Wizards

NBA Playoffs have shown level of depth Wizards need

Wizards

The 2020-21 NBA season has been so unusual, so rife with unfortunate injuries due to its jam-packed schedule, that any big picture lesson drawn from the teams that went deep in the playoffs may require caveats. We just witnessed a really good Suns team qualify for the NBA Finals but only after beating three teams - the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers - that played at least partially without some of their best players. This year has been a battle of attrition like few others in the history of the game.

Still, one element has been there which is always a part of determining playoff success and that is roster depth. This season has just been taken to the extreme.

But if you consider what the Washington Wizards need to go from the eighth seed in the East to contention, depth certainly stands out. They were overmatched by the Sixers' depth in the first round and have since seen even deeper and better teams go further than Philly did.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in May that depth would be a priority this summer.

"We’ve gotta add some more depth, certainly... We’ve gotta continue to add talent everywhere we can," Sheppard said.

You can see how depth has helped the top teams in this year's playoffs. The Suns won two games to begin the conference finals without Chris Paul. The Clippers pushed the Suns to six games in that series without Kawhi Leonard. The Hawks won Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals without Trae Young. The Bucks won Game 5 without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 

There have been many cases this postseason where teams have overcome significant injuries to win games. The Wizards, meanwhile, showed this year just how reliant they are on Bradley Beal. Washington went 2-10 when he didn't play, compared to 32-28 when he did. 

The Wizards may not need to plan for a Clippers-like doomsday situation, i.e. what happens if they are in a playoff series and Beal goes down. But, becoming less dependent on one player would be wise if anything so they can overcome off-nights from him and their other top players. The way to do that is by lengthening their rotation.

It could be with more players who can create for themselves, more shot-makers. It could happen by continuing to improve their defense, as they saw this past season how a strong defense can make a team more consistently competitive from night to night.

Other teams this postseason have shown the power of reinforcements. The Clippers without Leonard saw Reggie Jackson step up to average 20.3 points in the conference finals. Terrence Mann had 39 points in Game 6 against the Jazz in their previous round to push L.A. into the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

The Hawks evened up the conference finals in the East against Milwaukee thanks to Lou Williams filling the void with Young out. He had a game-high 21 points. His teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic had 20.

With Antetokounmpo out in Game 5 of the conference finals, the Bucks saw Brook Lopez erupt for 33 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Bobby Portis moved into the starting lineup and added 22 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

When Paul missed Games 1 and 2 against the Clippers, his backup Cameron Payne averaged 20 points and nine assists in two wins. The Suns signed him as a free agent last June after he was let go by the Raptors and following a series of 10-day contracts with the Cavaliers.

Those are all role players who were ready when needed to take on more responsibilities. The Wizards didn't have enough of those as their roster was besieged by injuries, first with starting center Thomas Bryant and then with Deni Avdija and Davis Bertans.

The Suns have been mostly healthy this season, but the Hawks and Clippers also had their fair share of notable injuries. In addition to Leonard, L.A. also lost Serge Ibaka for the year. And on top of Young, the Hawks are playing without De'Andre Hunter, one of their best players.

Depth was actually a strength for the Wizards at times during the 2020-21 season. They had three capable centers after acquiring Daniel Gafford in a trade and Raul Neto gave them three quality point guards with Russell Westbrook and Ish Smith. Where they lacked depth the most was at shooting guard behind Beal and especially at small forward.

 

To add more depth, the Wizards can go a few different routes. They can try to find bargains in free agency, as they did last year with Neto and Robin Lopez. They can also bank on the continued development of young players like Rui Hachimura, Avdija, Bryant, Gafford and Garrison Mathews. They can also explore the trade market, which is probably their most logical path to making large-scale improvements. 

Regardless of how they find more difference-making players, the final teams in the playoffs are showing just how much depth can be needed for a long playoff run.