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Pros and cons of Wizards targeting free agent Nicolas Batum

Pros and cons of Wizards targeting free agent Nicolas Batum

The Washington Wizards must add plenty of bodies this offseason with only five players currently under contract. J. Michael and I tasked each other with filling out the roster as we see fit while assuming Kevin Durant isn't an option. We both said keep restricted free agent Bradley Beal, but our decisions swerved from there. Next on my priority list, Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum. Here are the pros and cons of that potentially delicious and delusional call.

Pro: I'll start by sharing some thoughts from NBA analyst Matt Moore's mid-season article titled, "The Hornets' Nicolas Batum is the modern NBA wing every team needs." His game has looked more versatile and effective than ever. Everything about his game is fluid and smooth. He's slim and impossibly long, with a reported 7-4 wingspan. He's always been the kind of player that lights up scouting reports due to his combination of size, length and skill. He can handle, he can shoot, he can drive and finish, he can pass and defend. Batum may not be the top tier star of a team, but he is certainly a guy you want playing on the wing for your team."

Yes, what he said. The Wizards have a dynamic backcourt assuming Beal stays with John Wall. Marcin Gortat gets it done at center. Markieff Morris added needed athleticism at power forward. What they lack right now: A proven two-way NBA wing for the modern game.

Con: What the Wizards have at small forward now is Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr., otherwise known as their last two first round draft picks. Adding a hefty max contract player would seemingly put a high dollar roadblock on their road to developing. Porter becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Pro: A creative coaching staff can figure out to use all three often and perhaps at times together. We're watching Oklahoma City use lengthy lineups to flummox Golden State's offensive machine. Ponder the full court possibilities with a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards in Batum and Porter Beal (6'5") and Wall (6'4") in the backcourt with Morris (6'10") at stretch-5. Everyone can sink 3's and run. Each perimeter player made at least 35% of their attempts from beyond the arc last season. Put in Oubre, who still needs to prove he should receive heavy minutes, and this small ball lineup gets even longer.

Con: With the salary cap projected around $92 million next season, an eight-year veteran like Batum is eligible for a per season max contract around $26 million. (Beal, entering his fifth year, would max out around $22-23 million). The Wizards can make that figure work and pay Beal, but then the back half of the roster would include a host of minimum contract players. That's a risky proposition considering all the bumps and bruises over an 82-game regular season.


Pro: As OKC is demonstrating, those 10-12 player rotations found during the regular season often shrink to eight or so in the playoffs*. If you play fewer players and don't have a true elite option or a dynamic duo (Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook) or a Big 3 (Cavaliers), then you better have as much playmaking talent as possible within that eight. Batum's ability to play all over court helps offset any depth chart/injury issue.

(* Seeing as the Wizards didn't make the postseason in 2016, talking about playoff rotations defines putting the cart before the horse. Doesn't mean you don't think big picture and plan accordingly, especially since a coaching upgrade and good health puts Washington into top 2-4 seed mix.)

Con: If we're saying Batum isn't an elite player, then why pay him like one? Of the players truly on the open market this summer, the 27-year-old is a top 10 free agent and not all of those players are poised for max deals based on age. With more than half the league armed with oodles of cap space, Batum gets paid if he wants the full Brinks truck treatment. Even if he leaves a little on the table so a team can spend on others, that's still big bucks.

Pro: Batum's presence can help Washington's best player and the Wizards when that best player sits. He's not a point guard, but Batum's 5.8 assists ranked behind only Draymond Green and LeBron James among forwards. Add that type of threat and Washington can give Wall, who is coming off knee surgery, more of a blow during games and the season. The ball movement in general often declined when Wall watched from the bench.

Con: Pay Batum and Beal -- combined zero All-Star nods -- and now Wall becomes Washington's third highest paid player. Yeah, that could lead to chemistry issues if the three-time All-Star lets it.

Analysis: Stylistically, Batum is where the game is going. Add his versatility alongside the interesting talents on the roster and the Wizards will truly enter the modern NBA. Money, however, is an issue. Washington has enough, but so do others. Charlotte can pay him the most. The Wizards aren't going to spend over the luxury tax so add Batum and it's a fantasy football strategy of (no offense future Wizards)"stars and scrubs." But stars win in the NBA. Maybe Batum isn't elite. He'll make all better, including Wall and Beal. That's because he's the modern NBA wing every team needs. That's something worth considering.


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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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