Wizards Blog Truth About It.net Washington Wizards Blog, ESPN TrueHoop Network 2018-05-11T17:01:59Z http://www.truthaboutit.net/feed/atom WordPress Adam Rubin <![CDATA[What’s Next For The Washington Wizards? A TAI Roundtable]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55616 2018-05-11T17:01:59Z 2018-05-11T06:57:16Z

Now that the sting of the Washington Wizards’ first round exit has dissipated and the anger at the revelation of another Ernie Grunfeld secret extension has given way to numbness, it is time to look forward to next season. The Wizards enter a pivotal summer with way too many roster holes and way too little cap space or flexibility to plug them.

But they still have to try. The NBA calendar waits for no team and the draft lottery, combine, individual team workouts, and the draft itself are on the horizon. As Washington’s front office scrambles to assess and address the team’s needs, several TAI colleagues put fingers to keyboards to answer three burning questions about what’s next for the Washington Wizards.

1. What is the team’s biggest need(s) this off-season?

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): A time machine to July 7, 2016. Short of that, the Wizards need a new starting center. This is not to say that Marcin Gortat is the team’s biggest problem. Far from it. But they cannot enter Year 4 with the same exact starting lineup and Gortat is the most replaceable cog in that five-man unit. His minutes per game already dropped precipitously to 25.3. This has to be the year that John Wall’s plea for an athletic big man is finally answered.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): Even assuming a new GM is off the table, the Wizards’ list of needs is still expansive. A slew of wings who can shoot, ideally athletic wings who can also play some measure of defense, probably tops the list. Another ballhandler off the bench who can create his own shot would also be beneficial, but not a one-year veteran signing who will steal Sato’s minutes without the benefit of long-term growth. I want to say a youngish, athletic big man, but considering the money already tied up in old, unathletic big men, I’m not sure how likely that is.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): This horse has been beaten, killed, revived and beat again, but the most significant change that needs to happen is Ernie Grunfeld’s dismissal from the Team President role. He’s done good things, he’s done some questionable things, and now 16 years later, the Wizards are once again at the crossroads without so much as an Eastern Conference Finals appearance to show for it. The Wizards should look for some new front office minds, which would inevitably lead to a new head coach (that’s not a huge need, but it is definitely on the list of needs given Scott Brooks’s questionable substitution patterns–more on that later). That alone might be enough to lure a free agent of significance. But who are we kidding, that simply will not happen so…

John Wall was correct: an athletic big man who is adept at scoring, defending, and not bellyaching is definitely needed. The Wizards still need a shooter, too, since Jodie Meeks was relatively ineffective even before his drug suspension. It would be nice if this shooter could also defend, but if not, marksman-like shooting will suffice. An Oubre/Satoransky second-unit could benefit from spacing and some scoring punch, and an effective shooter would provide just that.

Lastly, the Wizards–mainly Scott Brooks–needs to have confidence in Satoransky. The Ty Lawson experiment surely put a bit of a dent in Sato’s confidence, after the yeoman effort he put in during John Wall’s regular season absence did the exact opposite. Yes, he needs to work on his ball-handling and his outside shooting, but that is not enough to prevent Brooks from anointing him as THE backup point guard.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The Wizards biggest need is an athletic big man, as John Wall stated in his exit interview. An athletic big man would help the Wizards by 1) giving them someone who is capable of properly defending a pick-and-roll and protecting the rim on defense, and 2) unlocking above-the-rim play on the offensive end.

After that, it would probably behoove the Wizards to get anther 3-and-D wing to go along with Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. The way that the NBA landscape is transitioning to position-less basketball, the teams which have the most success are the ones that have multiple players who are capable of doing multiple things. Wing players are the most diverse, if not complete, athletes because they must shoot and defend on the perimeter while also being able to rebound and defend in the post. Another player with that skill set would help the Wizards tremendously.

2. Give one (or more) realistic off-season moves that the Wizards can make.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): Remember, I said “realistic.” We would all like to trade Otto Porter for Kawhi Leonard. On the periphery, a guy like Ersan Ilyasova is attainable. He hustles, rebounds, can hit 3s and play center in a small ball lineup. If LeBron leaves Cleveland, then maybe try Jason Smith and a non-guaranteed contract for Kyle Korver (Wizards would take on an extra year of $7M salary). If you are so inclined, adding Kelly Oubre for Larry Nance, Jr. works too.

Speaking of Kelly Oubre…he is entering a contract year and the Wizards have to make a decision on him relatively quickly. If they are not willing to go deeper into the luxury tax to retain him, then he becomes a somewhat valuable trade chip. If Oubre is moved, Luc Mbah a Moute is a low-key free agent target who could provide substantially better defense and the same 3-point shooting percentages. Of course, that would leave the Wizards will an even bigger energy/youth deficit than they have now.

The other thing Washington could do is actually use their first round pick to select a player who can help right away. That’s easier said than done, but grabbing a rotation player on a rookie deal–especially if it’s a center like Jarret Allen–would solve a lot of the Wizards problems.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): Sell on Beal or Porter and pick up a young borderline star in exchange. This isn’t exactly apples to apples, but last year we saw the Pacers deal Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and the Bulls deal Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. Neither of those returns seemed like all that much initially, but the Pacers turned Oladipo into what he was hoped to be coming out of college–and the Pacers didn’t have much leverage in trade talks due to George 1) being a pending free agent and 2) saying he wanted out. I’ve previously thrown out names like Gary Harris, Jarret Allen, Julius Randle, and Andre Drummond. This is the only reasonable way to create flexibility and possibly inject some life into the roster without dealing away more picks.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): Michael Wilbon was asked this question about the Raptors on PTI the day after they were swept out of the playoffs by LeBron James  the Cavaliers, and his answer then applies to the Wizards now. The Wizards have to make wish-lists that start with big catches, not bargain deals. The big catches will be Kawhi Leonard and Boogie Cousins, but there are other free agents like Will Barton, Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez, or even an Avery Bradley who could possibly help this team. Once the Wizards establish a wish-list, they then have to assess what they could get for Gortat and maybe even Oubre. Owner Ted Leonsis has romanticized this notion of how well the Wizards have built the team via draft, and he bandies about Otto Porter’s name as proof. But of the three players on max deals, Porter is the most expendable, and there may be a non-playoff team willing to take his bloated salary as part of a rebuild. But that starts with Leonsis and Grunfeld being open to letting him go, and that feels highly unlikely.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The most realistic off-season move is to trade Otto Porter for a disgruntled superstar (Kawhi Leonard) or to just move him to get some cap space to try and sign a more desired third superstar (Paul George, Boogie Cousins, or *gasp* LeBron James). I’m not making the argument that Otto Porter hasn’t been worth the money they paid him last summer or that he can’t improve as a player going forward, but it is clear that the Wizards as an organization will never truly value Otto Porter for what he really is as a basketball player. If he will continue to be marginalized by Scott Brooks, who fails to draw up enough plays to keep him involved anyway, or John Wall and Bradley Beal, who constantly treat him as an ancillary option instead of an equal, then he will never reach his full potential with the Wizards.

3. With the emergence of Philadelphia and Indiana in the playoffs, Brad Stevens working miracles in Boston, Giannis’s continued development in Milwaukee and the prospect of LeBron staying in the East, is the Wizards’ window already closed or is 50 wins and a conference finals appearance still possible for this core?

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): If you count the core as Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff, Gortat and Oubre as the 6th man off the bench, then yes the window is closed. There simply isn’t enough cap space available to build a bench that can lift that group to contender status. As it stands, Ernie Grunfeld will be shopping in the bargain bin as usual in July and there are a whole lot more Gary Neals and Marcus Thortons than there are Mike Scotts. Besides, Washington’s problem isn’t necessarily talent. It’s something much more sinister than that. It’s complacency. The Wizards need a shakeup. It does not have to be a rebuild or a fire sale. But the guys at the top of the roster need to start feeling uncomfortable. They have been given every opportunity to fix their inconsistency and have made perfectly clear that they can’t do it. It’s time to let a new starting five try.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202): I believe the window has closed for this iteration of the Wizards–if there ever really was a window–but given the recent history of stars switching teams, it’s hard to say what the East will realistically look like in a year or two. A significant Embiid or Simmons injury throws the Sixers into chaos (also, what is Markelle Fultz going to be?), maybe Hayward and Irving clash or there’s not enough to go around for all the Celtics wings and Irving (I know, I’m grasping on this), maybe LeBron goes west, maybe the Raptors blow it up, etc.

And again, if the Wizards pull a trade that sends Beal out and brings back somebody who thrives alongside Wall, maybe it gives the roster a new dynamic. Nobody expected the Pacers and Jazz to recover from their star exodus the way they did. With the status of DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and others (hey, LeBron) all in serious limbo this off-season, it’s impossible to say (almost) any team does or does not have a window. But stars aren’t exactly fighting to dedicate their primes to a team built by Ernie Grunfeld. Especially when the team’s biggest star publicly and repeatedly puts the onus on the front office.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20): If the same Wizards team that petered out in the second round of this year’s playoffs returns at the start of the 2018-19 season, they will get to the playoffs, they will get no higher than a 3-seed, and they will lose to Boston or Philadelphia in the second round–aka insanity. So, yes, the window is closed. But with a strategic free agent signing here, a promising draft pick there, and a willingness to be creative with limited options and money, the Wizards could be a contender. Toronto did it before LeBron sent them reeling again. Houston did it this past off-season, and the Wizards need to do the same to pry that window back open.

But again, I just wrote all of these lovely words of optimism, promise and whimsy, and the first move the Wizards made in the off-season was to “announce” that the architect of the team–Mr. Ernie Grunfeld–will be reprising his endless role of Team President.  In the words of Jerry McGuire, that’s NOT what inspires people.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur): The Wizards window is most definitely not closed. If anything, this season has taught this franchise that the best way to succeed in the playoffs is by taking the regular season seriously. Washington was a victim of its own procrastination. They tried to coast through the regular season in hopes of turning it on when the playoffs started and in return dug themselves a hole they were never capable of getting out of. Washington’s dynamic backcourt has shown they can succeed in the playoffs, sometimes, and with more favorable matchups could even put themselves in a position of advancing to the conference finals, just as Ted Leonsis’s beloved Washington Capitals have done.
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Adam Rubin <![CDATA[NSFW: A Chronological List of Ernie Grunfeld’s Last 45 Transactions Spanning Almost Three Years]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55602 2018-05-04T15:17:28Z 2018-05-04T15:17:28Z

Presented without comment: a chronological list of the last 45 transactions Ernie Grunfeld has made as President of the Washington Wizards, spanning almost three years. G-league assignments and preseason, non-guaranteed contracts and waivers are omitted.

April 11, 2018 – Signed Ty Lawson to a contract for the rest of the season.

March 19, 2018 – Signed Ramon Sessions to a contract for the rest of the season.

March 5, 2018 – Signed Ramon Sessions to a 2nd 10-day contract.

February 23, 2018 – Signed Ramon Sessions to a 10-day contract.

February 8, 2018 – Traded Sheldon Mac and cash to the Atlanta Hawks for a 2019 2nd round draft pick. (2019 2nd-Rd pick is heavily protected and unlikely to convey)

January 3, 2018 – Waived Michael Young.

