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Grading the Wizards’ 2014 NBA Summer League Stay

Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.

Some fans enjoy the NBA summer league. Others hate it.

If I had to guess, I’d say a majority tend to lean toward the “hate it” side. Why? Lots of reasons, really. But things like “sloppy play”, “who the hell is this kid?”, and “is that so-and-so’s brother’s nephew’s cousin?” probably top the list.

Anyway, the conclusion of the Las Vegas summer league (congrats, Sacramento?) means another chapter of the NBA offseason in the books, which then gives us the opportunity to hand out praise and criticism to our beloved Washington Wizards for their two-week layover in Sin City.

Here’s a look at the good and bad from Washington’s summer league stay.

Cool

  • Although it’s really what should’ve happened for the Wizards this summer given each guys’ time spent on the roster last season, both Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. impressed in their six games in Vegas. Rice averaged 25 points per game and won summer league MVP (hardware!), while Porter chipped in with 19 and nearly six rebounds a game. One could breakdown each guy’s play, game-by-game, but the most noticeable takeaway from the young duo (both of whom should be a part of the team’s active roster) is their confidence. I think assistant coach Sam Cassell was the first to say it (I think…no link), but it was so true — both Rice and Porter were playing like they were the best players on the court, and it made a world of difference in their play. Hopefully that carries over.
Player G MPG FG% 3P% RPG APG SPG TO PPG
Porter 6 31.8 0.484 0.389 5.8 1.8 0.5 2.2 19
Rice 6 32 0.469 0.361 7.8 2.3 2.5 3 25
  • As someone who’s been on the Khem Birch bandwagon for quite a while now, it was nice to see him play well this summer, and for the Wizards to boot. His five points per game in a little more than 19 minutes of action were on par for the type of hustle/defensive/ rebounding player he is. Birch doesn’t fit the mold of a stretch-4, but he’s an easy guy to root for because he does all the other stuff (5.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game) well and does so with maximum effort.
  • Sam Cassell remains a hot coaching candidate, which is great in terms of his current duties with the Wizards, but also concerning that he could be on his way to Los Angeles in exchange for a second-round pick (according to Wojnarowski). Given Ernie Grunfeld’s drafting ability, Cassell is worth about 68 times more than a second-round pick. I hope he stays.
  • I’m willing to call it the best moment of the Wizards’ summer league — the ever so studly Bradley Beal was sitting courtside, wearing a headset and chatting it up with the commentary crew during one of Washington’s games against the Miami Heat. As Beal talked about his own development as a player and the Wizards’ expectations heading into next season, Tyler Honeycutt (who is quite bad) attempted to drive the left lane and slam on Wizards center Daniel Theis. Honeycutt was successful with the driving part, but Theis dished out a peak-high block that was well-qualified for the four-letter network’s top-ten plays, ultimately leading to a whooing crowd and Honeycutt’s miserable remains hunched on the hardwood.

Beal then added commentary of his own, giving us the best 16 words of the tournament and helping complete a truly special moment in Theis’ young career.

I don’t know his name — I think he’s from overseas — but that was a good block.                                                                        - Bradley Beal, nevermore

So who really is Daniel Theis? I have no idea. I don’t think anyone does. Even DraftExpress.com didn’t have much info outside of his vitals (6’9″, 215 lbs), his age (22), his hometown (Braunschweig, Germany), and his Eurocup stats from last season. But following five games with the Wiz this summer, the athletic power forward with the blonde comb-over averaged 6.6 points, six boards and nearly two blocks a game. Definitely cool. 

Somewhat chilly

  • My current nightmare: rooting for Daniel Orton. Why the torture? Because he was a part of the John Wall draft class in 2010 and I crush on John Wall like a teenage school girl? I have no answers. Even so, I feel like I barely saw Orton this summer, despite him playing five games with the Wiz. His stats were pretty ho-hum for the most part: 4.4 points, 5 rebounds, and barely a block per game. The better side: 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals. Go Daniel Orton.
  • Rookie Jamil Wilson looked the part of a small forward, standing 6’7″, 230 pounds. Additionally, his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin is the same as former-Wizards forward Caron Butler. Kind of cool/coincidental.

Not Cool

  • I know you’re not supposed to invest a lot into the summer league, but I had high(er) hopes for rookie point guard Deonte Burton. It’d be nice for a young point to come up through the ranks behind guys like John Wall and veteran Andre Miller, and Burton seemed like a fun project. But after averaging less than two points per game on 15 percent (!) shooting with an ugly assist (1) to turnover (1.3) ratio, Burton takes the cake for most disappointing of the Wizards’ desert vacation.

