Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Wizards have more talented big men than at any point in recent memory. Unfortunately, their respective skillsets largely overlap. What's a team to do?
NBA power forwards are required to be more skilled than ever, in part due to the league's increasing emphasis on smaller, faster line ups that feature more outside shooters than ever before. Children of the '90s grew up thinking of bruisers like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley as the prototypical power forward. Twenty years later, the position has been completely re-defined, with pick-and-pop players like David West and Chris Bosh the new normal.
"Stretch fours" made from this mold are becoming more and more common, and teams that don't adjust to this new style of play are going to be left behind. It may not be intentional, but the Washington Wizards enter the 2012-13 season without a single power forward who can shoot from the outside. While teams are typically fine playing one non-shooter in the frontcourt, teams with multiple non-shooters on the floor at the same time invite opposing defenses to pack the paint, leading to more long two-point jump shots and rejected layups along with fewer opportunities for offensive rebounds.
The Wizards' roster currently features five players who could see heavy minutes in the frontcourt this season: Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Emeka Okafor and Nene Hilario. While the talent levels vary quite a bit, each is already productive, with Booker, Vesely and Seraphin still possessing quite a bit of room for growth. While teams like the Warriors and 76ers are giving large roles to at best marginal players like Kwame Brown and Andris Biedrins (who made all of one free throw last year while making roughly $9 million), Washington's worst big man, Vesely, could at the very least crack the rotation for the vast majority of the league's teams.
Unfortunately, not one of the Wizards' bigs is a particularly good outside shooter. Vesely and Booker ,in particular, are nowhere near developing the kind of automatic 18-foot jump shot that is expected of an NBA big man in 2012, while Seraphin, Nene, and Okafor appear uncomfortable catching and shooting outside of the paint.
For the sake of on-court chemistry, someone is going to need to go. Assuming that the injury bug doesn't bite, Nene and Seraphin are keepers, with the former being one of the league's best big men and the latter one of the Wizards' best players after only two years of NBA ball. Despite entering the NBA in 2005, Okafor is 30 and has two years left on his contract, making it unlikely that he's in the team's long-term plans. While a trade to a contender isn't out of the question, Okafor's contract will make it difficult for the Wizards to get fair value for him, at least initially.
That leaves Vesely and Booker as possible odd men out. Vesely's length provides him with more upside; despite largely struggling as a rookie, a number of his closest comparables went on to have solid careers as defense-first players who played complementary roles on some solid teams. Booker, while currently a more productive player than Vesely and a slightly better shooter, offers less upside as a defender due to his height.
The Wizards' best course of action, at least at this point, would be to explore trades involving one or both of them. Boston's Jared Sullinger, Houston's Patrick Patterson, Oklahoma City's Perry Jones III, or either Morris twin would mesh perfectly with Seraphin and Nene on both ends of the court while still offering more upside than the vast majority of potential free agent signings will.
What do you think? Can the Wizards' create a balanced frontcourt from the players currently on the roster? Sound off in the comments and let us know.