With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season.
The No. 5 question in our series takes a look at the Wizards bench and how much it improved this summer.
The Washington Wizards entered the offseason with a familiar task: to upgrade their bench after a season in which their lack of depth in certain areas was apparent.
Upgrading the second unit has been a big point of emphasis in each of the past few summers for the Wizards and they hope this time around it has truly been fixed.
Addressing the Issue
There are many reasons why the Wizards were looking for more from their bench this offseason. For one, they didn’t have enough help behind All-Star Bradley Beal. He played in all 82 games in 2017-18 and logged the fourth-most minutes in the league.
The Wizards’ bench was also tested by John Wall missing nearly half the season with an injury. Though they thrived at first during his second absence, the team went 20-21 overall while Wall was out.
The numbers overall painted a bleak picture. The Wizards’ bench was 22nd in the NBA in +/- at -1.5. That was worse than their mark in each of the previous two years (-1.1).
The Wizards, by the way, haven’t had a positive +/- from their bench since 1997-98. They have been in the negative every single year except for 2005-06, when they finished an even 0.0.
Defense, in particular, was an issue for the Wizards’ second unit.
In 2017-18, they were 23rd in defensive rating (107.8), leading to a -2.6 net rating (18th), and 25th in opponent field goal percentage (46.8). They ranked in the bottom half of the league in three-point defense and three-point offense, a bad combination.
The Wizards’ projected second unit will be mostly the same with Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Ian Mahinmi returning.
But they addressed their issues with some big acquisitions by trading for Austin Rivers, drafting Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft and signing Jeff Green to a one-year contract.
The changes the Wizards made at the very least provided a significant roster shakeup. They are projected to begin the 2018-19 season with nine players from the year before. With Dwight Howard, Rivers and Green in the mix, they are likely to give heavy minutes to newcomers.
The Wizards were fourth in the NBA in roster continuity last season, according to Basketball Reference. They had 82 percent of their minutes allocated to players who were on the roster the season before and that was despite Wall’s lengthy absence.
Beyond simply being new and different players, the Wizards’ bench acquisitions may be able to help a lot this season. Rivers, in particular, has an important role behind Beal as the best backup he’s possibly ever had.
Rivers can create his own shot and hit threes (37.8% in 2017-18), and will likely be tabbed as the primary scorer in the second unit. He could also see some time in three-guard lineups with both Wall and Beal together.
Green also projects to have an important role as the backup power forward behind Markieff Morris. He has big shoes to fill with Mike Scott having left in free agency. Green can be one of the Wizards’ best bench scorers along with Rivers and provides versatility on defense.
Brown’s role is more difficult to foresee, given the depth at his position. He is behind Otto Porter, Jr. and Oubre and will have to fight for his minutes.
The Wizards’ bench appears to be better offensively than it was last season with Rivers and Green in the fold.
The question will be whether that is enough to offset their negative +/- rating. If they improve on defense, it will likely come down to whether Oubre and Satoransky take a step forward, and what Mahinmi can provide in his third season in Washington.
The Wizards’ second unit certainly has the potential to be better than it was last year. But that will be determined over the course of the season and perhaps not even until the playoffs.
As of now, their bench persists as one of the biggest questions surrounding the team.
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