November 2, 2017 – Waived Carrick Felix.

October 9, 2017 – Waived Daniel Ochefu.

September 11, 2017 – Signed Carrick Felix.

July 26, 2017 – Signed John Wall to a multi-year contract.

July 13, 2017 – Signed Otto Porter to a multi-year contract.

– Signed Devin Robinson to a two-way contract.

July 12, 2017 – Signed Jodie Meeks to a multi-year contract.

July 8, 2017 – Signed Mike Scott.

July 5, 2017 – Signed Michael Young to a two-way contract.

June 21, 2017 – Traded a 2017 2nd round draft pick (Edmond Sumner was later selected) to the New Orleans Pelicans for Tim Frazier.

March 1, 2017 – Signed Brandon Jennings.

– Waived Danuel House.

February 22, 2017 – Traded Andrew NicholsonMarcus Thornton and a 2017 1st round draft pick (Jarrett Allen was later selected) to the Brooklyn Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough. (2017 1st-rd pick from WAS to BRK was lottery protected)

July 26, 2016  Signed Bradley Beal to a multi-year contract.

July 24, 2016  Signed Sheldon McClellan to a multi-year contract.

July 22, 2016 – Signed Marcus Thornton.

July 21, 2016 – Signed Tomas Satoransky to a multi-year contract.

July 15, 2016 – Signed Danuel House to a multi-year contract.

July 7, 2016 – Signed Ian Mahinmi to a multi-year contract.

– Signed Andrew Nicholson to a multi-year contract.

– Signed Jason Smith to a multi-year contract.

– Signed Daniel Ochefu to a multi-year contract.

– Traded a 2021 2nd round draft pick to the Utah Jazz for Trey Burke.

April 26, 2016 – Hired Scott Brooks as Head Coach.

April 14, 2016 – Fired Randy Wittman as Head Coach.

March 9, 2016 – Signed Marcus Thornton.

– Waived Gary Neal.

February 25, 2016 – Signed J.J. Hickson to a contract for the rest of the season.

February 18, 2016 – Traded DeJuan BlairKris Humphries and a 2016 1st round draft pick (Georgios Papagiannis was later selected) to the Phoenix Sunsfor Markieff Morris. (2016 1st-Rd pick is top-9 protected)

December 23, 2015 – Signed Jarell Eddie.

December 22, 2015 – Waived Ryan Hollins.

November 30, 2015 – Signed Ryan Hollins.

– Waived Martell Webster

October 26, 2015 – Ish Smith claimed on waivers by the New Orleans Pelicans.

July 13, 2015 – Signed Drew Gooden.

July 12, 2015 – Signed Alan Anderson.

July 9, 2015 – Signed Gary Neal.

– Signed Kelly Oubre to a multi-year contract.

– Traded a 2020 2nd round draft pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Jared Dudley. (Top-55 protected)

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Bryan Frantz <![CDATA[Please, Just Blow Up the Wizards (and Fire Ernie)]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55553 2018-05-01T16:18:42Z 2018-05-01T16:15:22Z

The Wizards are in perhaps the least enjoyable position for an NBA team. They’re treading water, wallowing in the mire of mediocrity. They’re the pre-Giannis Bucks and the pre-Process Sixers. They’re the mid-aughts Nets.

Those teams are all different, sure, but they’re really the same. They have some pieces and are competitive enough on a game-to-game basis, but they’re not going to contend for a title, or even a conference title without some good fortune. Here’s the general formula:

  1. Overestimate the strength of the team’s core. In this case, it’s a core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and to a lesser extent Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, and Kelly Oubre. Thinking the core is ready to take the next step, the front office impatiently goes into win-now mode a year or two early.
  2. Overpay role players. For (this era of) the Wizards, the atrocious contracts of Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, and Jason Smith were the biggest offenders, but giving a 30-year-old Marcin Gortat a five-year, $60 million deal in 2014 was an early indicator of where this was going. (As our own Kyle Weidie explained at the time, this was a necessary move by the Wiz–it’s what followed that hurts.) The bizarre pattern of attaching player options to contracts that likely don’t require them doesn’t help, either.
  3. Sacrifice future for present. This goes hand-in-hand with the above step. The ultimate example of this is the first-rounder for Bojan Bogdanovic trade, a move Ernie Grunfeld made before last season’s trade deadline knowing full well the Wizards couldn’t afford to keep both him and Otto Porter. Other examples range from giving up first-rounders for Gortat and Morris and second-rounders for Tim Frazier and Trey Burke (all trades that were varying levels of fine individually, but they play a part in a longer equation); playing tapped-out veterans such as Marcus Thornton and Kris Humphries while refusing to develop Kelly Oubre; and signing veterans (Ramon Sessions, Ty Lawson, J.J. Hickson, Will Bynum, etc.) midseason instead of scouring the league for young diamond-in-the-rough types.

An Example.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to teams such as the 2010-11 Bucks. The year prior, Milwaukee had increased its win total from 34 to 46 behind a core of rookie Brandon Jennings (who, incredibly, shot .370 from 2-point range and .374 from 3-point range), Andrew Bogut, John Salmons (acquired midseason), Michael Redd, Carlos Delfino, and Ersan Ilyasova.

Thinking this was an up-and-coming core (step 1), the Bucks front office went ahead and traded for Corey Maggette and his nearly-$10 million salary (step 2). Turns out Corey Maggette was not the player to push Milwaukee to the top. The team won just 35 games the next season behind the league’s worst offense (they scored 91.9 points per game!), then traded away Maggette, Salmons, and Jimmer Fredette in exchange for Tobias Harris, Shaun Livingston, Stephen Jackson, and Beno Udrih.

A 31-win season followed, during which the Bucks signed Mike Dunleavy and traded Bogut and Jackson for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh (and Kwame Brown!), then Livingston was shipped out in a trade right before the draft. In desperation mode, the Bucks fired coach Scott Skiles in January of the following season, then at the trade deadline swapped 20-year-old Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, on an expiring deal, in a win-now move to make the playoffs (step 3). They made the playoffs with a 38-44 record and got swept by the Heat in the first round.

Following that season, the Bucks blew it all up. They facilitated a sign-and-trade that sent Redick to the Clippers in exchange for a pair of second-rounders, they swapped Jennings for Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight, and they dealt Luc Mbah a Moute for a pair of second-rounders (one of which eventually became Malcolm Brogdon). Ellis signed with the Mavericks, Dunleavy signed with the Bulls, and they drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick. Giannis eventually became an elite talent, but he was a project to start and the team won just 15 games his rookie season, enabling the Bucks to then draft Jabari Parker, starting the new core.

This was all toward the end of a 14-season stretch that featured 10 seasons of between 30 and 42 wins. The four exceptions: 52 wins (2000-01), 30 wins (2004-05), 28 wins (2006-07), 26 wins (2007-08). First off, that’s one more 50-win season than Washington has seen in a long time, and it led to a trip to the conference finals. But more importantly, that’s 12 times in 14 seasons Milwaukee was not either one of the four best or four worst teams; the two exceptions resulted in a loss to Allen Iverson’s Sixers in the ECF and spending the sixth overall pick on Yi Jianlian.

(Milwaukee won 42 games a season ago and 44 this past season, it has most of its core locked up for the immediate future, and its future draft pick cupboard is nearly full. The smart move would be continue walking the line for another year or two and let the team develop naturally; beware an ill-advised win-now move.)

How the Wizards Fit.

That’s what the Wizards are looking at right now. A fifth consecutive season of 40-something wins just wrapped up with yet another disheartening postseason performance–this time they didn’t even make it to the second round before falling apart.

John Wall is probably good enough to be the best, or at least second-best, player on an elite team. Bradley Beal might be good enough to be the second-best player on an elite team. With some proper coaching, Otto Porter could be the fourth-best player on an elite team.

The problem is, none of those three players is LeBron James, who allows you to surround him with a handful of scraps from the league’s collective leftover pile and still contend for a title. As a result, you need a logical team-building strategy that considers both the present and the future. If you take Washington’s current trio and surround it with several talented, high-energy role players and supplement the group with a steady flow of eager young draftees on dirt-cheap contracts, maybe you’ve got something. (Hi, Toronto.)

The Wizards haven’t done that. Instead, Ernie Grunfeld has traded away virtually every draft pick the team has had in win-now moves; the only two players Washington has drafted and kept since 2013, when it drafted Otto Porter, are Kelly Oubre and Aaron White (who’s playing in Lithuania). These moves have slightly improved the roster (usually) in the immediate term, but they’ve ravaged the team’s future assets.

In the best-case scenario, you get a Marcin Gortat, who was a solid starter for several seasons. In the more common scenario, you get a Bojan Bogdanovic, who was great for a handful of regular season games and negligible for most of one postseason, then you couldn’t afford to keep him. Meanwhile, the pick Grunfeld shipped away (which had to be traded because he needed to pawn off Andrew Nicholson’s contract) became Jarrett Allen. Allen, 19 years old and making $1.7 million, averaged 15-10-2 per 36 minutes for Brooklyn last season. Gortat, 33 years old and making $12.8 million, averaged 12-11-1 per 36 minutes. Allen, named a “rising star” by Nets Daily and ranked as a better rookie than Lonzo Ball by Complex, will continue to improve; Gortat will continue to decline and say things like “Small ball in this league is just trash.”

Other moves that were low-risk and low-cost on their own haven’t panned out and ultimately compounded the problem. As mentioned earlier in this story, Washington dealt second-round picks in back-to-back offseasons for Trey Burke and Tim Frazier.


Sidebar

Pause there. Let’s just look at that for a moment. In the span of a year, Ernie Grunfeld:

  • Signed Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi, and Jason Smith to terrible long-term contracts.
  • Traded a second-round pick for Trey Burke.
  • Traded Nicholson and a first-round pick (and Marcus Thornton) for Bojan Bogdanovic (and Chris McCullough).
  • Watched Bogdanovic sign elsewhere because the team was out of cap space.
  • Traded a second-round pick for Tim Frazier.

The only players noted above who will still be on Washington’s roster next season are Mahinmi and Smith. Mahinmi is making $16 million per year and–over the course of two seasons–has only occasionally been playable. Smith played a grand total of 285 minutes this season, including two minutes in the playoffs. He was paid $5.2 million for his services, and he has a $5.4 million player option for next season. (This doesn’t include the 2017 offseason, which featured the Jodie Meeks player option debacle.)

In exchange for $[redacted] million, a first-round pick, and two second-round picks, the Wizards won 92 games over two seasons–just a five-game increase over their previous two seasons.

Here is a complete list of transactions made by Ernie Grunfeld since July 1, 2016, that you can possibly qualify as “good”: signed John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter to max contracts; signed Mike Scott (he’s now a free agent); signed Tomas Satoransky; traded Sheldon Mac for a heavily-protected future second-round pick. If you want to throw short-term signings of Ty Lawson and Ramon Sessions in there, go ahead. I won’t.

/Sidebar


Signing players such as Lawson and Sessions (and Will Bynum and J.J. Hickson and Marcus Thornton and Brandon Jennings) to midseason contracts is another problem. When you use one of your roster spots, and eventually rotation spots, on veterans who have no long-term upside, it hurts down the road. When second-round picks are traded for players other teams would probably end up dropping, it also hurts down the road. When you offer player options to free agents who would surely sign without them, you hurt yourself down the road.