Wizards go 5-1 in Las Vegas, the Jrs. (Glen Rice and Otto Porter) find their mojo, Sam Cassell is a valuable asset, I still like Khem Birch (and for some reason Daniel Orton too), maybe someone knows who Daniel Theis is by now (but probably not), and the Deonte Burton balloon (if there ever was one) has already gone flat.

So long, summer league.

Wizards Acquire DeJuan Blair, Strengthen Frontcourt

c/o Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

c/o Jerome Miron – USA Today Sports

I’m not sure where this ends up on the fandom gauge, but I’m willing to label myself thrilled regarding the Wizards acquiring DeJuan Blair from Dallas.

I wrote more about it at numberFire, which includes reasons why I refer to him as DeJuan Bear, how he fits in Washington, and why he’s an upgrade for the Wizards.

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Often times it’s difficult to make sense of Ernie Grunfeld making sense, but Wizards fans shouldn’t have too many gripes this summer. The Washington front office is pulling all the strings to improve (or replenish in some instances) a second-round playoff team from just a few months ago.

Sticking to the offseason script of subtle, efficient, and cost-effective, the Wizards acquired 25-year-old forward DeJuan Blair from the Dallas Mavericks in a sign-and-trade that will send the Mavs a $2.1 million trade exception (which was acquired by Washington when they traded Eric Maynor to Philadelphia last season).

Not to be a Washington homer, but this is another move that belongs under the “good” column for the Wizards. Here’s a brief breakdown of the transaction.

Money and Budget

Blair’s new contract with the Wizards is reported to be a three-year deal, worth $6 million. And wouldn’t ya know it – the final year of the contract comes as a team option.

Not to harp on the issue, but the Wizards’ intent is becoming more and more obvious with every signing. Like the two-year deal for Paul Pierce, and the three-year deal for Kris Humphries, the Wizards are constructing all new contracts with the summer of 2016 in mind – when hometown hero Kevin Durant becomes a free agent.

It should also be noted that, in terms of future cap room, the Wizards are preparing to pay Bradley Beal - the 21-year-old two-guard the team drafted third-overall in 2012 and have watched developed into a promising NBA star.

Additionally, what’s great about Blair’s contract (and Humphries’ contract, for that matter) is the fact that the team-option is extremely affordable. Say the dream does come true for Wizards fans and Durant returns to DC – the Wizards could essentially bring back solid frontcourt depth in the form of both Humphries and Blair for less than $6.5 million (estimated).

Production

When it comes to rotational players like Blair, referring to per-game statistics can be a bit misleading. Take Blair’s production from last season for example, where averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game tends to scream mediocrity.

But when you consider the fact Blair posted those numbers while averaging less than 16 minutes per outing, reception changes. Stretch that kind of output over the course of 36 minutes (i.e. a starting role) and you get an impressive 14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, more than two assists, and nearly two steals.

Unlike Humphries who can drift away from the paint to knockdown jumpers, a majority of Blair’s scoring will come from within 10 feet of the bucket. Despite being an undersized big man at 6’7″, Blair makes up for it with his 265-pound frame. He’s strong and bulky, easily eating up space down low and playing with great anticipation in order to provide himself with clean-up opportunities and cutting finishes around the rim.

How He Fits

After the departure of Trevor Booker, and with the looming possibility of Kevin Seraphin leaving Washington for more money elsewhere, the Wizards are beefing up their frontcourt depth and arguably improving what they had last season.

Blair may not be a defensive stalwart, but you won’t be left questioning whether or not he’s fighting for position or looking to secure a board. And by just barely out-rebounding their opponents on average last season (42.2/42.1 per game), the Wizards were clearly looking to add feisty rebounding types.

There’s also some position versatility that comes with Blair, as he’s able to fill-in at center if need be. Although not the rim-protector type, Blair once again falls back on his ability to carve space in the paint and fight for boards. Last season in Dallas, Blair played a career-high 36 percent of his minutes at center.

The Wizards’ current starting frontcourt of Marcin Gortat and Nene, albeit effective and strong, does require some insurance. Although the Polish Hammer plays more like he’s 28 than 30, Nene is 31 and hasn’t played more than 61 games in a season in three years.

As an added bonus, Blair brings with him valuable experience and work ethic, despite becoming the fifth-youngest player on the Wizards roster. In addition to being a part of arguably the best organization in the league for four seasons in San Antonio, Blair has been to the playoffs in each of his five NBA seasons, and has strung together solid production to the tune of 17 points, 13 boards, nearly two assists, and better than two steal per 36 minutes, with a 24.4 career playoffs PER.

