Let's deconstruct the deal team-by-team and
Bradley Beal declined his $36.4 million player option on
Wednesday, but as Adrian Wojnarowski reported
Sunday, that was an expected move, as Beal can now sign a
five-year supermax contract worth close to $248 million. So if his
free agency plays out as expected, Beal is still entrenched as the
steward of the Wizards, which means Washington is still trying to
rebuild and contend on the fly.
The franchise has reenergized its pursuit of a stable backcourt
surrounding Beal. The Wizards selected Johnny Davis with the No. 10
overall pick in last week's NBA Draft, and he projects as a
seamless complement to Beal in time: a tough-as-nails defender at
the point of attack and a scoring threat when attacking the
Davis is not ready to be thrown into the fire as perhaps the
second-leading touch-getter on the roster, though. Enter Monte
Morris, who's quite a different player from Beal and Davis in all
the right ways.
Morris is a career 39.4% three-point shooter from beyond the
arc. Most of that clip comes from catch-and-shoot prowess, where
Morris hit at 42.1% this season vs. just 32.4% on a much lower
volume of pull-ups. There's been a fairly consistent gap in those
categories for most of his career.
He also sported one of the better at-rim rates in the league
last season, finishing 68% of his shots within 4 feet of the basket
(90th percentile among point guards, per Cleaning the Glass). That
percentage also comes with a caveat: Morris was assisted on a
whopping 63% of his at-rim makes, which is by far the highest
percentage among all point guards (and fifth among all guards who
played at least 800 minutes this season).
Having one of the world's best passers in Nikola Jokic on the
Nuggets certainly changed Morris' role. He likely won't be in quite
as many vertical cuts to the basket, waiting for a feed from a
post-up big. The point is that Morris knows how to cut and space
effectively, and next to a creator like Beal, should get his share
of catch-and-convert looks.
He can still make some scoring plays happen on his own with his
ability to change pace and direction quickly. Morris has also been
lauded as an assist-to-turnover wizard, and it's true that his
turnover rate is consistently among the best in the league. He
doesn't exactly create assists, but Morris is at least a steady
decision-maker you can trust as a secondary guard.
With that being said, Morris does not solve the creative
playmaking gap that exists throughout this Wizards roster. Among
the 10 players who logged at least 800 minutes in Washington, zero
ranked in the top-25 percentile at their respective positions for
assist-to-usage rate. Several were fairly close — Beal, Kyle Kuzma,
Deni Avdija and Raul Neto were all above-average — but in the
absence of a Tier 1 playmaker, it feels like this rotation could
use one more person to open up the court.
Barton's assist rate (17.1%) and assist-to-usage rate (0.87)
both slotted in the 87th percentile among wings last year, even as
he played alongside Nikola Jokic and other great passers. I was
personally suprised to find that Barton actually posted the highest
adjusted assist-to-pass ratio on the Nuggets in 2021-22, even
edging out Jokic. Amidst his streaky scoring and unfortunate injury
history, Barton adds an underrated dimension as a passer.
Barton adeptly keeps his eyes up when he drives and can hit
popping players like Jokic, or finds the open man if his attack
draws help. He's not a human highlight reel as a passer, but these
are some quality finds for a player who makes his living as a
scorer. Barton assisted on 12% of plays where he drove to the
basket, per BBall Index, ranking in the 80th percentile at his
A trio of Beal, Kuzma and Barton threatening as drivers should
open up options for Washington's array of complementary
Do Morris or Barton patch up the Wizards' 25th-ranked defense?
Absolutely not. But as solid as Caldwell-Pope was, he was not
holding together the defensive end, and parting with him makes
sense for two well-fitting offensive pieces. Washington's guard
rotation, long considered a weakness outside of Beal, now feels
like an area of strength and relative upside.
Let's get the financial incentive out of the way before looking
on the court. According to the reports, this trade helps Denver
sneak back under the luxury tax — not something to cheer about, but
certainly beneficial for the future.
More importantly, the move showed Denver recognizes the
limitations of its own roster, and has a plan to correct them.
Caldwell-Pope started all 77 games in his lone season with
Washington, putting together a resurgent year by averaging 13.2
points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game — all bests over the
past four seasons.
Offensively, the fit is obvious: KCP should thrive as an outlet
for Jokic. Caldwell-Pope canned 42.0% of his catch-and-shoot threes
last season, and 14% of his halfcourt possessions involved cuts
(97th percentile), per BBall Index. That was in Washington; imagine
how he succeeds in some of those aforementioned scenarios in place
The real kicker, though — Denver finally has a primary perimeter
Caldwell-Pope described how he approaches defense last
fall, and you can see his work show up on film. He has to rotate
over on this first play to cover Morris, and knowing that will open
up a passing lane for a swing to Barton (how ironic is this first
clip in hindsight), gets his arm in front of the ball for a
Later in the reel: KCP knows Trae Young wants to get to his
right hand to shoot or pass, and can poke away a steal before Young
gets the ball there. He can make up for his smaller size by playing
physically with larger wings like Jaylen Brown or Jonathan Kuminga.
His foul rate of 2.5% is also surprisingly low for a player with
such active hands.
Denver had the 15th-ranked defense in the regular season, but
was 19th out of 20 Play-In and playoff teams in postseason
Defensive Rating. KCP won't change that overnight, but he can be a
spark where the Nuggets sorely need one.
At the same time, the Nuggets have Jamal Murray on his way back
from a long ACL recovery, They also have Bones Hyland readying for
a Year 2 leap after he averaged 12.8 points and 4.3 assists per
game on a 63.8% True Shooting percentage post-All-Star break.
Morris would have been crunched for minutes in the guard rotation,
so it makes sense to replace him with a steady veteran in Ish
Smith, who can hold down the remaining playing time.
And Smith is no throw-in, either. He's on his NBA-record 13th
team and should provide a locker-room boost that cannot be
Smith doesn't project as quite the seamless fit as KCP should
be. But this might actually force positive change from a player who
has spent so much of his career trying to keep bench units afloat
as an on-ball initiator.
Last season, 104 players played at least 50 games and averaged
at least five drives per game, according to Second Spectrum. Smith
passed the ball on 60.1% of his drives, more than any other player,
and shot just 44.5% on his driving field goal attempts (ranked
Smith is a phenomenal passer and still one of the pure fastest
players with the ball in his hands. But he also has had to rely so
heavily on his own ability to create, and with Smith getting older
(and the league getting longer and more switchable), the bar to
clear goes up.
In this vein, I'd like to see if and how he is used off the ball
in Denver. Smith is a capable shooter, and perhaps he can fit into
some of the roles occupied by past Nuggets guards. At the minimum,
he'll be a safer play at backup point guard than, say, Facundo
Campazzo. But I think there's also some untapped room for
The Nuggets have established themselves as contenders, but have
gone backwards in the playoffs over the past three years.
Caldwell-Pope and Smith won't drastically spring Denver's fortunes
to crazy heights, but as we see every postseason, the complementary
specialists can swing a game or series.
Sometimes, that's all a team needs to change.