And when you do all three of those things, and you have a terrible eye for talent (shoutout Andrew Nicholson), and you’re reactionary (shoutout Kevin Durant Al Horford Ian Mahinmi), you have a very distinct ceiling to your success.

You have to keep your draft picks for two major reasons: First, they bring low salaries. Second, they bring upside. The Wizards, several seasons ago, featured lots of players with high upside and low salaries. The team decided to go for it a year or two early and began trading picks for veterans, and it didn’t pan out.

The result is the roster we see today.

Assets (can be traded for value):
Wall, Beal, Porter, Oubre, Satoransky, draft picks.

Negatives (asset must be attached to any trade):
Mahinmi, Gortat, Meeks, Smith.

Neutral (a good GM could maybe turn into something of small value):
Morris.

If we’re assuming Grunfeld keeps his job for at least another year, and we’re assuming the Wizards don’t trade any of their assets, there are basically two ways Washington can actually improve: 1) Grunfeld nails the 2018 NBA draft (a friendly reminder that Grunfeld has drafted three All-Stars in more than 25 years as a GM, two of whom are John Wall and Bradley Beal), and 2) Some combination of Wall/Beal/Porter/Oubre/Satoransky takes a massive leap.

It’s safe to assume Grunfeld will not be drafting a star player, especially not an instant-impact one, in the second half of the first round.

That means Wizards fans have to hope and pray for immediate and considerable improvement from one or more of their five quality young players in order to have a chance at making it to the next level. Don’t forget:

  • Wall missed 41 games this season, missed a lot of time early in his career with various injuries, and has averaged about 36 minutes per game over the course of his career.
  • Beal just played the first 82-game season of his career and only reached 65 games played once in his first four seasons.
  • Porter was effectively useless for the 2018 postseason due to injury and has missed nearly a full season’s worth of games over his career (67 excluding playoffs).
  • Oubre and Satoransky are both restricted free agents in 2019.

Locking up Wall, Beal, and Porter for max contracts was the correct move. But because of those deals and the Mahinmi albatross, Washington has $107 million on the books for the 2019-20 season–and just four players under contract. For reference, the salary cap for this season was a hair under $100 million.

Again: The amount of money you’ve committed to paying four players two years from now is more than the salary cap for this season. And two of the five assets currently on the roster will be free agents.

The Only Option.

The only option then is to blow it up. Not necessarily all the way up, but trade one or two of your three core players, ideally for younger, cheaper talent with room to grow. And draft picks. Please get some draft picks.

This core has been really fun at times, and the potential at one time looked considerable. But Wall will turn 28 shortly after next season begins, and Beal and Porter will each be 25 at the start of next season. They’ll each continue to grow and improve, but we’re probably not going to see some incredible one-year leap from any of them. Trade them now while their value is still high.

My preference would be to keep Wall, trade Beal, and test the market for Porter. And see if you can attach one of your negatives to the deal.

Maybe you see if the Nuggets are willing to part with Gary Harris or Jamal Murray. Maybe the Pistons blow it up and are selling low on Andre Drummond. Maybe the Lakers strike out on one of the max players they want and you work out a Julius Randle deal (assuming the Lakers re-sign him). Maybe the Nets are willing to take on Mahinmi’s money in exchange for adding Porter, and you can work out a Jarrett Allen deal. Maybe the Suns are willing to part with T.J. Warren (you’re not getting Devin Booker or Josh Jackson).

And there’s always a move for DeMarcus Cousins, which Zach Lowe points out could still happen, but we can get a little more creative. (Also, the deal he mentions of Porter, Oubre, Gortat, and a pick in a sign-and-trade for Cousins–if the league allows it–would then pair a big man coming off an Achilles tear with a point guard with recurring knee problems; the upside is very real, but we’re also looking at the possibility of Dwight Howard plus Steve Nash levels of disaster.)

Each of those players could potentially be a second or third option on an elite team down the road, just as Beal and Porter could be. The difference is, I’m comfortable saying at this stage, we know this team is not going to contend for a title as currently constructed, but we don’t know how it would fare if you make substantive changes.

If you replace Beal and Gortat with Gary Harris and Trey Lyles, for example, are the Wizards better or worse? Beal’s salary is roughly $9 million more than Harris’s over the next three years (Harris is also under contract one extra season), and Gortat will cost about $10 million more than Lyles will next season (after which Gortat will be an unrestricted free agent and Lyles will be a restricted free agent). Other things would have to be worked out to make it feasible money-wise, but it’s potentially manageable.

Is Beal better than, say, Julius Randle? Absolutely. But Randle gives the Wizards an athletic big man like the one Wall has been begging for, his coming deal will be much cheaper than Beal’s current, and it would change the entire dynamic of the Wizards’ lineup. Plus, you could likely squeeze a pick or two out of it considering the Lakers are going into win-now mode.

What about something like Beal and Gortat for Andre Drummond and Reggie Bullock? Hey look, there’s an athletic big man and shooting! A Wall-Drummond pairing could be deadly for years to come (Drummond will be 25 when next season starts and is locked up for three more seasons), and while you still don’t have any shooting in your frontcourt, you add a wing who’s coming off a year of .445 3-point shooting on 4.5 attempts per game and is just 27 with one more year ($2.5 million) under contract.

It’s tough to say how Wall would feel about any of this. Suffice to say, based on his recent comments, Wall wants changes made. If this offseason consists exclusively of another overhaul of the bench, your star player is going to be furious. Maybe he would be furious if you traded his best teammates away and he didn’t like who you got in return.

Or maybe he appreciates the front office hearing his unhappiness and doing something about it. The worst-case scenario is really bad: Beal (or Wall or Porter) goes on to thrive for a different team while the pieces Washington got in return fall flat and the whole thing falls apart. But what’s the best-case scenario for this team as currently constructed, as we look at it today? A loss in the Eastern Conference Finals? That’d be a step up, sure, but it’s hard to imagine a ceiling higher than that right now.

This sucks. Make no mistake about it. This team, a few seasons ago, was on the rise and had mountains of potential. But it’s over. There is no roster flexibility left. Quality free agents don’t want to come to Washington; all you’re getting is veterans looking for a late payday. I’m not saying start from scratch. But if the Wizards don’t move one of their three best players now, three years from now we might be looking at a complete rebuild and nothing to show for this era of Wizards basketball but early postseason exits.

Oh, and you have to fire Ernie Grunfeld if you ever want success in your basketball life. But that goes without saying.


 

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Adam Rubin <![CDATA[Nothing Will Change Until Ted Wants It To Change]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55566 2018-04-29T22:11:38Z 2018-04-29T20:36:52Z In 2017 after Toronto was swept by Cleveland in the playoffs, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri famously said the team needs a culture change. They went on to change their style, improve their bench and grab the No. 1 seed in the East.

After the Raptors handed the Wizards a disappointing first round loss on Friday, David Aldridge tweeted the Wizards need to do the same thing.

However, that same type of culture change won’t happen in Washington. And there is one very specific reason why.

Ujiri’s demand for change came after a four-year stretch where the Raptors averaged 51 wins and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Imagine, for a second, what would happen if the Wizards had a four-year stretch like that. Ownership and management would not be calling for wholesale changes. They would be celebrating the franchise’s most successful run in 40 years.

Therein lies the problem. You can debate the roster and cap space and coaching decisions all day, but the team will never make it to the next level until mediocrity is no longer tolerated.

Washington just completed a five-year run averaging 44.6 wins and they made the second round of the playoffs three times. They regressed this season following their 49-win 2016-17 campaign. Yet the takeaway from Ted Leonsis in his season-ending note to fans was that it was an acceptable – if not disappointing — season that was marred by injuries:

“They overcame their star player being out for 41 games and still found a way to win. Bradley Beal was recognized as an All-Star in his own right.  Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky were incredibly effective off the bench and showed that they can contribute at a high level.  Otto Porter fought through injury and continued to compete in this Toronto series and we wish him a speedy recovery.”

Head coach Scott Brooks echoed Ted’s sentiments in his end-of-season remarks, repeatedly mentioning injuries when explaining the disappointing outcome of the season.

Read the first line of David Aldridge’s tweet again: “The Raptors faced their problems as a team last season…” The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it exists. The Wizards have problems at every level — management, coaching and player — but ownership and the front office continue to look the other way.

When player after player says the team plays down to lesser opponents and they don’t know why, the reaction should be to demand changes, not preach continuity.

When the coach spends 82 games saying he needs to find five guys who want to compete but never makes any substantive changes, preserving the status quo is not acceptable.

When the roster has glaring holes at multiple positions year-after-year and has huge amounts of cap space tied up in outdated players, a new approach is needed.

But the owner chooses to keep his head in the sand, while insisting to fans that a championship is the highest priority.

“Our singular goal in everything we do is to win a championship.  You deserve it.  Our city deserves it.  It remains our first and only priority and I think our team showed this year that we have the pieces to make it happen.”

Ted’s words ring hollow given the fact that the team left its 15th roster spot open all season, and the Wizards were the only team in the NBA to not use both of its allotted two-way contracts. They were also one of the last franchises to get its own G League team. Those are not the actions of a team whose singular goal in everything it does is to win a championship.

To be clear, Ted is not obligated to spend indiscriminately to chase a championship. It’s his money. He already spends a hell of a lot on payroll – the fifth highest in the league. He doesn’t have to make the additional investments necessary to nudge the Wizards over the hump. But he can’t have it both ways. He cannot claim a championship-or-bust mantra while at the same time annually celebrating the grand accomplishment of playing in late-April.

If Washington’s singular priority truly is to win a championship, then the 2017-18 season would be a catalyst for major change, not a minor disappointment. Of all the members of the Wizards organization who publicly commented during exit interview day, only one person acknowledged the fundamental problems with the team: John Wall.

“I think it’s pretty obvious. I don’t need to point it out. I think the way the league is going, you need athletic bigs, you need scoring off the bench, you need all of those types of things. We don’t really have an athletic big. I mean, Ian is older. March is older. They’re not athletic guys, but they do the little things that permit their game to help as much as possible. Scoring off the bench, we had that the majority of the time. A shooter that can put the ball on the floor. Tomas is a great point guard to set everybody up. KO is a lockdown defender who can knock down shots for us. Mike was basically our go-to scorer and things like that. We need somebody else that can create off the dribble. I think at times it hurt us. We kind of got that when Ty came, but it was later in the season.”

Wall is right. It is obvious and he has been saying it for a few years now. Despite his pleas, the front office has gone in the opposite direction, sinking most of its disposable income into stationary, non-shooting centers, leaving the wing depth woefully thin and rotating through backup guards who cannot create their own shot.

The predictable result has been top-heavy rosters that rely entirely too much on Wall and Beal to carry the scoring load. Even with the built-in excuse of Wall’s injury, this season – which was marred by inconsistency even before Wall was hurt– should be a wake-up call for this franchise. It should be a moment of enlightenment. It should be a flashing red light screaming for a new approach.

Instead, we get this from the owner: “I think our team showed this year that we have the pieces to make it [a championship] happen.”

Those are not the words of someone demanding a culture change. Those are not the words of someone contemplating any personnel changes. John Wall recognizes the problems with the Wizards. It remains to be seen if anyone else does.

