Wizards

As Ian Mahinmi nears his return, he says his Wizards' story isn't over

Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Ian Mahinmi operates with a general philosophy of viewing everything through a glass-half-full lens and trying to find the positives in every situation. So, at this juncture, he is not ready to evaluate his tenure in Washington as a whole, a tenure that has so far been defined by the four-year, $64 million free agent contract he signed in the summer of 2016.

Like Mahinmi's first season in Washington, his fourth has been disrupted by an injury before it even began. This time it is a right Achilles strain and he remains sidelined after missing all of training camp, the preseason and the first month of regular-season games.

With the Wizards on a Western Conference road trip this week, Mahinmi has remained in Washington to practice with the Capital City Go-Go, the team's G-League affiliate. As he inches his way towards his return, Mahinmi is hoping to prove he still has something left to give the Wizards, now at 33 years old.

"This cannot be the end of this story," Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington. "I've always wanted to be a valuable piece in that puzzle. So, in my mind, there's still a lot of chapters left to be written."

Now having been through it twice in Washington, Mahinmi can list several reasons why missing training camp is a disadvantage, even for a player who has 13 years of NBA experience and knows what it takes to prepare for a season. He is behind the curve with everything from rhythm to game-shape conditioning to understanding head coach Scott Brooks' adjusted playbook to establishing chemistry with his new teammates.

 

Not that any Wizards fans have high expectations for Mahinmi when he returns, of course. Through three years in Washington, Mahinmi has averaged only 47.3 games per season with a stat-line of 4.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game. 

His first season, in 2016-17, he played in 31 games mostly due to injury. Last year, he appeared in only 34 and it couldn't be blamed on health. He just fell out of Brooks' rotation.

Those facts have made Mahinmi a poster child for the free-spending summer of 2016 when all sorts of bad contracts were handed out. But, oddly enough, his per-36 numbers are comparable, if not slightly better in Washington than they were in Indiana, his previous stop.

No, seriously.

Pacers (2012-16) per-36: 10.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 52.7 FG%
Wizards (2016-present) per-36: 11.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 54 FG%

The Wizards signed Mahinmi when he was four months shy of his 30th birthday and just plain misfired. They projected Mahinmi as a rim-protecting defensive anchor because he was one in his final year with the Pacers, and it just didn't happen.

For whatever reason, Mahinmi's time in Washington has not worked out as either he or the Wizards' former front office envisioned. But, as Mahinmi will point out, there is still technically some time to change that.

And, ironically, the thing the Wizards need the most right now is the one area of the game Mahinmi might be able to help with. Though their offense has been a nice surprise, the Wizards' defense is a real problem. They are 29th in the NBA in points allowed (120.3/g) and dead-last in defensive rating (115.6).

"I'm a guy that wants to anchor the defense and who understands defensive principles. That's who I am and what I can do," he said.

What Mahinmi will have to navigate, however, is depth at his position. With Thomas Bryant and Moe Wagner each playing well, there isn't much room for him to see the floor at center. His best hope is on nights where Wagner gets in foul trouble or they need a defensive lineup late in the game. Actually, both of those things might happen fairly often.

Regardless, Mahinmi isn't overly concerned about outside opinions of his contract or pessimistic views of his road ahead. He is enjoying life and getting to know his new teammates.

He has already developed a special bond with rookie Rui Hachimura, who like Mahinmi has heritage in the West African country of Benin. Hachimura is not as familiar with the country, having grown up in Japan, so Mahinmi has filled him in.

Hachimura has returned the favor with a sample of Japan. He gifted Mahinmi a bottle of sake for his birthday earlier this month.

Mahinmi plans to keep it going by inviting Hachimura to his house soon for some Beninese cooking. He wants Hachimura to try his dad's recipe for Fufu which is dumpling-like and served with beef, okra and tomato sauce. 

 

"That's what I will do for him. He will come to the house," Mahinmi said. "What are the odds, man, for two Beninese descendants to be on the same team?"

Now Mahinmi is looking forward to finally sharing the court with Hachimura and his Wizards teammates, soon enough, and proving something once he does.

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