Wizards

How Wizards can get creative without Thomas Bryant

Wizards

The most obvious path for the Wizards to replace starting center Thomas Bryant, who suffered a season-ending partially torn left ACL injury over the weekend, is to bump Robin Lopez into the starting lineup and slide Moe Wagner into the No. 2 center spot behind him. That appears to be their plan in the short-term.

But as they evaluate their options, the Wizards have other directions to go before deciding to seek outside help, either via trade or free agency, the latter unlikely to make a major difference given the options currently out there. They have another center on the roster, Anzejs Pasecniks, as well as some intriguing options if they want to experiment with small-ball sets.

Pasecniks has only played six minutes this season and last year as a rookie appeared in only 27 games. For a refresher, he is the tallest guy on the team at 7-foot-2 and was a first round pick back in 2017. He turned 25 last month.

Pasecniks has been relegated to the fourth center role this season, which so far has led to zero minutes in nine of the Wizards' 10 games. In four of those games, he was inactive and didn't dress.

The Wizards, though, will likely give Pasecniks a look in the coming days and weeks as they adjust to life without Bryant, who is the team's third-leading scorer (14.3 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.1). None of the remaining center options on the Wizards are going to backfill Bryant's offensive production, as he has become one of the most efficient players at his position in the league. The Wizards, though, also don't need offense, as they average the second-most points in the NBA (119.7).

 

What they need is defense, as they allow the most points of any team (122.7/g), and Pasecniks could at least factor into the mix. Last season, he was third on the team in defensive rating (109.4 per NBA.com) only to Garrison Mathews and Isaac Bonga. Defensive rating has some gray areas as a team-centric stat, but in this case he represents an outlier. Pasecniks also led the Wizards in box outs and defensive box outs per 36 minutes, and part of the Wizards' problems on defense are rooted in rebounding.

Many of Pasecniks' numbers last year were compiled in lopsided games, but he did contribute in some of the team's biggest wins. In a win against the Heat last season, he had 10 rebounds and two blocks and, in a win over the Nuggets, he had 13 points, eight rebounds and a block.

There is also a contract reason to give Paseniks a shot in the near future. His 2020-21 deal becomes fully guaranteed if he remains on the roster past Jan. 31.

In addition to Pasecniks, if the Wizards want to explore options beyond Lopez and Wagner, they could try to go small instead of big. They have more versatility now at the forward position and some ways to potentially get creative.

For years, head coach Scott Brooks and members of the front office have spoken of positionless basketball and their goal to add personnel with it in mind. Perhaps that could mean rookie Deni Avdija or Rui Hachimura sees time at the five.

Avdija has shown some potential as a help defender along the baseline and in staying vertical around the rim, earning stops particularly against smaller players. He would need to stand tall against much bigger players at the five and also show more as a rebounder, as he currently ranks eighth on the team in rebounds per-36 (6.0) despite being fourth in rebounds per game (3.9). 

On offense, both Avdija and Hachimura would profile well as small-ball fives. They are strong enough to make plays in the paint and also a potential match-up problem with their speed in transition. 

One intriguing small-ball option would include Bonga, Hachimura and Avdija in the frontcourt. The Wizards like to play switch defense and that's about as positionless a trio as they could assemble. Troy Brown Jr. would be another option in that regard.

There is no denying Bryant's importance to the team. As the Wizards search for ways to replace him, they will need to explore every avenue they can.

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