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Wizards/Raptors Game 6: Why the Wizards Fell Short]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55555 2018-04-30T13:43:05Z 2018-04-28T08:05:46Z The Washington Wizards 2017-18 season is over. The Toronto Raptors came into the Capital One Arena, stayed within striking distance for three quarters, and then imposed their will in the fourth quarter en route to a series-clinching victory.

Coach Scott Brooks blamed the loss on his team’s inability to hit shots and turnovers, but later he admitted–albeit begrudgingly–that the better team did indeed win. He then congratulated Raptors Coach Dwane Casey and called him the “Coach of the Year.”

Coach Casey was equally as effusive with his praise for Coach Brooks, and he also acknowledged that the Wizards weren’t quite at full strength without Otto and Jodie Meeks–yes, he said Jodie Meeks.

But Casey eventually removed his magnanimous hat and praised the exploits of his own team. He attributed the Raptors’ victory to the return of Fred VanVleet–after admitting that he downplayed VanVleet’s importance earlier in the series to build the confidence of the players who were playing in his absence–and the overall play of the bench. The Raptors bench scored 34 points and had a total plus/minus of plus-52, while the Wizards bench had 20 points and were minus-27.

So, why did the Wizards lose? Let us count the ways.

Kelly Oubre, MIA

This past Wednesday Kelly Oubre implied that Raptors guard Delon Wright did not play well at home, and then at the shoot-around prior to Game 6, he doubled down and then some by saying, “He can take it very personally but at the end of the day if you want to go to war, I’m the wrong person to go to war against. If I die, I’m going to come back to life and kill you.” In the words of Woody Harrelson, “Kelly, Kelly, Kelly…”

Oubre confidently made his first shot in the first quarter–a 3-pointer from 26 feet–which gave the Wizards an 11-point lead. Sadly, he missed his next six shots, which included an airball, and he did not score the remainder of the game despite playing 26 minutes. He exacerbated his lack of scoring by committing four fouls, which rendered him useless the entire game.

During one futile sequence, Oubre ignored John Wall’s pleas for the ball and decided to take on three Raptors between him and the basket. He missed the shot, and he sprinted down the other end of the floor to commit an ill-advised foul on Kyle Lowry.

Oubre was in the starting lineup because Otto Porter was out after undergoing a successful left lower leg fasciotomy for compartment syndrome. This was Oubre’s chance to shine, but instead he continued to struggle as he did over the last quarter of the season.

Porter’s presence, even when he was clearly hobbled by injuries, spread the floor a bit, and gave Wall and Beal more space with which to operate. And when his shot didn’t fall, Porter still had a masterful mid-range game as his Plan B. But with Oubre’s inability to hit an outside shot or even get to the basket, he was a liability on the offensive end of the floor and was basically rendered useless.

Coach Brooks was more diplomatic in his analysis of Oubre:

“He didn’t shoot the ball, he’s been struggling from the 3 for awhile now. But you hope after that first one went in he’d feel good offensively, but he just didn’t get in a good rhythm. A couple of shots didn’t go his way….I thought he got fouled maybe once or twice..but he gives you great effort. He was guarding a really, really great player, one of the best players in the league, DeRozan.”

All Minutes Matter

Prior to Game 6, Coach Brooks boldly proclaimed that worrying about the number of minutes played by starters was overrated due to the number of days off the players had between games. That sounded good on paper, but even a casual observer could see that in Game 5 there was a direct correlation between minutes played by Wall (43) and his fourth quarter effectiveness (2-6 from the field and just four points).

In Game 6, Wall played 40 minutes and Beal played 43. They combined to shoot 2-for-9 in the fourth quarter for just 10 points, and all of Wall’s points were from the free throw line, not the field. It is worth mentioning that the Wizards not named Beal or Wall scored just four points on 2-for-7 shooting, which wasn’t exactly helpful. But Wall and Beal lacked energy and crispness in that last quarter, and it seemed to be directly related to the number of minutes they played.

Raptors Coach Casey agreed:

“Beal had 43 minutes, John had 40 and [Markieff] Morris had 38 so they were logging some heavy minutes and I thought that was the difference in the game and that was credited to the second unit.”

To his credit, after the game, Coach Brooks maintained that the excessive minutes played by his star back-court had no effect on the final outcome of the game, “I don’t think the minutes were a deciding factor. …They outplayed us.”

It’s A Matter of Trust

The Wizards led 78-73 after three quarters, and they started the fourth with Beal, before subbing in John Wall after 27 seconds. Wall was on the floor with Gortat, Satoransky, Ty Lawson, and Mike Scott. The Raptors had DeRozan and Lowry on the bench with Jakob Poeltl, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam on the floor.

The first 5:45 of the fourth quarter, the Raptors bench outscored the Wizards mix of starters and bench players, 15-7.  Then Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas checked into the game, and they stretched the lead as high as eight points. By the time DeRozan re-entered the game, the lead that was initially six points had slowly escalated to double figures. Lowry and DeRozan were instrumental in their team’s fourth quarter performance, but it was the bench–anchored by VanVleet–that did the heavy lifting.

Coach Casey said it was his trust in VanVleet and the bench that helped the Raptors win:

“It is nothing different then we have done. Just added Freddy [Fred VanVleet] to the group. That is the difference. We tried not to make a big deal out of it while he was out, keep the other guys motivated but he was the difference. I thought that little group has a playing personality that he does make a difference with that group. He is kind of the engine, the toughness. It is that little birdie on the shoulder and I thought it really propelled Pascal [Siakam] and those other guys to give them a sense of confidence.”

When Wall was injured, Coach Brooks entrusted Tomas Satoransky to lead the team, and he did yeoman’s work and was instrumental in helping the Wizards gain a playoff berth. But once the playoffs started, Brooks leaned heavily on the newly signed Ty Lawson to run the team. Lawson had six points and no assists in 19 minutes of play and for the series he averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 assists. Satoransky, who played shooting guard and small forward during this series against the Raptors, but not one minute at point guard, had just two points with no assists in Game 6, and averaged just 1.0 point and 0.6 assists in the playoffs.

Coach Casey danced with the girls who brung him, while Coach Brooks opted to experiment and tinker with lineups, and it ended up being one of the factors that prematurely ended the Wizards season. The North won this war, and the Wizards were bounced a round earlier than they were the previous year.

Next up for the Raptors? The winner of the Pacers/LeBronCavaliers series. Next up for the Wizards? Exit interviews, draft plans and personnel decisions. Clearly, we aren’t in 2015 anymore.

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Kyle Weidie http://www.truthaboutit.net/ <![CDATA[Wizards Forget to Clutch Their Soul in Game 5]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55540 2018-04-26T13:27:30Z 2018-04-26T04:37:56Z

Damn look at this shift in gear by Wall… pic.twitter.com/cJEmjt9kmX

— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) April 25, 2018

You couldn’t not be nervous the whole game, whether you were a Wizards or Raptors fan. It was either going to end miserably, or triumphantly but just by the skin of its teeth. And it was only Game 5 in a knotted up series — no fishing involved but just the baiting of the hook.

A relatively 3-point-less Wizards team lost it in the end. They imploded, lost by 10 points, 108-98. There were 17 lead changes and 10 ties in this game, folks.

Late in the third period, already 4-for-12 from distance on the night, they missed 13 straight 3-pointers. Where they really lost it: Washington missed seven straight 3s after the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That is, until Bradley Beal made a meaningless, pressure-less 3, his first points of the final period, with the Wizards down 13 points with 16 seconds left.

Ironically, Beal made a 3-pointer to bring the Wizards within 56-57 with 8:39 left in the third quarter. Then the misses, by player, in sequence:

  1. Porter
  2. Morris
  3. Morris
  4. Wall
  5. Oubre
  6. Beal
  7. Oubre
  8. Wall
  9. Beal
  10. Beal
  11. Wall
  12. Oubre
  13. Porter

It was 94-93, Raptors, with 4:05 left. Toronto went on a 14-5 run to end it. It was rolling-on-the-ground, locked arm-and-arm competitive until one opponent rolled off a cliff. While the other got up, dusted off their hands, and walked away shrugging their shoulders thinking, ‘Boy am I lucky it just happened to be me.’

Meaning, it was actually a good — damn near great — game in either direction. Then it wasn’t even close.

But it featured everything.

Early fouls, late whistles, and letting them play.

Trash-talking: mostly from Wall, unfortunately, to Toronto’s bench, including assistant coach/ambassador/rabble-rouser Drake.

It featured Wall being amazing, and yet also a clip with his hands on his hip for an entire possession (tweeted by yours truly), which then unfortunately made its way around the twittersphere painting an inaccurate but certainly should-be-accountable picture of Wall.

Wall finished with 26 points on 21 shots, with 9 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 7 turnovers, at least 3 of which were sleepy-eyed careless. He played a game-high 44 minutes (DeRozan played 39, Lowry 38 and Beal played 36). Beal in no way tried to help to seal the deal in the end, even if he and Wall combined for 46 points, on 41 shot no less. DeRozan and Lowry combined for 49 points on 37 shots. It was just about enough.

[There was just a LeBron James buzzer beater in Game 5 while I was writing this, for what it is worth, which is nearly our lives — sporting fandom lives, for what they are worth.]

But the Wizards-Raptors game featured everything. And it was a pretty, pret-ty good contest that got ruined, win or loss.

It was messy, that game. But with encapsulating back-and-forth action — amongst the stars, and role players (from Delon Wright to Mike Scott to Ty Lawson).

There was decent defense — mixed in with quite good defense (sub-47% shooting for both teams, although much of that could have possibly been the lack of legs by both teams).

There was hero ball, and heroics, up until a point for the Wizards, who generally rode grinding out (and stalling) in the clutch all season. Sheesh! Those aforementioned 3-pointers missed. Did we really watch that?

There was good Kelly Oubre, there was terrible Kelly Oubre. There was fourth quarter Jonas Valanciunas. And there was vintage Gortat-from-Wall action; Marcin scored 10 points with 12 rebounds (5 offensive).

The Wizards crushed Toronto on the glass, by the way — 14-6 offensive and 50-35 overall. But Washington’s 18 team turnovers (to Toronto’s 10) coughed up 14 points. Another prevailing theme in Wizlandia: turnovers and the lack of 3-pointers.

Kyle Lowry just snatching the ball from Otto Porter with the Wizards down just three points with 5:20 left was the silent stinker amongst a party of crop-dusters.

NBA TV’s Jared Greenberg reported during the game that he could read lips. Wall and the sidelined Drake exchanged public, friendly, almost branded banter disguised as trash talk, and Wall apparently told said rapper that the Wizards weren’t coming back [for a Game 7].

So, of course, Greenberg boosted the point to DeRozan during the on-court, post-game interview after the Raptors actually won. DeRozan, who looked like he was gunning for points at whatever cost early on (to the potential chagrin of Raptors fans), finished with 32 points but 5 assists (after Lowry’s 10 assists and topping anyone else on the Wizards not named Wall).

“I hope they’re not,” said DeRozan about Wall proclaiming that the Wizards would not make it back to Canada.

And so the Raptors take a critical 3-2 series lead into Friday’s Game 6 in Washington. Maybe it was better that the Wizards got snuffed out like a cat’s paw on an upside-down roach. Not sure how they pick themselves up emotionally after such a loss and survive otherwise. They’ve got the soul to push this series to 7, just not sure they’re capable.

