’ve got them but at the same time, Ernie Grunfeld’s running the show.”
The construction of the second unit starts here:
Bench the point guards or bring them back?
At various times through the season, point guards Trey Burke and Brandon Jennings. as well as wing Bojan Bogdanovic, played as key reserves. All three will move into free agency.
Burke was brought in as Wall’s primary backup but vacillated between playing time and the sideline as rookie Tomas Satoransky got the nod. Then with the early-March addition of Jennings, Burke completely fell out of the rotation.
Now, Burke will enter restricted free agency and likely won’t return. Immediately following the Game 7 loss on Monday night, he reflected on his year with the Wizards and sounded like a man ready for a change.
“I’m disappointed. I stopped playing. I felt like I could have helped this team out,” Burke said. “I’m sure a lot of people always say that and I’m sure everybody else believes that too. It’s not just me or my opinion. I’m disappointed in it, but it’s fuel to the fire this offseason. I’m looking forward to getting better and coming back stronger.
“I don’t plan on my role being the same next year,” Burke continued. “My agency is working very hard for me right now. I know what type of player I can be and I know what type of player I want to be. That’s not my plan. This summer, it’ll be great. I’m looking forward to the summer.”
Jennings, who will be an unrestricted free agent, never truly looked comfortable on the court during his short stint with the Wizards. Coach Scott Brooks had to egg him on to be more aggressive on offense, and Jennings often was a liability with his perimeter defense. By the postseason, Jennings posted averages of 2.8 points (on 38.9 percent shooting) and 1.8 assists and described his performance in the Celtics’ series as “terrible.”
Bogdanovic’s restricted free agency
The Wizards brought in Bogdanovic before the trade deadline through a deal with the Brooklyn Nets, and he emerged as the top bench performer and sixth man through the semifinals. However, even Bogdanovic did not receive extended time on the court. As Brooks shortened the rotation, Bogdanovic played approximately 86 fewer minutes than the fifth starter, Marcin Gortat.
Despite the limited minutes, Bogdanovic’s shot stayed true, posting a .391 three-point percentage against Boston. But since the second unit lacked spacing, with Jennings not being an offensive threat, Bogdanovic seemed to be most effective while playing alongside starters.
“It’s a big change for me,” Bogdanovic said following Game 7. “I was really happy to be here to have this experience to play at this big level. It’s tough to talk right now after this tough loss but like I said I had a great opportunity and I think I did a pretty good job.”
Like Porter and Burke, Bogdanovic will be a restricted free agent, but the Wizards have limited cap space and may not prioritize keeping him if he can command a big payday elsewhere.
“I didn’t even think about it because I said to myself the last game, I don’t want to think about money, about teams, about free agency,” Bogdanovic said. “So right now I will start to think maybe about that.”
Develop young players for future rotation roles
Washington will need veteran players to improve its bench, but the team already has intriguing prospects who are familiar with the system.
Two guard Sheldon Mac and big men Daniel Ochefu and Chris McCullough will remain in Washington in preparation for the Las Vegas summer league tournament as well as the Tim Grgurich camp.
Of the three, Mac has a leg up in potentially cracking the rotation, but will have to work for landing another guaranteed contract for the 2017-18 season. Although Mac has to repeat the same process from last summer when he tried to make the team, he should have a better understanding now on what it takes to be a professional.
In his rookie season, Mac, who changed his name from McClellan after the all-star break, ascended from undrafted status to filling in for an injured Beal in the starting lineup for three games. Mac has shown to be a talent, and he possesses an NBA-ready offensive game, but has to learn that he must show up every day ready to play and practice.
The same can be said for McCullough, the 6-9 forward who came over with Bogdanovic in the Brooklyn deal.
McCullough needs to work on his consistency. As a big man who can shoot from the three and still flash athleticism within the arc, McCullough still did not crack the 20-point threshold throughout his March Development League assignment with the Northern Arizona Suns. Even so, the Wizards are high on McCullough and plan on developing him as if he is the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick; the 22nd overall pick was traded to Brooklyn.