Tommy Sheppard gives Thomas Bryant big vote of confidence originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
While all of us on the outside were tying the Wizards to some of the biggest names in the big man free agent market, it turns out they were looking for someone to fill a very specific role, specific enough that it narrowed their search.
General manager Tommy Sheppard didn't think his team needed a major change at center because they already have one they like.
"Thomas [Bryant] is our starter," Sheppard said. "As we were talking to free agents, we made that clear to several that we spoke with. Some people, they probably thought they would come in as starters."
So, the Wizards opted to sign Robin Lopez, a 32-year-old veteran who last year played for the Milwaukee Bucks. He averaged 5.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 66 games.
Lopez willing to be a backup to Bryant helped get the deal done. Sheppard sees potential for him also to mentor Bryant, who is just 23 years old.
"Robin really embraced [the role we offered]," Sheppard said.
Lopez should help the Wizards with both rebounding and rim protection. They ranked 30th in defensive rating last season and 28th in total rebounding.
The question is how much he will help while playing 15-to-20 minutes a night. If the Wizards are to make significant strides defensively, it won't only be because he was acquired.
Signing Lopez and explaining the move the way Sheppard did was effectively a vote of confidence for Bryant, who is entering his third season with the Wizards. That is despite Bryant having his own issues with consistency on defense.
The potential, though, is there and the Wizards are betting on it. Perhaps they were encouraged by his performance in the bubble where he averaged 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. His averages for the season were 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Bryant's time in Orlando included a strong showing against Joel Embiid of the Sixers, which head coach Scott Brooks called Bryant's best defensive game since joining the Wizards. Maybe they saw that as a sign of more to come.
With the Wizards not bringing in someone to compete for his job, he is certainly going to get the opportunity to show it.