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Troy Haliburton <![CDATA[Opening Statements: Wizards at Raptors, Game 5]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55532 2018-04-25T13:34:31Z 2018-04-25T13:32:20Z

The Toronto Raptors appeared to have control of the series after exorcising their opening-game playoff demons and then following that up with a dominating display in Game 2. Toronto did what they were supposed to do and won their two home games, but the Wizards turned around and followed suit, even if the Game 4 victory took a lot more resolve than they had probably anticipated.

Washington is back in Toronto for a pivotal Game 5. When a series is tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time in seven-game series. The Raptors treated Game 1 like their Game 7, and tonight’s Game 5 is just as important. The Wizards carry a little momentum heading up to Toronto, but will have to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to pull off the upset. The Raptors only lost seven total home games over the course of the season (one of which was to the Wizards, albeit way back in November), while Washington has lost their last six road playoff games. The Wizards have not figured out a way to bring their same intensity on the road in recent playoff memory and will have to inevitably win at least one road game if they want to advance.

The bench for each respective team will certainly play a role in deciding the outcome of Game 5. The Raptors bench wiped the floor with their Wizards counterparts in Game 1, outscoring them 42-21, but since then the table has turned in terms of bench production. Toronto now has the worst bench of the entire playoff field (-15) when it comes to Net Rating, while the Wizards have had the second best bench (+8.2).

Washington’s second unit has been led by forward Mike Scott, who is averaging 12.5 points per game on 69 percent shooting from the field. Scott’s bench-mate Kelly Oubre has been up and down this series, but has helped provide an energetic spark to the team by impacting the game on the defensive end.

Stopping by Truth About It today is Russell Peddle, a maven at numberfire.com specializing in all things analytics (and fantasy hoops). You can find his thoughts on basketball, and poutine, at @rustypedalbike, as well as his work right here.

Teams: Wizards @ Raptors
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Air Canada Centre. Toronto, Ontario
Television: NBS Sports
Radio: WNEW 99.1 FM / WFED 1500 AM
Spread: Raptors favored by 7

1) The Raptors had the best bench unit in the entire NBA during the regular season, which carried over in the first two games. What’s happened since, and how much does this unit miss Fred VanVleet?

Too much time has been spent with five-man combinations that are not quite working.
The Raptors’ second most-used lineup in this series is one where DeMar DeRozan stays on the floor with four bench guys (Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl) and it has a minus-52.9 net rating in 14 minutes of action. Compare that with the all-bench unit of those same four bench guys with Fred VanVleet from the regular season (net rating of 17.1 in 340 minutes played) and you have your answer.
If FVV can’t get right, Dwane Casey will just have to continue to tinker and find combinations with better chemistry. That same lineup with Lowry instead of DeRozan has a plus-5.5 net rating in 13 minutes of action, for example, and an all-bench unit with Norman Powell in DeRozan’s place has an 8.4 net rating in eight minutes.

2) Dwane Casey has done a masterful job of recreating the Raptors identity this season and part of that comes from not running so much ISO-ball. Is it a discouraging sign that DeRozan has reverted back to that style—and what can Toronto do to remedy that problem?

The Raptors were fourth in the Association in turnover percentage this season at 12.1 percent, but are dead last of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason at 15.5 percent. Ball control has always been one of this team’s biggest strengths, so their turnover woes have likely discouraged them from zipping the ball around these last couple games, and that’s getting them away from what worked so well for them this season during their “culture reset.”
That said, overall they’ve still only had 8.3 percent of their possessions coming in isolation over these four games (up only slightly from their 5.9% regular season mark) and only 13.0 percent of DeRozan’s personal possessions have gone that way (right in line with his 13.3% from the regular season), so it’s not as bad overall as people might think.
The Raptors’ old trappings have been under a microscope over these last two games — particularly in an admittedly horrible fourth quarter in Game 4 — because they simply regressed to letting their two All-Stars try to take over in a desperate situations and crunch time, rather than relying on the ball movement and depth that won them 59 games in the first place.
Ultimately, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry need to show more trust in their teammates in Game 5, and those teammates need to earn it by letting open shots fly. Getting back home to Toronto will almost certainly help with that.

3) As someone who covers the NBA from a national scope, do you think the Wizards have gotten a quality return on investment from giving Otto Porter a max contract last summer?

Absolutely. As someone who is enamored with statistics and efficiency, Otto Porter is one of my favorite players. He might not have the star appeal of John Wall or Bradley Beal, but what he brings to the team is of comparable importance.
He doesn’t fill the box score in flashy ways, but a guy with a shooting split of 50.3 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from deep, and 82.8 percent from the line is the ultimate release valve for a team that forces opposing defenses to pay a load of attention to its two All-Stars. And while he might not be the team’s leader in any major box score category, his efficiency has him ranked first on the Wizards in win shares (8.1), win shares per 48 minutes (.161), box plus/minus (3.6), and value over replacement player (3.4).
Even if you don’t care about advanced metrics, his leading the team in basically every efficiency category is a testament to his importance and overall value. He’s worth every penny in my eyes.

]]> 0 Adam Rubin <![CDATA[The Washington Wizards Play Basketball Like a Degenerate Gambler]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55518 2018-04-23T22:38:59Z 2018-04-23T22:19:45Z

The Washington Wizards play basketball like a degenerate gambler. Regular season games don’t provide enough action. That’s like a $20 office pool. Even the first couple games of a playoff series can’t hold their interest. That’s like a $200 buy-in house game. No, the Wizards can’t feel the rush until they’ve pushed their child’s college fund into the pot.

There is really no other way to explain the Wizards seeming indifference on a night-to-night basis. Marcin Gortat surely does not have a better explanation. Asked by Todd Dybas of The Sports Capitol after Game 4 why the team always seems to play its best when their odds seem the longest, Gortat was at loss for words:

“If I knew, I would tell you. I have no idea. Every day you come in here everybody acts the same way, everybody is getting ready for the same game and, all of a sudden you can go against Orlando or Brooklyn and lose by 30, then next day the best team coming in the league and we are beating the best team. I have no recipe for that. It is what it is.”

Markieff Morris couldn’t tell you either:

“I don’t know. I guess that’s how we live so that’s how it goes.”

The Wizards refuse to do anything the easy way, trailing by at least nine points in the first quarter of all four games in the series against Toronto, requiring them to spend unnecessary energy just to tread water in the first half.

In Game 4, Washington took their self-destructive tendencies to a whole new level. It started in the first half when they dug an 11-point deficit, thanks to 34 percent shooting from the field, 14.3 percent from 3-point range and 53.8 percent from the line. Then, to make things even more difficult, Washington gave up a 3-point shot to Kyle Lowry mere seconds into the third quarter.

It’s like the Wizards were playing one-on-one with their little brother in the backyard and spotted him a 5-0 lead to make things interesting — except the Wizards are not playing their little brother. They are an eighth seed matched up against an opponent that won 16 more regular season games.

Nevertheless, the desperation of a 14-point second-half deficit was enough to get their attention. In just over three and a half minutes Washington tied the game with an electric 18-4 run. But that adrenaline rush quickly wore off and the Wizards failed to capitalize on their momentum. The remainder of the quarter was a back-and-forth affair ending in an 80-80 tie after a Mike Scott buzzer-beater.

The fourth quarter is when the Wizards really showed their degenerate ways. Facing a 3-1 deficit and a potential franchise-altering series loss, you would think the Wizards would start the final period with a sense of urgency.

Wrong. Washington looked more like a guy nursing a drink in the back of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book, studying the lines in a cloud of cigarette smoke and torn betting slips. Here’s the play-by-play:

  • 11:38 – John Wall dribbles the shot clock out and forces a 20-foot jumper over Jakob Poeltl.
  • 11:30 – Seven-foot, slow-footed Poeltl beats the entire Wizards team down court for an uncontested layup.
  • 11:07 – Mike Scott misses a corner three-pointer.
  • 10:37 – After getting an offensive rebound, the Raptors create an uncontested layup for Lowry.
  • 10:15 – Wall drives baseline and loses the ball out of bounds.
  • 10:03 – Wall turns his back to Lowry on a pick and roll, giving him a direct line to an uncontested layup.
  • 10:01 – Scott Brooks exasperated time-out.
  • 9:44 – Bradley Beal makes a lazy pass that is intercepted by Delon Wright for a fast break layup.

Two minutes and twenty seconds into the most important quarter in the entire season, and the Wizards cough up an eight-point deficit with the casual indifference of a guy dropping $50 on a hand of black jack as he passes through the casino floor on the way to dinner.

For any other team, this would be a problem. Not for these Wizards, though. This is exactly where Washington needed to be, with their backs against the wall. The Wizards stared Teddy KGB in the eyes, paused for a second in faux contemplation of their next move, then pushed all their chips into the middle of the table. Washington ended the game on a 26-10 run, beginning with six points from Beal and – after Beal fouled out with 4:58 remaining – four baskets that were either scored or assisted by John Wall.

Game 4 ended on a high note, with Wall dropping his signature, “This is my city,” and the crowd celebrating on their way out to F Street. But there’s one universal truth in gambling: No matter how high you get, there’s always a bad beat on the horizon. The Wizards saw this first-hand last season when they won two straight home games against the Boston Celtics in convincing fashion, only to get destroyed in the pivotal Game 5.

The only way Washington can avoid the same fate this year is if they approach Game 5 with the same intensity as the final eight minutes of Game 4. If the last few seasons of Wizards basketball are any indication, that does not seem like a good bet.

But who knows? If you keep playing the same number on the roulette board, it’s bound to hit eventually.


 

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Troy Haliburton <![CDATA[Wizards Show the Resolve of a Contender in Game 4 Comeback Win]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55507 2018-04-23T15:33:34Z 2018-04-23T07:55:16Z

If “Bully-Ball” was the best way to describe Washington’s Game 3 win, then the Game 4 victory was a testament to their skill. Washington pulled out a much needed win, 106-98, because of its great execution in the third quarter to get back in the game and the resolve of John Wall to close it out after Bradley Beal fouled out with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards were able to score 40 points in the third, matching their point total for the entire first half, by showcasing the adept skill level that makes this team one of the more dangerous eight seeds in recent memory. Otto Porter was the catalyst for the third quarter run, opening up the frame with eight quick points, including two 3-pointers, to get the Wizards back in the game after facing a 14-point deficit early in the period. Wall, who set up Porter on a few of those shots, made some poignant comments after the game about Otto’s aggressiveness:

“OP is just being OP. He’s really quiet, laid back. We just try to tell OP that we run a lot of plays, ‘floppy’ and all those types of plays for Brad [Beal], but if you have the opportunity to come open, be open and be ready to shoot. I think he seen one or two go in early and he came out aggressive and making shots for us. That’s the key to our team. A lot of teams try to double team and get the ball out of me and Brad’s hands, and to have a guy like that that is spotted up on the opposite side of the court, that can definitely shoot the ball and make plays for himself, that’s a great bonus for us.”

