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On Saturday evening, with starters John Wall and Bradley Beal both out due to injury, the Washington Wizards initiated the Cackle Machine when they announced rookies Tomas Satoransky and Sheldon McClellan as starters. The two had produced a grand total of 134 and 21 minutes as NBA players prior to the team’s pairing with the Chicago Bulls, and it was presumed that the duo would be overwhelmed by the well-heeled, All-Star berth and championship-laden aging Chicago backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.
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Instead of falling flat, though, the pair held its own. The 25-year old Satoransky (12 points, nine assists) and 24-year old McClellan (15 points, zero turnovers) played fine basketball in 31 and 35 minutes combined, as Wade needed 17 shots to score 14 points, and Rondo missed all six of his looks from the field while playing his typically-absent defense.
The Wizards lost, but it was hardly the starting backcourt’s fault. Nor the starting frontcourt’s fault, either, as center Marcin Gortat (18 points, 14 rebounds) pointed out following the defeat:
Gortat asked about #Wiz 2nd unit: "I think right now as far as I know I think we’ve got one of the worst bench in the league right now."
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) November 13, 2016
Gortat, via NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, went on:
“We need energy. We need effort. We’ve got to make shots.
“I think there’s a lot of things we can do better.”
The Wizards’ bench was outscored 32-18 in the 106-95 loss to Chicago, with veterans Marcus Thornton (a pine-leading nine points) and Trey Burke attempting to circle the wagons alongside center Jason Smith (four fouls, five rebounds, two turnovers, 0-4 shooting), and young swingman Kelly Oubre (three points, three fouls in nine minutes). The loss dropped Washington to 2-7 on the year, hardly a death knell for the 2016-17 season, but not the start the team had hoped for upon entering the campaign with a new coach in former Oklahoma City Thunder top man Scott Brooks.
Washington currently is just a half-point up on Minnesota in the race to stay out of the cellar in terms of bench scoring, but among the league’s 30 teams the group is last in point-differential as the season begins its fourth week on Tuesday.
This is how life works with a bench that was rather skinflint to begin with before losing two previously-unheralded types like Satoransky and McClellan (nearly 10 points and three assists in 29 minutes of combined action on average) to the starting lineup with John Wall and Bradley Beal out.
Beal, still working through hamstring issues, remains questionable for Wednesday’s match against Philadelphia). Wall sat for the second half of a back-to-back in Chicago on Saturday, and could sit for the second half of a back-to-back on Thursday.
Despite being a TNT night, that contest (against New York) thankfully will not be televised. The Wizards, despite making the playoffs in the two seasons prior to last one (and the presence of Wall, a three-time All-Star) will not see their games on either ESPN or TNT until mid-January, and they’ll hit the national TV air just five times this season. The squad remains forever relegated to that early tip-off on the East Coast that you flip away from on League Pass after the more entertaining things spark up.
The aesthetic properties of the team won’t improve much with the return of hoped-for lead bench plugger Ian Mahinmi, the team’s top free agent acquisition last offseason in what was supposed to be the Summer of Kevin Durant. Mahinmi (signed by general manager Ernie Grunfeld to a four-year, $64 million deal) is a fine player when able, but he’s a banger in the paint who is attempting, at age 30, to return from a torn meniscus. Reserve center Jason Smith is also 30, shooting 29 percent, and eight years removed from an ACL tear.
Coach Scott Brooks apparently wants little to do with big man Andrew Nicholson (signed by Grunfeld to a four-year, $26 million deal last offseason), and fellow 2016 acquisition Trey Burke’s unexpectedly stout shooting year (he’s hit half of his field goals and three-pointers thus far) has been marred by iffy play and an inability to consistently find his teammates. Presuming there are any worthy of a pointed pass, so far.
Brooks still saw fit to bring Burke (who started 68 of 70 games for Utah in 2013-14 and 43 games the next season) off the pine against Chicago in favor of Satoransky, and he responded with six points and three assists in 17 minutes. The Wizards coach told the press following the loss that this was just par for his particular course:
“I’m not afraid to throw guys in there,” Brooks said. “Age has nothing to do with my process. Experience, that helps but you gain experience day by day if we do our job of developing our guys.”
That’s fine, as it isn’t as if Brooks is getting in the way of Burke’s move to turn the franchise around in John Wall’s absence. What is worrying, though, is how that bench will respond to Gortat’s rather public callout. Even if he pulled back a bit following his move from locker room to team plane:
The bench can’t play much worse, but it isn’t as if we can expect a whole lot better.
This is a poorly-constructed team, run by a general manager in Ernie Grunfeld that has presided over several of them through his 13 years running the Washington Wizards. The team’s reserves might chafe at Gortat being so brazen in the wake of yet another loss to start the season, but don’t expect many tangible results in the basketball realm.
They might key Marcin’s car, though.
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