Wizards Cut Rookie Justin Robinson
Following the Wizards huge 128-114 win over the Denver Nuggets without Bradley Beal on Saturday night, the Wizards have parted ways with rookie point guard Justin Robinson.
Robinson, a rookie out of Virginia Tech, played only limited NBA minutes in just nine games. With Gary Payton II’s emergence defensively, this move is not surprising. Payton II was signed on a injury hardship last month after nearly half of the Wizards’ roster went down with various injuries.
With just partial guarantees on his contract this season, and no guarantees on his contract beyond it, Robinson became the odd man out in Washington. The Capital City Go-Go don’t have the rights to Robinson, putting him on waivers. He is free to sign wherever he likes if he clears.
Robinson in all likelihood will clear waivers, and could ultimately make it back to the Capital City Go-Go, making this move no harm, no foul. But when you look at the roster, you can’t help thinking that maybe there was a move that could have been made first. I’m talking about Isaiah Thomas.
I.T. Looks Like Shell of Former Self
Isaiah Thomas signed with the Wizards this off-season on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal. This brought some excitement to a fan base that needed it. With the Wizards going through somewhat of a mini rebuild, bringing in a guy like Isaiah Thomas who set the NBA world on fire three years ago was a low risk, high reward play. If he played well, you got a fill in for John Wall for the lowest price possible. If he didn’t, you could ultimately just cut him, if need be.
The thing is, I.T. hasn’t looked like the man that torched these same Wizards in the playoffs three years ago. He has looked like a shell of his former self. Thomas, who has notoriously been one of the worst defenders in the NBA, has the second worst defensive rating of his career, just behind his short stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017-18. He was ultimately dealt to the Lakers that season.
Thomas has never been known to be a defender. He is known as an efficient scorer, whose quickness and ability to get by defenders make his offensive ability well worth the trouble you get with him on defense. But this season, it’s clear that Thomas has lost that quick explosion that used to make his lack of height at 5’9″ not matter.
Two-Point Percentage Down Drastically
In his MVP caliber final season in Boston, I.T. shot about 53-percent on his two-point field goal attempts. But he still had the quickness to blow by opposing bigs and get to the bucket. This season, his two-point field goal percentage is much lower, at 41-percent.
While two-point percentage doesn’t ultimately dictate how good a player is, it in part shows that I.T. doesn’t have that burst he once did. This season, Thomas has a plus/minus of -8.7 per 100 possessions while he is on the court. That is easily the worst of his career, and on nearly the complete opposite spectrum of his days in Boston.
Following Thomas’s two-game suspension for pulling up on a 76ers fan in the stands, he has had some tough performances. In the 5 games since that incident, I.T. has shot 14-52 (27-percent). He also got ejected just 88 seconds into the game against the Portland Trailblazers on Jan. 3.
Thomas Has Best Three-Point Percentage of His Career
While Thomas has looked to be a shell of himself in certain areas, that’s not to say he is completely useless on the basketball court. Because he isn’t. I.T. has by far the best three-point percentage of his career at 41.6-percent on 125 attempts. He has made up for his lack of explosion by improving drastically as a jump shooter. Compared to his season with the Cavaliers and Lakers two years ago, his last true playing time, it is a drastic shift. He shot just 55-188 (29%) that year from distance. His three-point shooting has forced defenders to at least pay attention to him.
Decisions to be Made
The Wizards are going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. They already had to make a couple tough ones. Power forward Jonathan Williams was cut following the win over Denver, a game in which he started and made contributions. Justin Robinson was let go as well. Two-way players Garrison Mathews and Anzejs Pasecniks are both approaching their 45 day limits with the Wizards. Both have played well enough to warrant keeping. Gary Payton II has also shown a defensive prowess the team has lacked from the guard spot for years.
So do the Wizards cut one of their young, promising players? Or do they cut/deal a guy like Isaiah Thomas, who likely doesn’t have a future in the District?
Isaiah Thomas said he chose Washington because Tommy Sheppard looked him in the eyes and told him he would give him an opportunity, and he was extremely grateful. Cutting a guy like I.T., who is universally loved around the NBA, after promises were made to him could be a bad look.
At the same time, cutting a young guy that has flashed a ton of potential would be a bad look as well for a team trying to build young talent.
Can the Wizards Deal I.T?
To me, the best case scenario is dealing I.T. at the trade deadline to a contender that can best utilize Isaiah Thomas’s strengths. At 30-years-old, I.T.’s best days are unfortunately likely behind him. But that’s not to say he can’t help a team.
The Wizards stand at 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 11-24. At this point, it appears the Wizards will not make the playoffs. Not many expected them to with the young roster. The rest of the season can be used to develop a young point guard who could potentially be on the team next season and beyond. Isaiah Thomas could help in a role with a contender, and reach the playoffs. Besides playing time for Isaiah Thomas, this is a win/win.
While Isaiah Thomas has goals of eventually reaching the All-Star level of play he once did, it does not seem likely. Thomas could be better suited realizing he can extend his career by contributing as a role player. Many stars have trouble doing this out of their primes. But some don’t. It will be interesting to see what the Wizards do in the coming weeks.