A ‘floppy’ play is a common set run by NBA teams in which a known shooter comes off a pin-down screen on the weak-side of the floor and is expected to be ready to shoot. Otto Porter was ready to fire away in the second half when his number was called on a few of those sets because Toronto has made a concerted effort all series to load up on the strong side again Wall and Beal. Porter has not been as aggressive as many members of Wizards faithful would like, but in Game 4 he showed the confidence and skillset that got him paid “max” money last summer. In the third quarter, Porter shot 4-for-4 from the field and scored 10 of his 12 points after only scoring 29 points in games 1 thru 3 combined.

Otto’s positive contribution wasn’t just limited to what he did on the offensive end, he was a key contributor to slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the second half. Porter was able to use his length and above average foot speed to keep up with DeRozan and make sure that all of his shots are highly contested. The biggest key for Porter defending DeRozan was staying down on his myriad of pump fakes and not fouling. DeRozan shot 18 free throws against the Wizards for the game, including an astronomical 12 free throws in the first quarter alone. If Otto can continue to play at this level, his poise and experience will give him a big advantage over his small forward counterpart, rookie OG Anunoby.

Will the Real “Playoff P” Please Standup?

Porter may have jump-started the comeback in the third quarter, but Beal was the steady rock throughout the night that buoyed the Wizards’ offense when it looked like the ship may be sinking. Big Panda finished with 31 points and more than half of his points came from finding his 3-point stroke. Beal hit five of his seven 3-point attempts and was able to space the floor in a way that allowed John Wall and Marcin Gortat to run their two-man game to perfection. Coming into this season, Beal had made it a trend of increasing his points per game average from the regular season to the post-season in each of his three years of playoff basketball. This year, however, Brad had seen his points per game average drop from 22.5 ppg in the regular season to just 18 ppg in the playoffs. Once Beal saw Otto get it going in the beginning of the third quarter, he decided to join the party and added 12 points of his own on 3-for-4 shooting from the field, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

Beal was only shooting 35 percent from 3 over the first three games of this series, but his five 3-point makes were key to allowing the Wizards to erase a double-digit halftime deficit. Beal is a match-up problem for the Raptors because they have elected not to have DeRozan guard him for a lot of possessions, which allows Beal to take advantage of lesser experienced players such as Anunoby or Delon Wright. Brad was shaping up to have the picture perfect night up until he fouled out in the fourth quarter while the outcome was still very much in doubt.

Brad’s sixth personal foul was questionable at best, but he picked up two careless fouls before that critical play, which made him susceptible to fouling out in the first place. The fourth foul was an extremely emotional play for Beal as he fouled a rebounder on a play where he had no legitimate shot at the ball. That foul was out of frustration because Beal had missed a wide open 3 that would have given the Wizards a three-point lead. While emotions led him to commit the foul, those same emotions also fueled his scoring spree. When asked about how he felt after fouling out and having to watch the team finish the game without him, Brad took the post-game media scrum through his gamut of emotions:

“When they initially called me for my sixth I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated. Pretty much any synonym you could add on that list. I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that. I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances. He did a great job of leading the guys and icing the game with a nice jumper in the corner and getting stops. So, that was definitely a maturity level that I hit, and a face of adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

And oh boy did Brad keep his teammates encouraged throughout the end of the fourth quarter. Our good friends at NBC Sports Washington decided it would be a good idea to track Beal’s reactions during the final period as his teammates pulled away … and Playoff Panda delivered the goods:

This is the kind of excitement and support that makes people outside of D.C. wonder why it is that the narrative out of Washington’s camp is that these guys don’t like each other. Well, winning cures all and this may have been a completely different story if the Wizards had lost. They didn’t lose because they finally showed the type of resolve that was expected of them all season when they anointed themselves Eastern Conference contenders over the summer. Now that they have erased a two-game deficit and built some momentum heading into Game 5, maybe — just maybe — this team will prove to be better than their end of season mediocrity showed.


 

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Troy Haliburton <![CDATA[All-Stars Carried the Load, Role Players Brought the Energy]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55495 2018-04-21T19:10:25Z 2018-04-21T19:10:25Z Washington faced their biggest task of 2018 when they stepped on the court against the Toronto Raptors Friday evening. The Wizards could have potentially been down 3-0 in their first round series, which would have been a virtual death sentence, as no team has ever come back from facing a 3-0 deficit in an NBA playoff series. The Wizards were able to keep hope alive in the series by channeling the focus of their two All-Stars and the dark energy of their key role guys.

John Wall and Bradley Beal put the team on their backs, scoring 28 points apiece and out dueling the All-Star back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Beal got himself going early by scoring 21 of his 28 points before halftime and playing with an aggressiveness that resembled the guy who took control of the team in Wall’s 41 game absence. Scott Brooks took responsibility for Beal’s subpar performance after Game 2 because he knew he needed to get him more shots within the offense. When Brooks was asked about what got Brad going in this game, he mentioned how important it was for Beal himself to be aggressive: “Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success.”

Part of the inspiration for Beal’s play came from a meeting with Scott Brooks and John Wall. Beal gave a little insight as to some of the things that Brooks said to inspire his play: “The biggest thing was making sure that we both were aggressive at all times, making sure that we were holding teammates accountable, leading the charge on both ends of the floor and bringing it because we have a tough assignment. This is a tough team that we are playing, a team that scores the ball in a variety of ways, they have two All-Stars, two really good bigs who can play really well, one of the best benches in the league, so each and every guy, we all gotta step up and play our part, but we know it starts with us, too. We make sure that we are clicking on the same page and that we are aggressive from the start and keep it up for 48 [minutes].”

John Wall was equally as aggressive as Beal but just in a different manner. While Beal scored 12 of his 28 points from behind the arc, Wall did most of his damage attacking the rim and working his patented elbow jumper in. When Wall wasn’t looking or his own shot, he was making sure to spoon-feed his teammates to the tune of 14 assists. One particular player that Wall made a concerted effort of getting involved was his “perceived teammate arch-nemesis” Marcin Gortat. Wall explained what worked so well with Gortat: “Marc [Marcin] sets the tone for getting me and Brad open through a lot of screens and rolling for us. He’s the back line of our defense and protecting the basket… He’s a key to our team. He has to be there for us, to block shots, rebound, and set screens. He gets me and Brad to be aggressive coming off pick-and-rolls and [which allows us to] get our teammates involved. Tonight he got it going and made some easy shots. I always try to find him and tell him to be ready to look for my passes because a lot of teams collapse on me.”

The Raptors certainly paid a lot of attention to Wall and Beal on their defensive coverage’s and that left Gortat open on countless rolls to the basket and allowed him to finish with 16 points on 8-10 shooting. When Gortat is getting the rock on the offensive end, he tends to be more engaged on defense.  He outplayed Jonas Valunciunas, who in first two games of the series had gotten the best of his fellow European big man.

The Return of Death Row DC

Markieff Morris walked into Capital One Arena rocking a Death Row DC shirt which served as a form of foreshadowing. Keef only finished with seven points and one rebound, but as one of the emotional leaders of the team, he got his teammates fired up by playing a brand of basketball that could be best described as “Bully Ball.” Three minutes into the game, Keef was involved in a shoving match with the Raptors rookie OG Anuoby after a foul from the latter.

In a league full of fake tough guys and players who are much more likely to yell “hold me back” rather than fight, Keef Morris is a throwback player in the sense that he is about that life. When Kelly Oubre was asked about what set the tone in the game, he was quick to credit Keef’s dark energy: “Keef [Markieff Morris]. Him coming out there and pretty much being fired up. I think OG [Anunoby] did not know the scouting report because he did not know that Keef is one of the people you do not mess with in this world. It is what it is. He will learn.

Keef’s style of play clearly inspired Kelly, as he came into the game and completely changed the tide of momentum with his play in the first quarter. Scott Brooks always laments the fact that he is not too concerned with Kelly knocking down shots, but rather how he is defending. Oubre came in the game with a winning sequence of a drawn charge, a dunk on a fast break, and then a block at the rim. When Oubre is engaged on defense, it gives the Wizards the ability to switch many positions on the defensive end. John Wall spoke about Oubre’s impact on the game and how he has always considered him to be the teams x-factor: “He’s not really worried about how many shots he’s getting, he’s just worried about locking up and taking away their best player. Just making it tough for them, doing the little things, making the hustle plays. It’s key for our team. I think tonight he did that and when he does that he’s a big key to our team. Like I always say, he’s an X-factor for us.”

Kelly and Markieff brought the toughness the Wizards needed from their ancillary players, while Mike Scott just continued to drop buckets. Scott finished the game with 12 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting and he also put forth maximum effort on the defensive end as a small-ball center and power forward in certain lineups. Scott’s 12 points was a big part of the reason why the Wizards bench was able to outscore the Raptors bench. His production is also the perfect supplement for Otto Porter who still seems to be suffering from a lingering from a calf injury suffered right before the playoffs began.

If the Wizards are to come back Sunday and tie the series they will need a maximum effort from their role players and the star power of Beal and Wall. That proven formula worked perfectly for them in Game 3, and it falls in line with “everybody eats” mantra that worked so well earlier in the season. The team knows the style of play that works for them, the only question is can they channel the dark side for three more games.

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Wizards/Raptors Game 3: Remember Wall and Beal?]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55491 2018-04-21T14:38:12Z 2018-04-21T14:38:12Z

The morning of Game 3 of the Wizards/Raptors series, a series that Toronto led 2-0 (at the time), ESPN had a feature on the front of their website with the faces of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.  ESPN’s Rachel Nichols sat down with the Raptors backcourt to discuss their friendship and their desires of bringing a championship to Canada.

John Wall and Bradley Beal also got the Rachel Nichols treatment, except that interview was not featured during the playoff run when the Wizards were up 2-0, it ran back in November at the start of the season.  At that time, the Wizards were still considered Eastern Conference Finals contenders, and the sky was seemingly the limit.

Since then, Wall missed significant time with a knee injury, Beal assumed the leadership role in his absence, and towards the end of the season they intermittently reunited and limped to the playoff finish line, with Wall sitting almost every other game.  Any discussion of the Eastern Conference Finals was replaced by skepticism regarding whether their eighth-seeded team would even make it out of the first round against the top-seeded Raptors.

The first two games of the series did nothing do slow down the freight train of mediocrity the Wizards were on at the end of the regular season.  But in between games two and three, Beal, Wall and their head coach Scott Brooks had a meeting.  Coach Brooks told Wall that Beal (and Otto Porter) needed more shots, and then Brooks assumed responsibility for Beal not getting enough shot attempts in Game 2(he had just 11).  When Beal was asked about that meeting during this morning’s shoot around he said, ““I guess he figured I wasn’t shooting the ball enough and I guess he thought that was his fault. I don’t know. He’s probably the biggest confidence giver .”

Perhaps Coach Brooks should strongly consider meeting with Beal and Wall during all of the Wizards’ off days, because the Wizards won Game 3, 122-103, mostly due to the  dual 28-point performances of their All-Star backcourt.

Wall had 28 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block, and Beal had 28 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.  More importantly, they outscored the Raptors backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan by 14 points.  And like Miles Davis and John Coltrane in a quartet in their prime, they didn’t turn the blinders on and hog the spotlight without being leery of who else was on their team. Instead, they shared it perfectly like selfless teammates.  They were efficient on offenses, active on defenses, and they brought that fiery passion that eluded them and the Wizards as a whole in the first two games.