Fans Could Get Used to This

Again, this is odd for Wizards fans. The front office is making quality moves, while remaining prudent, and relatively under the radar. And for the first time in a long time, Wizards fans can boast (at least a little) about their team’s frontcourt depth. From a net perspective, the Wizards upgraded their talent from Booker and Seraphin (who hasn’t left town just yet) to Humphries and Blair, and for a lower cost to boot.

Blair is a guy I’m willing to believe in, which may stem entirely from the fact that I was banging the table for the Wizards to draft him early in the second round five years ago, and instead they drafted some dude name Jermaine Taylor who they then sold to Houston only never to be heard from ever again.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because per-36-minutes stats have consumed me when it comes to gauging rotational players and, in that case, DeJuan Blair is just as beastly on a stat sheet as he appears in person.

Wizards Make Another Quality Move, Bringing Kris Humphries to Washington

Kris Humphries

Interested in 1,000 words about why and how Kris Humphries fits so well in Washington?

Here’s my original piece from numberFire.

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Keeping beat with the rest of their offseason thus far, the Washington Wizards made another quiet, yet effective move by acquiring 29-year-old forward Kris Humphries from the Boston Celtics by way of a sign-and-trade.

In exchange for Humphries, the Wizards will send the trade exception they received from the Rockets last week as part of the Trevor Ariza deal to Boston.

Although Humphries has gained most of his notoriety for stuff off the court, he’s put together a respectable career over the past 11 seasons with five different teams.

Let’s take a look at how Humphries fits in Wasington and why this makes sense for the Wizards – keeping any Kardashian-fueled jokes to an absolute minimum.

Dollars and Sense

Humphries’ new contract with the Wizards is a three-year deal worth $13 million, with the third year serving as a team-option, meaning the Wizards ultimately decide whether or not to retain Humphries for the 2016-2017 season.

A couple of things regarding the contract itself that should excite Wizards fans. First, it’s an extremely fair and team-friendly deal given Humphries’ production. Second, it’s the perfect length in order to keep the Kevin Durant-to-DC daydream alive.

Not long before acquiring Humphries, the Wizards watched forward Trevor Booker sign with Utah after spending his first four seasons in Washington. Booker’s new two-year, $10 million deal with the Jazz was reportedly much higher than the Wizards were willing to go, and Washington’s front office wasn’t set to budge. As a result, the team needed to find an affordable replacement with a skill set primarily made up of athleticism, toughness, and rebounding ability, and Humphries easily matched the criteria.

As for the summer of 2016, the Wizards – along with a handful of other teams – are waiting on Kevin Durant to become a free agent. If the reigning league MVP decides to explore his opportunities outside of Oklahoma City, the Wizards don’t want to miss out. They’ll want their books as tidy as possible in order to pitch Durantula about bringing an NBA title to his hometown of Washington, D.C.

In addition to Nene’s $13 million salary set to come off the books after the 2015-2016 season, the Wizards signed former Finals MVP Paul Pierce to just a two year deal as well, meaning the Wizards – as of right now – have only John Wall and Marcin Gortat(and very safe to assume Bradley Beal) under contract for the summer of ’16.

Affordable? Check. Skill set match? Check. In line for the Durant sweepstakes? Yes – and the prayers continue to mount.

Production

When discussing Humphries and his production in the past, I’ve heard the argument about his best seasons coming during his time with the New Jersey Nets – which coincidentally just so happens to be about the time he became a tabloid staple – and that he’s yet to match that kind of output.

The counter argument, however, is simple: Humphries’ best statistics were posted during the two seasons in which he played the most minutes of his career.

During the 2010-2011 season, Humphries played nearly 28 minutes a game and averaged 10 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a block in 72 games. The following season, Humphries played almost 35 minutes per game, averaging just under 14 points, 11 boards, and 1.2 blocks in 62 games.

Before those two seasons, Humphries never averaged more than 18 minutes a game in a single season. And since then, he’s never averaged more than 20. Therefore, looking at Humphries’ numbers per 36 minutes gives you a better idea of his production potential when he’s actually on the floor.

For his career, Humphries averages 13.4 points, 11 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Last season with the Celtics, he averaged better than 15 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes, posting career-highs in both offensive rating (113) and PER (18.2).

Fit

Although watching Booker leave town for Utah isn’t considered front page news, it was a meaningful loss for the Wizards. Not only was a Booker a key piece on the Wizards’ bench, logging more than 21 minutes per game, but he was also a reliable call-upon option – like when he filled in for the injured Nene late in the season last year as Washington fought to secure a playoff spot. And filled in well.

