The regular season has yet to begin, and the Washington Wizards are already being visited by the injury bug that haunted them in 2015-16. It’s first victim: Ian Mahinmi.
In a summer that consisted of the Wizards striking out on all of the big-name free agents, they connected with Mahinmi and agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal. At first, it seemed like entirely too much for a center who is limited offensively, but there is no hiding the impact he can have on a game with his defensive prowess, and that’s something this team has desperately needed in the frontcourt.
On Oct. 15, it was announced that Mahinmi would have to undergo surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. He will be sidelined for an estimated 4-6 weeks. During that time, the Wizards will turn to Andrew Nicholson to make up for the production in Mahinmi’s absence.
Nicholson was another addition made by Washington this summer. After spending his first four seasons in Orlando averaging 6.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, he signed a four-year, $26 million deal. Like Mahinmi, there were mixed emotions of whether or not Nicholson was worth that type of money. As a preview of what he can bring for the future, Nicholson had a solid six games in preseason averaging 11.1 points and six rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game.
He has quickly gained the respect of his new teammates with his fully-loaded skill set on the block, Marcus Thornton told the Washington Post:
“The obvious: He gets buckets. You throw it down to him, 90 to 95 percent of the time it’s going to be a foul or a bucket. We joke around about that every day. We call him a ‘walking bucket.’”
Being a part of a reserve lineup consisting of Trey Burke, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tomas Satoransky and Jason Smith, Nicholson will have to live up to his new nickname in order to keep the Wizards above water when the starters rest.
In Scott Brooks’ system, Nicholson will be involved in plenty of situations where he is setting ball-screens. One area of Nicholson’s game that he worked on intensely this offseason was his three-point shot. He has a .336 three-point percentage for his career entering 2016-17, but this preseason converted on 8-of-17 (.471) of his long-range shots. Many of his attempts came from pick-and-pops. It wasn’t like he was forcing the issue; every shot from outside for Nicholson was within the flow of the offense and in rhythm.
The NBA is seeing more and more big men try and convert themselves into an efficient outside shooter. Some are making the transition successfully while others have to go through their struggles. Luckily for the Wizards, Nicholson has what seems to be an infinite amount of post-up moves that give him the advantage almost every time he gets a touch. If Brooks decides to go to his bench early and pair Nicholson and Marcin Gortat in the frontcourt, he can turn to his perimeter game to make his impact felt.
Not many knew what to make of the Nicholson acquisition in July. Fast forward just a little over three months from the signing, and now he will be the most important piece for the Wizards’ bench heading into the regular season.