The NBA free agency period officially kicks off on July 1st. Undoubtedly, the biggest name hitting the open market this summer will be perennial All-Star and Washington, D.C. native Kevin Durant, and there’s nothing more that basketball fans in the Nation’s Capital would want than to see Durant join the hometown Washington Wizards. Unfortunately for Wiz fans, it’s becoming increasingly evident that D.C. is not in his final plans; the way it looks currently, Durant’s main choices are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the 2-time Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.
The good news for Washington is that while they’ve struck out of the Durant sweepstakes, this year’s free agent class features several high-value options besides him. Here are five other players that the Wizards should put at the top of their priority list.
Bradley Beal (Guard), Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal has spent his first four seasons in Washington, and it is safe to bet that he will remain a Wizard for the next few years too.
The young man, who the Wizards drafted with the third pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of the University of Florida, has been every bit of the player the Wizards were hoping; the tandem of him and John Wall have continued to ascend together and form one of the best young backcourts in basketball today. Beal is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.4 points (a career high) and shot over 42 percent (also a career high). It would definitely do the Wizards some good if his rebounding and assist numbers improved (he’s a career 3 assist, 3.7 rebound per game guy), but that’s not necessarily going to directly hinder Washington’s chances to win each night. As long as Beal is healthy, he continues to be a reliable option for D.C.
Key words: When healthy.
The only thing that should give the Wizards grounds for concern is Beal’s lengthy injury history. Bradley has missed a grand total of 81 career games; he has not finished an entire 82-game season in his career. To make things more concerning, Beal has suffered multiple stress fractures in his legs, which means he will likely be on a minutes restrictions the rest of his career; he played a career low 31.1 minutes and missed 27 games in 2015. If the Wizards had any other options, Beal likely would not be getting a max contract, but considering they had no picks in this year’s draft and the free agents would likely command some big bucks, Washington really has no choice but to gamble on him staying healthy. Thankfully for Beal, it’s a risk they are more than willing to take.
Al Horford (Center), Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards reside in the same division within the Eastern Conference, so it’s probably in Washington’s best interest to do whatever they have to do to position themselves to take control of the Southeast.
Snagging Al Horford could be one way of doing that.
According to a report by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, this is not far from a reality; Horford is among Washington’s top three main targets. This move would make sense for a few reasons. Among them is that big man Nene is himself a free agent, but it isn’t likely that he returns to D.C. due to his age and his injury troubles (something that looks like a common theme in the nation’s capital).
Then there’s the fact that the 30-year old is a three-time All-Star who’s entering the prime of his career. Horford can play both the forward and center roles (with the presence of Marcin Gortat, Al would likely move to forward) and is a complete player on both ends of the floor. On offense he can score inside and is a great rebounder, but in 2015 he also showed he could step out and hit the three-pointer, especially in the postseason where he shot nearly 40 percent beyond the arc. As for the defensive end he he averaged 1.5 blocked shots a game. A guy with Horford’s prowess in the middle could really do wonders for Washington’s 21st-ranked defense, and giving point guard John Wall yet another offensive weapon–and a much more durable one at that–could be huge.
Horford will certainly be a hot commodity, with several teams (coincidentally including the Thunder) having expressed a lot of interest. It remains to be seen if Washington will be willing to get into a bidding war.
Aaron Afflalo (Guard), New York Knicks
Even if Washington does not acquire any big-names in free agency, the least they could do is provide their bench with some veteran leadership and scoring. This is where a guy like Aaron Afflalo provides value.
Afflalo is a guy who has made his career as an NBA “journey man,” having played for six teams during an eight-year career. Last season with
the Knicks he posted 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2 assists per game. That he averaged over 30 minutes per game makes those statistics sound pedestrian. In a reduced role (20-25 minutes for instance), numbers like those could prove to be valuable contributions. He could do big things as the leader of a second unit with guys like Markief Morris, Otto Porter and Jared Dudley, if they could develop some consistency and play well on a nightly basis.
Of course, no player comes without their set of concerns. In Afflalo’s case he’s made it clear after a fallout in New York that he doesn’t not see himself as a reserve player, so it’s doubtful he would be willing to sign elsewhere just to come off somebody’s bench. There have also been reports that he’s headed to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers. One thing the Wiz should bet on is that he will not command anything super expensive, and he does provide value regardless of what role he’d receive, so they ought to give it a shot and reel Afflalo in.
Bismack Biyombo (Center), Toronto Raptors
Bismack Biyombo has gone from a little-known big man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to one of free agency’s most intriguing prospects.
At 6’9″, Biyombo is undersized for the center position and would probably be better over at forward, especially in D.C. where Marcin Gortat currently runs things at center. Biyombo provides little to no threat at all on the offensive end as a scorer (4.6 points per game in the playoffs and 5.5 durng the regular season), so that’s a decision a team will have to think about as to whether they’re willing to give a guy max money who will not be a scoring threat. That
being said, he’s a machine on the offensivwe and defensive end on the glass, rebounding at such a high rate not just in 2015 but throughout his short career.
In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bismack averaged 11.6 rebounds per game, and it was in games 3 and 4 specifically where he had his coming-out party in the absence of Jonas Valanciunas; in those two games alone he combined for an astonishing 40 rebounds as well as seven blocked shots. Of course two games shouldn’t be enough to get anyone a contract but 11.6 rebounds is not something the Wiz should take lightly. In 2015 the Washington Wizards ranked 26th in the league in rebounding. 26th. That number absolutely has to go up, and Biyombo could be a guy that could make it happen.
Biyombo may not be a great fit for a lot of other teams, but in D.C. his rebounding, and his now deep playoff experience, could be an incredibly value addition that would make this team much improved.
Nicolas Batum (Forward-Guard), Charlotte Hornets
Nicolas Batum is an interesting player, because at 6’8″ and 200 pounds and with the skill set he possesses, he’s a guy that can play at both the guard and forward positions. Assuming the Wizards bring back Bradley Beal (which everyone expects them to do), he would likely pla at the 3, however with his flexibility he could be someone that could also play guard for the team’s second unit and command more touches that way.
Batum is a guy who can shoot the ball well, as we saw in his days in Portland. He continued that in 2015 , a year in which he shot 42.6 percent from the field and averaged 14.9 points, but what makes him a great asset to any squad is that he can do so many other things well. He averaged a shade under 6 assists per game, so he could fit in beautifully to a Washington offense that was in the top five in the league in assists (thanks in large part to the brilliance of John Wall and Gortat). His rebounding numbers were also very good (6.1 per contest), and with the rebounding numbers Washington had, bringing anyone in would honestly be an improvement there.
Even better, he and the Wizards want the same thing: redemption. Batum was on a team in the Hornets that nearly advanced to the second round of the playoffs only to allow the Heat to come back from a 3-2 deficit and win that series, so you know that wherever he winds up, he will be itching to redeem himself (He shot just 37 percent in that series too, so there’s also that). As for the Wizards, they came up short of even reaching the postseason a year after nearly making the Eastern Conference Finals, so you know the expectations for them are going to be high as they fight to get back to that spot.
Batum is apparently high on Washington’s free agent list as well, and that’s good, because this is a match made in basketball heaven.
Spark Sports Analyst