5 defenders the Wizards could target at the NBA trade deadline

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Mike DePrisco
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5 defenders the Wizards could target at the trade deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Wizards don't appear poised for massive change ahead of the 2021 NBA trade deadline, but an area they are particularly interested in addressing is their defense

Washington owns the 25th-ranked defensive rating in the NBA, giving up 114.8 points per 100 possessions. While the defense has improved since the 2020 season, where they ranked last in the league in defense, that side of the floor has hindered the Wizards' consistency. 

When it comes to adding a bit more of a defensive edge to the roster, the Wizards have plenty of intriguing options to consider among the players presumably available on the trade market.

Larry Nance Jr.: PF/SF, Cavaliers

Nance has made great strides as a player since entering the league as a player whose main value on the floor was rolling to the rim or finishing off of well-timed cuts. With the Cavs, he's turned himself into a strong, versatile defender who can knock down spot-up threes and make plays for others off the dribble. 

Now, there's no guarantee Cleveland gives him away, so any team trading for Nance would have to bring a strong offer. But for the Wizards, his versatility to guard both forward spots and sometimes hang tough as a small-ball center would do a lot for their defense, especially considering there are only a handful of players on the roster you'd trust guarding more than two positions. 

Shaquille Harrison: PG/SG, Free agent

The Wizards actually wouldn't have to trade for Harrison, as he's a free agent after getting waived by the Jazz at the end of February. Still, this is a player worth keeping an eye on as he's a borderline elite perimeter defender and at 6'7, could play anywhere from point guard to small forward. 

The main question with Harrison throughout his short career has been his offense, but last season with the Bulls, he showcased some improved playmaking skills and shot 38% from three on limited volume. He couldn't find a place in Utah's already heavily established rotation, so his lack of production this season shouldn't limit his ceiling wherever he ends up next. 

If the Wizards wanted to bring Harrison on, however, they'd have to free up a roster spot by either releasing someone or executing a two-for-one player trade. 

Khem Birch: C, Magic

The Magic have a bit of a log-jam at center with All-Star Nikola Vucevic as the starter, Birch as the reliable veteran backup and Mo Bamba sitting at third on the depth chart and in need of developmental minutes. If the Magic want to alleviate that situation at all, Birch would be a low-cost, low-risk option for the Wizards to target. 

He sets good screens, provides good interior defense and rebounds the ball well, averaging 9.5 boards per 36 minutes with Orlando this season. The Wizards already use three centers on a regular basis, so if they got Birch they'd have to make a few decisions regarding Alex Len, Robin Lopez and Moe Wagner. 

JaVale McGee: C, Cavaliers

Similar to Birch, if the Wizards reunited with JaVale McGee they would have to sort out their center rotation a bit. The main difference is with McGee, and Wizards fans know this by now, you're getting an unpredictable commodity. 

The highs are high with McGee, as he can provide valuable shot-blocking and rim protection on the defensive end with the occasional ability to hold his own on switches. There's also the vertical spacing he brings as a lob threat in the pick-and-roll. 

The lows are equally low, though. One game, McGee is an incredibly valuable center that can change the game with his physical gifts, and then the next he could be completely invisible. 

James Ennis III: SF/SG, Magic

Some of the premiere wings on the trade market, like Harrison Barnes, Larry Nance Jr. and Victor Oladipo may not be on the Wizards' radar by trade deadline day. If they're looking a tier below and need a player who can guard three positions, knock down the occasional spot-up 3-pointer and attack a closeout here and there, Ennis is a good bet. 

With Washington's wing depth consisting primarily of young, inexperienced players, a veteran who's been in the league for six years could be a productive addition.