Washington Wizards’ center Thomas Bryant partially tore his left ACL against the Heat last Saturday, ending his season. Bryant was an important part of the Wizards’ rotation, and they are now left with 27 minutes to fill at the center position. If the roster stays as currently constructed, Robin Lopez and Moritz Wagner would likely play the bulk of these minutes, but both of these options leave much to be desired.
Lopez is a savvy veteran who understands his role, but he is an offensive liability who doesn’t bring a lot of concrete skills other than screen setting and offensive rebounding. He also has poor lateral quickness and while he is a solid interior defender, his age and lack of athleticism pretty much anchor him to the paint. Wagner is a talented offensive player who brings some shooting ability to the table, but his defensive shortcomings make him almost unplayable. He averages 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes and would likely only contribute to the Wizards pre-existing issue of allowing their opponents to shoot too many free throws. All this being said, if the Wizards want to keep their postseason hopes alive, they need to look to make a trade or a free agency signing. Here are some players they should consider:
Larry Nance Jr. (Cleveland Cavaliers):
At 6-foot-7, Nance is perhaps more suited to playing power forward than center, but he possesses explosive leaping ability that makes him a solid rebounder. The Wizards could play quasi-small-ball with Nance without being hurt too much on the boards thanks to Westbrook’s rebounding ability. He also has begun to showcase some outside shooting ability over the last three seasons and is shooting a career high 42.2 percent on 3.8 3-point attempts per game this year. Additionally, he has demonstrated some playmaking ability, and currently ranks eighth in the NBA in assists per game among power forwards and centers with 3.7 per game.
Outside of his well-rounded offensive skill set, he is a positive defender with some positional versatility and currently ranks first on the Cavaliers with a defensive box plus-minus of 2.5. He would be able to provide the Wizards with offensive production not too far off from that of Bryant while also giving them an upgrade on the defensive end. The Cavaliers now have five starting quality big men after yesterday’s blockbuster trade, so it stands to reason that they will be open to listening to offers for some of them. Nance is currently on a four year, $44 million contract with the Cavaliers set to end in 2023, making him a viable but somewhat pricey option.
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers):
Turner has been the subject of trade discussions for a couple of seasons now. His consistent appearances in the rumor mill suggest that the Pacers are open to the idea of moving him for the right price. Turner has an intriguing skillset; he has excellent size for a center at 6-foot-11, and has proven himself to be one of the best shot blockers in the league. He was the league leader in blocks per game in 2019 with 2.7 per game and currently leads the league this year with 4.1 per game. He has always been an impactful defensive player capable of anchoring the paint.
What makes Turner unique is his shooting ability. Turner is a career 35.4 percent 3-point shooter on 2.2 attempts per game. His 3-point marksmanship would provide them with the same spacing that Bryant did, and would keep the paint open for Russell Westbrook, something that was very beneficial to him last year in Houston’s spacing-oriented offense.
The downside is that Turner is more expensive than the other two players on this list. He is currently signed to a four year, $80 million contract with the Pacers. However, Turner could likely play with Bryant and could stay with the team long term.
Hassan Whiteside (Sacramento Kings):
Whiteside returned to the team where he started his career this offseason by signing a one-year $2.3 million contract with the Sacramento Kings. It was a questionable decision by both sides, as the Kings already had a starting center in Richaun Holmes and a prospect in Marvin Bagley to eat up minutes at the position. At 31, Whiteside does not exactly fit their timeline as a young team either. As many predicted, Whiteside has not seen the floor much this year, playing an average of 12.7 minutes per game. Sacramento does not really need Whiteside, and his cheap contract makes him an ideal trade candidate for the Wizards as they could get him without giving up a lot.
His effort level on the court has been a consistent source of criticism throughout his career, but when locked in Whiteside has the ability to dominate the paint. He has led the NBA in blocks per game twice in his career and made the All-Defensive team in 2016. Whiteside has been known to complain about not getting enough opportunities and being relegated to rim-running and clean up duties on offense, so the Wizards might have to give him the occasional post-up possession to keep him happy, but this would be a small price to pay for him providing the rim protection the Wizards desperately need. This is the deal the Wizards are most likely going to be able to pull off, and would be a suitable band-aid for some short term personnel issues. They could let him walk after the season ends with no consequences.
All three of these players are attractive options for the Wizards, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Wagner and Lopez would only exacerbate the team’s defensive struggles, so making a trade for one of these players would be in the best interest of the franchise in order to keep their playoff hopes alive and stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook happy and committed to the team. Here’s to hoping GM Tommy Sheppard can pull something off.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and ESPN
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