The first quarter clearly belonged to Beal, as he went 5-for-7 and scored 12 points.  His outside shot was on and he took full advantage, but when the Raptors gave him even a sliver of an opening to the basket, he took advantage of that as well, and got to the line three times.  Coach Brooks was fully aware of the tone Beal was setting with his offensive aggressiveness, because he played him the entire first quarter–but the Wizards still only lead by one point.

Still feeling it in the second quarter, Beal scored nine points on 3-for-4 shooting. Despite that output, the second quarter clearly belonged to his backcourt teammate.

Wall took the approach that Beal had in the first quarter, and decided to be demonstrative with his offense; he did it with his scoring, his assists, and he peppered in some defense as well.

He spent the first five minutes of the quarter on the bench, but re-entered the game at the 8:33 mark and flat out took over. At the time, the Wizards led by just two points, 38-36. Markieff Morris took a 14-footer to put the Wizards up 40-36, and then Wall scored or assisted on the Wizards next 29 points of the quarter.

Wall got to the foul line, he took pull-up jumpers off the fast break, he found Gortat on pick-and-rolls, and he found Beal coming off screens.  On defense, both he and Beal harassed Lowry and DeRozan into turnovers (the Raptors had seven in the quarter), and that activity on both ends of the floor pushed the Wizards lead from two to eight points.  Beal and Wall scored 22 of the Wizards 39 second quarter points on 8-for-10 shooting.

Beal and Wall didn’t score quite as much in the third quarter (11 points on 4-10) shooting, but they continued to push the pace, they accumulated real and hockey assists, and the Wizards lead ballooned from eight to as much as 22 points.  And for better or for worse, both Beal and Wall also introduced a bit of physicality to the mix.

 

First Beal committed a silly dead ball foul against Jonas Valanciunas who was playing keep-away with the ball.  Then Serge Ibaka lunged at John Wall after words were shared between the two and double technicals were issued.  The Wizards were leading at the time, and that type of behavior could have easily swung the momentum back to Toronto or better yet, gotten them both kicked out of the game. But Wall and Beal got the crowd into the game, Morris (who had gotten into a fracas earlier in the game), Gortat, and the rest of the teammates rallied behind them, and the Wizards’ lead continued to increase.

Wall and Beal spoke about the incidents after the game:

 

 

Wall and Beal’s output was significantly diminished in the fourth quarter (just five points and two shots were made between the two) but by that point the Wizards were comfortably ahead thanks to the groundwork they laid in the first three quarters of basketball.  The Wizards–Wall and Beal included–have been wildly inconsistent this season, so to assume that this victory translates into yet another victory on Sunday in Game Four would be quite presumptuous.

But at least for one night in Game 3, Wall and Beal turned the attention away from Lowry, DeRozan and the Raptors as a whole, and they returned to the form that had them(and others) having visions of Eastern Conference Finals grandeur.  Beal said it best after the game:

Even after we lost Game 2, everyone was pretty much locked in to what we needed to do, film, taking care of bodies, getting the proper treatments and rest. We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves. We gotta protect our home floor. Toronto did what they were supposed to do. They won on their home floor. We gotta do the same. We just took it a game at a time. It starts with us [John Wall and Bradley Beal]. When we are into the ball, into our guys on the defensive end, everybody else follows. We were able to get stops and get out in transition.

 

 

 

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Game 2 Rapid Reaction: Wiz Go 0-for-2 In The North]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55478 2018-04-18T11:15:12Z 2018-04-18T04:26:48Z TAI’s Rashad Mobley reacts to Washington’s 130-119 loss to Toronto in Game 2 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

M.V.P.

Yes, John Wall had 29 points and nine assists, and kept the Wizards within striking distance with aggressive second-half play (22 points and six assists). But when Wall and Beal were saddled with foul trouble, it was Lawson, the newbie, who kept the Wizards afloat.

When Wall picked up his second foul with 7:42 left in the first quarter, it seemed like a logical, foregone conclusion that Tomas Satoransky would be the name Coach Scott Brooks would call—Satoransky averaged 10.4 points and 5.8 assists as a starter, and the Wizards averaged 28 assists per game during that span. But it was Lawson, not Satoransky, who got the nod, and despite only being with the team for five days, he put an imprint on the game as both scorer and facilitator.

He dished out eight assists in the first half, and although he now lacks the tremendous foot speed of Wall (Editor’s Note: In the NBA’s 2012-13 GM Survey, Wall and Lawson received equal votes in the fastest-with-the-ball category. They finished fourth, behind Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo), Lawson did his to best to approximate that by constantly pushing the ball. He found Mike Scott open by the 3-point line, he found Mahinmi and Oubre cutting to the basket, and he was one of the main reasons why the Wizards were able to shrink Toronto’s 22-point lead to 14 before Wall and Beal re-entered the game.

Lawson put on his cape and bailed the Wizards out once again in the third quarter, after Bradley Beal picked up his fourth foul with 8:22 left. He hit consecutive 3-pointers in, then buried a big shot in the fourth quarter to cut the Raptors lead to seven. Lawson even dove on the floor for a lose ball to start a John Wall-led fast break.

He finished with 14 points, eight assists in 31 minutes of play–more than every other Wizards player not named Wall. More importantly, Coach Brooks seemed to have more trust in Lawson in the clutch than he does with Otto Porter, Gortat and even the aforementioned Satoransky.

L.V.P.

Marcin Gortat went scoreless in 12 minutes of play. Three of the four shots he missed were from point blank range. Bradley Beal and his sulking body language returned, partly because of foul trouble but mostly because he shot 3-for-11 for just nine points, looking quite sluggish the entire night. Significant contributions from one, or both of them, would have been nice, but they are far from the LVPs on this evening.

That distinction belongs to the defense, which was tepid for the second consecutive game.

Right before the opening tip, Comcast SportsNet’s Chris Miller reported that Scott Brooks put a serious emphasis on defense. Miller mentioned that since the end of Game 1, Brooks has focused on rotations, communication and knowing what every Raptors player was a capable of–especially from the 3-point line. The Wizards responded to Brooks’s call to action by being even more porous on the defensive end in Game 2.

The Raptors led 44-27 after one quarter, shooting 59 percent from the field and a blazing 53 percent from the 3-point line (7-13). For the first half, the Wizards allowed the Raptors to shot an obscene 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3, and 90 percent from the free throw line. The defensive rotations were slow, the communication was nil, and to make matters worse Wall and Beal were in foul trouble. Beal’s fouls were especially maddening, since three of his first four fouls were committed while a Raptors player was shooting a 3-point shot.

Brooks complained about the Wizards defense at the end of the regular season, he was moved to speak on it again after Game 1, and now after the Raptors morphed into the Golden State Warriors after Game 2, he will once again have to find the magic elixir to cure the Wizards defensive woes.

That Game Was…Right There for the Taking

As bad as the Wizards played the first 24 minutes of the game, and as inconsistent as they were in the third quarter, they shook off the doldrums midway through the fourth quarter.

Mike Scott hit a 3-pointer, and so did Lawson after yet another tremendous block by Wall. Then after a Raptors turnover, Wall was fouled and hit both free throws which cut the lead to single digits for the first time since the 8:03 mark of the first quarter. Steve Buckhantz’s voice was at a heightened pitch, Wall was jawing with Drake, and it looked like the Wizards were going to overcome their defensive issues and possibly steal the game.

Then C.J. Miles did was he always seems to do: kill the Wizards

The lead jumped up to eight points, then DeMar DeRozan scored eight consecutive points of his own. The Wizards? Stymied.

X-Factor

The Wizards bench scored 63 of  119 points, which was 21 more than the Raptors bench (who, in all fairness, was once again without the healthy services of Fred VanVleet, who played just 2:49 after being repeatedly torched by Ty Lawson). Mike Scott led the way with 20 points, Lawson and Oubre had 14 each, Ian Mahinmi had 12, and Satoransky–arguably the most accomplished of the group–brought up the rear with just three points.

In the second quarter, the bench–led by Lawson–had successfully worked the Raptors lead down to 14 points thanks to hustle on defense and ball movement on the offensive end.

Brooks and his substitution patterns haven’t exactly been consistent, or effective, so who knows what he’ll roll out Friday, especially since he hinted that Mike Scott might start at center in Game 3. But on a night when Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter and Beal combined for just 27 points, that unexpected boost from the bench was a welcome surprise.

Game 3 is Friday at the Capital One Arena.

 

 

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Troy Haliburton <![CDATA[Will John Wall Breakout the Jelly Fam in Game 2?]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55466 2018-04-17T10:44:44Z 2018-04-17T10:44:44Z

Much was made about the Toronto Raptors snapping their 10-game playoff losing streak in Game 1 on Saturday evening, but another streak was also broken. The Wizards 114-106 loss marked the first time in the John Wall era that the Wizards lost a game one to open the playoffs. Toronto used their superior depth to make a fourth quarter run that would seal the fate for the Wizards.

One of the factors in the Wizards loss, was Toronto’s ability  to contest all of John Wall’s layups at the rim and, which caused him to leave potential points on the floor. In only his sixth game back from his two-month hiatus, the Wizards’ franchise player continues to shake off the rust on his way back to All-Star status. The box score numbers are there, but a deeper dive inside the numbers tells a different story. Wall went 3-13 from inside the restricted area and his missed layups were detrimental to a Wizards team trying to become only the sixth team in the history of the league to pull off an eight versus one upset.

What Happened to John Wall’s Jelly?

The fact that John Wall missed as many layups as he did is surprising given his physical attributes as a player. Since Wall has been in the league he has always excelled at getting to and finishing at the rim. This leaves us with one very important question going forward. What happened to John Wall’s Jelly?

What is Jelly you ask?

Besides being a fruit preserve, the term Jelly in the basketball community is a euphemism for a finger roll finish at the rim. The term jelly was coined by Isaiah Washington and a few of his NYC AAU teammates and is used to describe their flashy and difficult finishes around the basket. Jelly has taken the basketball world by storm and you can’t go into a gym in America, whether it be High School or an NBA arena and not see someone perfecting the jelly. Washington and his crew started what is known as the Jelly Fam and their playground creation made it to the workouts of Lebron James and John Wall last summer as the two Klutch Sports athletes trained in Miami for the upcoming season.

The Jelly has become popular in basketball circles because it’s a perfect saying to describe the degree of difficulty of some of these basketball shots that have popularized other point guards in the NBA such as Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry. These are the guys at Wall’s position that rival him, both on the court and in the shoe stores.

According to Basketball Reference’s shot finder, John Wall shot 56.3% on layup attempts this season compared to the 55.8% he shot on layups last season . Despite his injury riddled season he was statistically better than he had been in past years at attacking the basket. These numbers are also comparable to the likes of the players I mentioned above.

Irving shoots 56.1%

Lillard shoots 52.6%

Curry shoots 62.6%

Wall has shown the ability to finish around the rim like some of the best point guards in the league, but on Saturday he appeared to doubt his own supernatural abilities. When watching a clip of Wall’s missed layups from game one, the thing that stands out is that mechanically Wall seems to be too caught up on absorbing the contact from the defenders instead of trying to avoid the contact and finish at the rim with his best Jelly.