The Wizards needed a replacement for that – a strong interior player with a good combination of toughness and athleticism, and a guy coaches could count on to crash the boards. In addition to his 21.6 minutes, Booker was also good for more than 11 points and 8 rebounds per 36 minutes last season.

With Humphries, the Wizards replenish their board-crashing type, and likely improve their bench scoring. Humphries shot 81 percent from the free throw line last season (improving in each of the last three years), shot better than 50 percent from the field, and offers deceiving range, knocking down almost 48 percent of his jumpers outside of 16 feet last season.

Temporarily ignoring the cost and focusing strictly on talent, adding Humphries is a net win for the Wiz. There’s no concern regarding his effort or rebounding ability, he adds scoring potential to a bench that ranked 29th in the league in points per game last season, and he’s reliable insurance for Nene, whether coaches want to take some work away from the big Brazilian during the regular season, or in the unfortunate case Nene goes down (which is arguably the safest running prop bet in all of Vegas).

Peculiar Win-Win

It’s not every day Wizards fans can praise their general manager. But this signing – along with the Pierce addition and Marcin Gortat deal (albeit more debatable) – earns Ernie Grunfeld a pat on the back.

In past seasons, Grunfeld and the Wiz would’ve laid down for guys threatening to leave town for more money, handing over a blank check and asking where to sign. But this summer, they’ve drawn hard lines and haven’t wavered, whether it be high-dollar guys like Ariza, or rotational players such as Booker. Instead, they’ve trusted in their plan (#KD2DC) and made effective, more cost-friendly moves to help recuperate for lost talent and build toward the future.

Kris Humphries is another one of those moves. Although it won’t make much of a ripple now, people will get a sense of how good the deal was for the Wizards when he’s posting double-doubles come playoff time.

Wizards Sign Paul Pierce: What It Means for Washington

Paul Pierce

After watching one of their top free-agent targets skip town for a four-year, $32 million deal in Houston, the Wizards made a decent splash of their own by signing 10-time all-star and former Finals MVP Paul Pierce to a two-year deal worth $10.8 million.

The Wizards reportedly offered Trevor Ariza a similar deal to the one he received from the Rockets, but Houston has Dwight Howard and James Harden, in addition to no state income tax and blah, blah, blah.

Now onto The Truth.

