Washington upgrades their second unit, but does that actually threaten Cleveland?
In the “really need a backup point guard” lottery, Cleveland hit the jackpot with the Deron Williams signing. A starting caliber player, Williams solidifies Cleveland’s second unit. For reference, recreating this team on “2K My GM” shares the same difficulty level as recreating the DeMarcus Cousins trade, that level being impossible. Cleveland somehow upgraded the backup point guard position (Delly->DWill), true center (Moz->Bogut), LeBron Backup (Jefferson->DWill2.0) and added the league’s premier shooter in Kyle Korver. For a team wildly over the salary cap, I’d say this isn’t half bad. Cleveland, however, wasn’t the only team making adjustments. The Dark Horse Washington Wizards made two noteworthy small additions. They acquired Brooklyn shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic and then signed bought out point guard Brandon Jennings. Both of these signings improve the team, though raise the same questions any other eastern conference acquisition does: Do these acquisitions make us better than Cleveland? Let us then take a closer look, and subsequently remind ourselves why the answer, as it’s remained for a couple years now, is still no.
Did you know the Washington Wizards starting five is really good? They average the second highest points per game in the NBA, trailing only Golden State. You know what else the Washington Wizards starting five does? Plays a lot. On average, the Wiz starters share the court 34 minutes a game. The reason? Washington’s bench is bad. Really bad.
Washington’s bench averages 14.3 minutes a game, 29th in the league. Washington averages 23.4 points a game, once again 29th in the league. Not a single player off of Washington’s bench produces a positive +/-. If you were curious, that’s not fantastic. As a result, Wizards GM Ernie Grun sought improvement through any means necessary.
During the trade deadline, the Wizards added arguably the Brooklyn Net’s second best player, Bojan Bogdanovic, a Croatian volume scorer. Bogdanovic fills one Wizards need, a semblance of bench scoring. Before the trade, head coach Scott Brooks slotted starting power forward Markieff Morris among the bench mob, alleviating some concerns. This, however, stop gapped, not solved the problem. Bogdanovic’s 14 bench points provide, while not a lone fix, some solace regarding offensive production. Washington also recognized this, and went out finding their second unit additional help.
If Deron Williams was free agency’s winning ticket, Brandon Jennings represents the runner up. Jennings’s career slid since his 20 points a game days, though he still provides solid production off the bench. A clear upgrade from Trey Burke, Jennings puts up 8 points and 5 assists a night, numbers clearly capable of holding Wall’s fort down while he rests. Pairing next to Bogdanovic and staggered starters, Brooks suddenly has bench options who aren’t an actual train wreck. But, do they really fix any of Washington’s inherent problems?
Jennings and Bogdanovic are good players. Solid roleplayers off the bench, no reasons immediate stick out implying they’d make Washington’s bench worse. Conversely, however, no evidence presents itself either improves the bench’s efficiency. Bojan’s -7.1 +/- and Jennings’ -1.6 don’t particularly fix Washington’s issue of the second unit’s nightly hole they dig. Bojan’s 0.5 assist to turnover ratio isn’t encouraging either, and both players are reputably average defenders at best. Cleveland massively upgraded their second unit through acquisitions, while Washington’s is still clearly is exploitable. Pair that with Washington’s starting lineup seeing disproportionate amounts of play throughout a seven game series, and Cleveland simply wins via exhaustion.
Sans Boston or Toronto acquiring Jimmy Butler or Paul George, there wasn’t a trade any team could make that might shift the eastern conference favors away from Cleveland. That said, Washington’s additions are interesting, and do raise questions. An excellent starting five, Washington bolstered their bench similar to Cleveland, though I’d doubt it does more than push Washington closer to the ECF. Washington crashed the party Toronto and Boston we’re having in the second and third seeds, but in the end, Cleveland is still clearly number one.