  • Sorry. That was rude. I wish Ariza all the best in Houston. He was a key cog in the Wizards’ playoff run last season and we’ll all miss him.
  • To get the financials out of the way first — the $10.8 million over two seasons for Pierce is worth the full mid-level exception. Despite turning 37 in October, this is a fair price. And even more importantly…
  • Because Pierce’s deal is only a two-year contract (the second year being a player option, meaning Pierce ultimately decides whether he wants to stay in DC next season), this keeps the Durant daydream alive. Along with a handful of other teams, the Wizards will have the cap room and flexibility necessary to chase hometown hero and beloved gentleman Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016 when he becomes a free agent. Will it be easy? No way. But there’s a chance. And a lot can change by then too — like John Wall becoming even better, Bradley Beal progressing the way we all believe he will, and additional cap room for other guys who may (believe it or not) take a little less to join a trio of Durant-Beal-Wall in Washington. /sits down, eyes wide, holds forehead.
  • Even though Pierce’s numeric age doesn’t give off spring chicken vibes (if there is such a thing), 36 years old doesn’t imply ineffectiveness. In fact, Pierce recorded a higher PER last season (16.8) than our boy Ariza (15.8). And despite playing about seven less minutes per game than Ariza last year, Pierce remained an efficient scorer, averaging 17.3 points per 36 minutes, compared to Ariza’s 14.6.
  • In an effort to avoid gushing and drooling over Pierce and his scoring ability, it’s important to note that we’ll miss Ariza’s defense. I don’t think you’d necessarily call Pierce a liability in that department, but he’ll be a noticeable drop-off from what we grew accustomed to last season. And perhaps that’s where Pierce’s age shows up the most, as he now lacks the quickness and agility to stick with the over-athletic wing players. Not to mention, with Ariza serving as a defensive specialist, it was easy to turn to him when the opposition had a player that required a special kind of cover. The Wizards no longer have that defensive ace.
  • Back to Pierce as a legitimate scoring threat — he’s a career 37-percent shooter from long range. Remember how well Ariza knocked down those three’s last season after Wall or Beal would draw the defense? Now imagine a better shooter — more touch, more control — spotting up from out there.
  • Not that Ariza was forced to create shots for himself last season, but Pierce won’t have to worry about that in Washington either. Pierce’s to-do list from Wizards coaches should be pretty simple — set a good example for our young players, give us effort on defense, and knock down the shots when the ball comes to you.
  • Speaking of knocking down shots, Pierce is argued as a valuable clutch player. I say “argued” because sometimes it’s a matter of gut feel (which is what you see, what you remember) and numbers (which is the stuff provided by sites like 82games.com). To me, he’s clutch — and I’m not just saying that because he’s with the good guys now. Although Pierce’s shooting during clutch moments (defined by 82games.com as fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points) fluctuates from season to season, he posts respectable numbers overall and his team does well when he’s on the floor in said situations. Additionally — and I feel like this may get lost in most arguments regarding a player’s clutchness — Pierce is disciplined and smart. Low turnover rate, good passes, savvy enough to draw fouls, better than 82 percent from the free-throw line, etc. All that may show up on the stat sheet, but it doesn’t exactly jump out at you during arguments of who’s clutch and who chokes.
  • And speaking of what shows up on a stat sheet, Pierce offers more in a category that doesn’t show up at all by way of numbers. Both his veteran leadership and on-floor smarts will help this Wizards team. Locker room, crunch time on the road, playoffs, whatever — Pierce’s 16 years in the NBA and 148 playoff games goes a long way.
  • Some will argue that Pierce is washed up, and I would disagree. At least offensively. As mentioned before, the Wizards take a step back defensively if you look at it from the perspective of swapping one player for the other. Offensively, however, the Wizards could improve with Pierce. Ask most NBA fans who they’d want taking the last shot to win a game; or better yet, the guy they’d want taking a majority of their team’s jumpshots if given the choice between Ariza and Pierce. The Truth wins out. And on top of that, if somebody wants to talk about “washed up”, I’d say Ariza (even at the ripe age of 29) was capable of looking “washed up” at times last season. I often referred to them as Arizaisms, but they mostly consisted of frustrating blunders anytime Ariza tried to put the ball on the floor in an attacking manner, or when it would seem he temporarily loose control of his long limbs, just kind of flailing around the floor. I don’t know — maybe that was just me. Bottom line though, the Wizards lose out on the defensive end and gain on the other.
  • What does this mean for Otto Porter Jr.? While adding a free agent to your position can sometimes mean bad things, that’s not the case at small forward or for OPJ’s future. Porter is playing well in the Las Vegas summer league, and that remains most important. The dude’s young, he needs a good offseason sans injury, and he’ll continue to develop. Pierce is just as good for a youngster like Porter as he is for the rest of the Wizards team.
  • After the Wizards beat out the Nets for the fifth-seed in the playoffs last season, Pierce had this to say:
  • “They’re good. They’re coming into their own. They’re growing up right before our eyes. You’ve seen their struggles over the years, and John Wall has matured as a player, obviously, becoming an all-star this year and taking on more responsibilities and becoming a leader for this ballclub. That’s what the Washington Wizards have been waiting on, and you’re seeing it.”

  • Fun fact/story/awesome occurrence: I once attended a Wizards-Celtics game at Verizon Center and was fortunate enough to land floor seats. And when I refer to them as floor seats, I don’t mean those seats right behind the bench, or the ones just behind the basket. I mean, like, the seats are literally on the hardwood with absolutely no obstruction in sight, and the ones that are priced way, way, way out of my price zone (I remember face value on them at $760, and this is back when Ricky Davis still played for Boston). Anyway, it still goes down as the greatest sporting event I’ve ever attended. If there was a poll to see what crazily-priced sports tickets are actually worth buying, my vote goes to basketball floor seats. It’s nuts. No other sport gets you that close and into the action. Case in point, Pierce comes to the sideline directly in front of me to inbound the ball — and I mean butt in my face, so-close-I-can-smell-the-mesh kind of close. Throughout the evening, about two rows behind me, these Wizards fans/maniacs were heckling like no other, and especially going after Pierce for obvious reasons (i.e. he was really good). As Pierce goes to receive the ball from the referee in order to inbound, the peanut gallery is letting him have it — curse words, lame jokes, the works. And just before he takes the ball from the ref, Pierce turns around, pulling the mouthpiece from his jaw, and says (addressing us as a group, and even making brief eye contact with yours truly), “Shut the fuck up!” Needless to say, I was blown away. Not because I was just scorned by an NBA master despite not mouthing a single sidecourt diss the entire game, but because Paul Pierce just talked to me (kinda, sorta) and we were as close to face-to-face as one could get with a pro athlete. It was incredible. I loved every minute of it. Paul Pierce and I had a moment, and not many people can say that. Since then, I’ve done two things: 1.) promised myself to buy season-ticket floor seats to Wizards games if I ever become rich and 2.) recognized Paul Pierce as the guy you despise as an opponent, but cherish as a player on your favorite squad.

Be happy about this if you’re a Wizards fan. Or if you’re just a fan of The Truth. Pierce will fit well here offensively, he brings valuable leadership and the desired toughness come playoff time, and he comes at a good price for the Wizards given their current situation and moving forward.

 

Report: Wizards Won’t Go Past $9M/Year for Trevor Ariza

Trevor Ariza 2

After the Wizards forked out $60 million for Marcin Gortat last week (officially inked today), I was a bit nervous regarding the team’s continued pursuit of Trevor Ariza.

It’s not that I don’t prefer Ariza back in Washington — quite the opposite really. The concern stems from the kind of money the team will have to dish out in order to retain Ariza’s services.

It was great to hear initial reports of the Wizards having a number in mind for Ariza, and one they weren’t willing to budge on. But it’s even better to hear they remain firm.

$9 million. Perfect. A raise from Ariza’s salary last season, and deservedly so, but not crossing into the field of double digits, which would feel more like the team being jipped.

I’m kind of the hypocrite in this situation too. I loved #A3za last season — we all did. At one point I even crowned him the Wizards’ MVP. Not only was he defending (which we knew he could do), but he also developed into a deadly assassin from long range. Spot-up, sure. Stopping on a break to pull up, got it. Ariza attempted nearly six three’s a game last season and shot better than 40 percent on the year from downtown. How could you not love a 3-and-D guy like Ariza?

Despite the love, I still carried a frugal attitude heading into the playoffs last season. As Ariza went, so did his stock. Every steal, made bucket, quick-thinking pass — Ariza’s next contract was inflating.

Was Ariza awesome last season? Yes. Would I call him irreplaceable? No.

  • I know this is how athletes work, but contract years are scary 1. Ariza is coming off his best season as a pro, he’s 29 years old, and he’s looking to make one last splash in his bank account — and there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But despite Ariza seeming like a true professional, I’m allowed to be weary.
  • Any correlation between Ariza’s offensive production in 2013/14 and John Wall’s progression as a point guard? More than half of Ariza’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and more than 95 percent of those three-pointers were assisted. I understand it wasn’t Ariza camping in a corner and Wall finding him for every shot — but that’s what good point guards do. They make their teammates better. They facilitate. They slice the lane, they force attention, they make defenses commit, and naturally, other guys play better by way of being a little more open than if they played with, say, Eric Maynor running the show. So yes, thank you Ariza for being a key offensive option. But let’s not ignore the way in which his scoring opportunities were created.
  • Arguably my biggest fear of unloading the wallet on Ariza is how it restricts future spending. In a summer or two, with Wall and Beal even nastier than present form, Washington is looking like a pretty sweet landing spot for a max-player, yes? I mean, I hope 2. But if Ariza is hitting corner three’s and snagging $12 million a year to do so — welp.
  • Maybe not this very offseason, but Ariza is a replaceable talent. That’s not meant in a negative way, but honestly. A long defensive specialist is attainable, sometimes even late in the draft (see: Jimmy Butler 3). Maybe this is me valuing Ariza more for his defense than his offense, I dunno. I’m just saying, not all is lost if Ariza moves on. Oh, and by the way…
  • Remember Otto Porter? The Wizards drafted him third-overall last summer. He happens to play Ariza’s position too, which means the team has invested in small forward. Is Porter a long athlete? Yeah, 6’9″ with a wingspan. Can he play defense? He did in college. Can he make shots from long range? He shot 42 percent from beyond the arc during his last season at Georgetown. Does he have potential? Hells yes, he’s only 21 years old.

That was all way too long. Simply put, I’m glad the Wizards aren’t budging off $9 million a year for Ariza, as I think that’s a fair and reasonable raise for both parties.

My bad.

Reaction: Wizards Sign Marcin Gortat to 5-Year Deal

Marcin Gortat

Despite names like LeBron, Melo, Lowry, and I guess Bosh being thrown around in NBA free agency this summer, the Wizards had two familiar names atop their list in Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza — two key pieces in Washington’s playoff run last season.

On Wednesday, the Wizards landed at least one of their targets, signing Gortat to a 5-year deal worth $60 million.

Coming somewhat as a surprise, the reaction appeared to lean more toward head shaking than head nodding. While some expressed their displeasure by lazily calling the 30-year-old center overpaid, others were a bit more harsh, referring to the Polish Hammer as nothing more than a decent backup (radio).

Meanwhile, myself and what seemed like ten other dudes liked the move for the Wizards and we’re happy to have Gortat back in DC.

Thoughts ensued…

  • Just for pointless comparison purposes, other centers set to earn somewhere in the $12 million range next season: Andrew Bogut ($12.9), Joakim Noah ($12.2), Nikola Pekovic ($12.1), Al Horford ($12) and Kevin Garnett ($12).
  • Laughable centers set to make almost $12 million next season: JaVale McGee.
  • I’m not sure why some refer to Gortat as if he’s DeSagana Diop. The guy’s effective on each end of the floor. Averaging a double-double and nearly two blocks per 36 minutes last season helped establish that.
  • Gortat is a pick-and-roll jedi, which should entice John Wall and Wizards fans alike.
  • Nene, the Wizards’ other big man, is a walking injury report. Don’t expect him to work a miracle and play a full season, ever. Gortat is (very) solid frontcourt insurance.
  • I agree — having Gortat for $10 million a season would’ve been great. But seriously? C’mon.
  • I also agree that $12 million a year is a lot of money. But with an increasing salary cap, Gortat’s salary becomes less and less harmful to the team’s wallet with every season.
  • Did the Wizards just sign Gortat through the age of 35? Uhh, yeah. But — and perhaps this is the homerism boiling out of my eyeballs — the guy looks like a young 30 right now. Certainly no one can project health and injury, but Gortat’s head is the only part of him that looks like it’s 30 years old. Ignore his caveman face and you’d never know he wasn’t a spry 28-year-old center.
  • It’s safe to assume there were other teams interested in Gortat’s services, right? So maybe the Wizards felt like offering him a fifth year was their leverage and leg-up in negotiations. Maybe not.

My only concern regarding this Gortat deal is how the team continues it’s pursuit of Ariza moving forward.

Word on the street is that plenty of teams are interested in signing Ariza, but also that the Wizards front office has a number they’re not willing to exceed in order to bring back their 3-and-D swingman.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed the rumors are true, and that the Wizards don’t back a money truck onto Ariza’s front lawn in order to keep him in DC.

Wizards Add Undrafted Khem Birch to Summer League Squad

Khem_Birch

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld continued his active streak of garnering “what the hell” reactions from fans last Thursday when the team selected Jordan Clarkson in the second round of the draft (the Wizards’ only pick of the night) and immediately shipped him off for cash considerations.

Typically a day or two after the draft, NBA teams begin signing the undrafted guys to help fill out their summer roster, and surprisingly enough, the Wizards were able to land a talented pair with good potential.

Khem Birch was a favorite of mine during his time at UNLV, and it was a bit surprising to not hear his name called in the second round on draft night.

I wrote a bit about him (along with a handful of other undrafted fellas) over at numberFire that looked a little something like this:

UNLV’s Khem Birch was an easy guy to root for in college – a bunch of hustle, defense and explosiveness mixed together in a 6’9″ frame capable of running the floor and cleaning the glass. But therein may lie Birch’s problem as a draft prospect – his best attributes were simply mixed together, making for an unpolished and unbalanced ball player.

Birch is best projected at power forward, despite playing more like a traditional center. While his career averages of 12 rebounds and nearly five blocks per 40 minutes serve as assets, Birch never eclipsed an 18.5 usage percentage, and a majority of his 11.5 points per game last season came by way of clean-up, close finishes at the rim and transition buckets.

Simply put, Birch is an energy and effort guy whose best chances come on the defensive end. He has the explosiveness, athleticism, length and two consecutive Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year awards to hinge on, but his offensive game is way behind. That said, there’s room for him on a roster as a jolt coming off the bench. He’s set to suit up for the Washington Wizards this summer.

In addition to Birch, the Wizards signed undrafted free agent Deonte Burton — an explosive point guard who brings toughness and solid perimeter defense. Like Birch, I expected Burton go somewhere in the mid- to late-second round.

I’ll post more on Burton in the coming days, but both of these guys come with good potential. The Wizards roster is anything but full and each player offers a skill set the team can benefit from — a defensive stalwart and energetic rebounder, and an explosive backup point guard.

Crunching Numbers: Jay Gruden’s Passing Preference and Its Effect on the Redskins Offense

c/o Richard Lipski (AP)

c/o Richard Lipski (AP)

Count me as one of the fans whose team brings on a new coach, and suddenly I’m riding high on the breath-of-fresh-air spiel and buying stock in everything my team.

There’s no fibbing about it — I’m pumped about Jay Gruden in Washington and I’m even more obsessed with the potential of he and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III working together.

While failing to control my enthusiasm regarding the District’s latest sports bromance, I combed through Pro Football Focus in an effort to pick out Gruden’s tendencies when it came to his quarterback and passing attack.

A few statistical tidbits regarding Gruden’s pass-happy play-calling:

  • Yes, pass-happy. Because Gruden loves to pass. A former college and arena league quarterback himself, Gruden isn’t shy when it comes to slinging the football. In 2011, Gruden wasted no time getting his second-round rookie quarterback acquainted in Cincinnati, as Andy Dalton ended the season with 516 pass attempts. The next season, Dalton threw 528 passes. And then 586 passes last year. In each of his three seasons under Gruden, Dalton ranked in the top-half of the league in pass attempts. Volume, volume, volume.
  • Last season, Dalton ranked second in the league in deep pass attempts — defined as a pass attempt of 20 yards or more. Trailing only Joe Flacco’s 88, Dalton attempted 86 deep passes in 2013, connecting on 31 of them and tossing 14 scores in the process. With a receiving arsenal consisting of weapons such as Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed, why can’t we expect even more of a deep passing threat in Washington this season?
  • By far my most favorite carry-over Gruden stat from his Bengals days is the preferred pace at which he operates his offense. Not necessarily in terms of the no-huddle — which I believe the Redskins will run plenty of — but instead how quick his quarterback gets the ball out. Last season, for example, Dalton had the lowest average time of any quarterback from the snap of the ball to pass attempt at 2.24 seconds (Chad Henne, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady closed out the top-5). And most importantly, 2014 wasn’t an outlier for either Dalton or Gruden. In his three years under Gruden’s watch, Dalton averaged just 2.3 seconds in the pocket before a pass attempt with over 1,600 dropbacks. So yes — that quicker release Griffin has been working on this offseason can go a very long way.
  • No real surprise as a result of such quick operation, but Dalton trailed only Peyton Manning as the least pressured quarterback of 2013. According to PFF, Dalton fell under pressure on just 25.2 percent of his 640 total dropbacks. [ All Redskins fans should be nodding in harmony after reading that ]

There’s plenty of Kool-Aid on this bandwagon.

Johnny Depp Is James “Whitey” Bulger in New Biopic About Famed Boston Mobster

Recent pictures popped up of Johnny Depp on set in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston filming the upcoming biopic “Black Mass”, in which Depp portrays famed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Needless to say, Depp pulls off character in amazing fashion.

According to the Huffington Post, the film is directed by Scott Cooper, and do out sometime next year.

Can’t wait.

Johnny Depp Films A Violent Scene For 'Black Mass'

 

Johnny Depp Returns to Set for 'Black Mass'

And for comparison purposes, an actual shot of Whitey in his heyday…

Whitey Bulger

Wizards’ Playoff Run Comes to an End, Sadness Ensues

Sad Zach

As I pushed through my daily routine this morning with the same miserable grimace painted on my face from the night before following Washington’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, I tried to remind myself of a few bright spots about this Washington Wizards team and their 2014 playoff run.

  1. The Wizards played more games this season than I’ve ever seen them play in a single season, ever. In my entire lifetime.
  2. Not once in all my decades on this planet have the Wizards made it to the second round of the playoffs, until this season.
  3. All but a handful of experts (a generous estimation) wrote this Wizards team off. No one even gave them a chance in the first round. The Wizards defied those odds and went 6-5 in the playoffs.
  4. Bradley Beal is 20 years old. John Wall is 23.
  5. This team quickly erased their “doormat” label and earned some respect.

Nonetheless, I’m still sad…for several reasons.

  1. Despite the second round, this season felt entirely too short — and that’s probably with any fan of any team. When your basketball team makes a run into the playoffs, you’re not entirely sure if baseball is even still a sport. That was me. I still want that.
  2. There’s absolutely ZERO explanation for the Wizards’ struggle at home this season. In this Indiana series, the Wizards shot 39 percent from the field and just 23 percent from long-range when playing at the Verizon Center. On the road, they shot over 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from downtown. I didn’t fear Game 6 because the Wizards faced elimination against a No. 1-seed. I feared Game 6 because the Wizards were playing at home.
  3. With their backs against the wall, the Wizards top-three scorers (Wall, Beal and Ariza) combined for 34 points on 29 percent shooting. Agony.
  4. Both Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza are free agents this summer, and it’s likely at least one of them won’t be back (I think?). They were a fun part of the run — whether it be in the best of ways (Gortat hook shots), or the most frustrating (Arizaisms, usually by way of Trevor trying to dribble).
  5. It wouldn’t hurt so much had the Wizards lost to a team that we all knew was clearly better than they were. But they didn’t. Without bringing up the walking dead, zebras and lodging bullets into your own feet, the Pacers simply didn’t feel like a team that should’ve made it to the Eastern Conference Finals over the Wizards.
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