The reason why Wall is absorbing the contact is because he has let his perceived lack of calls get into his own head and this has caused him to subconsciously not attack like he normally does. The most blatant example of this is Wall’s end of the game sequence two weeks ago against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the closing seconds of that game, Wall had a clear driving line one-on-one against Jeff Green and instead of attacking the basket and finishing at the rim, he kicked the ball out and caused a subsequent turnover.

After that game, Wall’s post-game comments were interesting in that he lamented the fact that he knew he would not get a call on his drive so he passed the ball. Wall is so caught up on whether he will get a call or not that he is playing as if he is trying to draw fouls instead of trying to make shots. Wall is so adamant about his lack of “superstar” calls he is essentially controlling the narrative among Wizards faithful that he somehow isn’t getting the respect that he deserves when he drives to the basket. What Wall should be doing is taking the responsibility of finishing better at the rim on himself and not worry about whether he’s getting calls or not. Considering how well he excels at layup attempts, he should constantly be trying to punish the Raptors at the rim?

After the game Saturday, Wall commented on how he thought that he was fouled, but even admitted that he could have done himself a favor by finishing on some of the shots: “I felt like I got fouled on some of them [layup attempts], but some of them, I still have to make those. … I got everything I wanted.”

If the Wizards are to upset the Raptors in Game Two, they will need John Wall to be his usual aggressive self and to push the pace and get out in transition on Toronto. Washington was outscored on fast break points by Toronto 16-10 and will need to definitely flip that script. This is a solution that can be remedied if Wall returns to his normal All-Star form and decides not to give a damn who is in front of him en route to the basket.

The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas is a seven footer but is not known for being a stonewall at the rim as he ranks 55th in Defensive Real Plus Minus (0.77) among centers in the NBA during the regular season. When Valanciunas is not in the game Jakob Poetl is his backup and he ranks 44th among centers at DRPM (0.98). The Raptors did use a few small ball lineups with Serge Ibaka who ranks 28th among power forwards in DRPM (1.10), but the Wizards have tried to scheme Ibaka away from the rim with Markieff Morris successfully running the pick-and-pop game that led to him scoring 22 points.

Despite his woes around the rim, Wall still finished with 23 points and 15 assists. The Wizards were right in the game up until the Raptors pulled away in the fourth and our friends from up North should not expect Wall to go so cold on bunnies around the rim. He has made a habit of performing at his best when the doubters are at full strength and his back appears to be against the wall.  Perhaps in Game 2,  Wall will get back to his normal self and finish at the rim at will– breaking out the Jelly, fam.

 

 

 

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Game 1 Rapid Reaction: It Was Raining 3s and the Wizards Drowned]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55461 2018-04-15T01:44:11Z 2018-04-15T01:44:11Z Rapid reaction from TAI’s Rashad Mobley to Washington’s 114-106 loss to Toronto in Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs

M.V.P.

There were times when John Wall looked as indecisive as he displayed toward the end of the season. There were other times when his teammates (Kelly Oubre) let him down by not holding their position as he drove the lane.  And then other times when Wall simply did not finish the play at the rim, which could possibly be attributed to rust. But make no mistake about it, until the last 10 minutes of the game, when the Raptors outscored the Wizards 26-15, Wall was the reason Washington had a chance.

He shot just 6-for-20, but he had 23 points, 15 assists, four steals and two blocks. Nine of Wall’s points and 10 of his assists came in the second and third quarters, when the Wizards not-so-coincidentally had their two highest scoring quarters of the game (62 combined points).

Since he prides himself on being the leader of this team, Wall (and Coach Scott Brooks) have to figure out a way to restore Kelly Oubre’s confidence and get Otto Porter more shots (he had nine points on seven attempt). But for the most part, Wall was in the 2017 playoff form, and if he can maintain that, the Wizards will always have a chance.

L.V.P.

Kelly F. Oubre.

Oubre finished the season in a slump (shooting and otherwise) so bad that the normally diplomatic Scott Brooks took time out of several postgame pressers to let the media know that he was not happy with what he was seeing.

Otto Porter was less than 100 percent, Mike Scott was fresh out of concussion protocol, and with the task of stopping the juggernaut Raptors bench ahead of them, the Wizards needed Oubre to snap out of his late-regular season doldrums to help his team out. He fell way short in Game 1.

It wasn’t just that he shot 1-for-4, scoring three points, but he committed three fouls and turned the ball over twice in just 16 minutes of play. It was the overall malaise that seemed to overtake him the entire game. He mishandled rebounds, failed to stay in a spot where Wall could find him for a open 3, and committed unnecessary fouls rather than moving his feet. Oubre (along with Tomas Satoransky) is one of the most talented players off the bench for the Wizards, but he failed to have a positive impact. Conversely, the Raptors were missing their best bench player (Fred VanVleet) and still managed to get stellar performances from CJ Miles (12 points in 20 minutes) and Delon Wright (18 points in 24 minutes). The Wizards are desperate for Oubre to contribute, especially since the team lacks the necessary wing depth.

That Game Was … Lost Due to Lack of Defense.

The Raptors finished the regular season 18th in 3-point shooting percentage (35.8%) and tied for fourth in 3-pointers made per game (11.8). Against the Wizards in Game 1 they shot 53 percent and made 16 from deep, thanks to Washington’s inattention to detail on the defensive end.

Wizards-killer CJ Miles and Delon Wright combined to shoot 7-for-11 from the 3-point line, and most of their shots were wide open. The Wizards would fail to communicate on some possessions, or be slow to close out on others, and the Raptors made them pay.

The most damning example of this came with 6:28 left in the game, with Washington still within four points. Comcast SportsNet’s Chris Miller reported that in the practices leading up to Game 1 of the Wizards-Raptors series, Coach Brooks quizzed each of the Wizards’ defenders on how to stop CJ Miles, and they all responded by saying he had to be run off the 3-point line.

But Miles was wide open the ball came to him with 6:28 left, and despite a late contest by Mike Scott, he nailed the shot to put the Raptors up seven points. The Wizards never got closer than seven points the remainder of the game.

They held the backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan to 28 points on 10-for-26 shooting which should have added up to a victory, but their lack of attention to detail with the bench players led to their demise.

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Toronto.

 

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[TAI Roundtable: Wizards vs. Raptors — Round 1 Playoff Series Preview]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55445 2018-04-14T15:01:09Z 2018-04-14T13:31:07Z  

It’s been quite a mercurial week for the playoff-bound Wizards. Last Friday they laid an egg, without John Wall, against the Atlanta Hawks. Scott Brooks called his team selfish, but they righted the ship a few days later with an impressive win over the shorthanded Celtics on national TV.

The next night, with playoff positioning still on the line, the Wizards laid another egg and lost to the listless Orlando Magic, which sealed their fate as the last-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. A date with the Toronto Raptors was set.

Adding to the ever-changing theme, Washington’s front-office curiously signed yet another point guard in Ty Lawson — two days before the playoffs. A day later, it was revealed that Jodie Meeks, a bench shooter, would be suspended for 25 games and miss the entire playoffs for violating NBA/NBPA anti-drug policies.

But come tip-off time at 5:30 pm ET today in Toronto, nothing that happened during the week or even the regular season has meaning anymore. The Wizards can focus on a singular goal: beating the North.

Here at Truth About It (dot net), we also have goals: to bring you the reader varied voices from different perspectives on all things related to the Washington Wizards. Sometimes we’re complimentary, sometimes we start a movement (#FreeSato), sometimes we’re “saving” the coach’s job, and other times, we are flat out angry.

We are Wizards fans who want to see the team win their first title in 40 years, but we are also writers who cover the team, which means that little cynicism devil has a permanent home on our collective shoulders.

If you’d like a traditional Raptors/Wizards preview, go check out Conor Dirks and I over at Raptors Republic. If you’d like to know the pros and cons of the Raptors sweeping the Wizards, check out the ubiquitous Conor Dirks and Adam Rubin wax poetic about that very subject.

For this Wizards/Raptors preview, me and the motley TAI crew Conor Dirks, Adam Rubin, Bryan Frantz, Troy Haliburton and Kyle Weidie answered two questions:

  1. What do you think will happen in this series?
  2. What do you want to happen in this series?

Let’s go:

Conor Dirks — @ConorDDirks

#1) I think that the Wizards will probably lose in six games. Those six games will include at least one of each of the following: 1) a blowout loss; 2) a loss in overtime; 3) a blown-fourth-quarter-lead loss; and 4) a 10-point loss after a competitive game. It will also include: 5) a convincing, chest-thumping win; and 6) an Otto Porter breakout win.

#2) I’m of two minds. I want the Wizards to join the Baron Davis Warriors as one of those rare teams to knock off a 1-seed as an 8-seed. And then I want them to beat the Cavs in Cleveland. Also I want the Wizards to get pummeled into submission and serious organizational change. I probably need to get some rest.

Adam Rubin — @LedellsPlace

Full Disclosure: When I started writing this I intended to predict Washington winning in seven games. The news that Otto Porter and Mike Scott are questionable for Game 1 puts a damper on things (not so much the Jodie Meeks bombshell). My thought was if Washington can just win one of the first two games, then Toronto’s playoff demons will rear their ugly. Without Porter and Scott, that task becomes much harder.

I still think Washington can do it, though, and this quote from Kyle Lowry is encouraging: “Our Game 1 is our Game 7 tomorrow.”  Lowry is referring to the fact that Toronto is 0-10 all-time in playoff Game 1’s. The Raptors are putting entirely too much pressure on themselves. Washington, on the other hand, has no burden of expectations at all, thanks to a horrific regular season.

Here’s what the Wizards have going for them:

  1. Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi will actually get to play this series because Toronto uses a few non (or very limited)-three-point shooting big men (Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl). This greatly expands the Wizards’s depth and lessens their reliance on Markieff Morris.
  2. Toronto’s greatest strength — its bench — will be slightly mitigated in the playoffs when starters play more minutes. This means not only will the Raptors bench play fewer minutes, but also when they are on the court, they won’t play as many minutes against their opponents’ bench.
  3. The issues that plagued the Wizards in the regular season — lackadaisical play, uninspired defense, poor effort against sub .500 teams — do not apply in the playoffs. Once the bright lights of the post-season shine, every team ratchets up their intensity. Washington has a history of playing up (and down) to its opponents. I don’t expect that to change.
  4. John Wall is on a mission. He only played four games after returning from his most recent knee surgery, but that was enough time to show that his explosion is back. Those back-to-back 28 and 29 point performances against Cleveland and Boston were no accident. Sure, the turnovers are a problem, but Wall is ready to make a statement in the playoffs. Don’t think he’s forgotten all those “everybody eats” comments.
  5. PLAYOFF #FREESATO

Alright, I’ve convinced myself. Washington in seven.

No. 2) What do you want to happen in this series?

I want the Wizards to win, obviously. But more than that, I want them to play at a level that shows this core has a future. That the seven-game series against Boston was not their peak. I want the Wizards to move the ball and play solid help defense and execute down the stretch. I want them to do more than just eke out a series win. I want them to do something that allows us all to erase the 2017-18 regular season from our memory and believe once again that Washington is headed in the right direction.

Bryan Frantz — @BFrantz202

#1) I guess this isn’t the worst-case scenario for the Wizards, but it’s hard to get too excited about anything related to this team. The Wizards, for the, what, third year in a row (?) were supposed to take “the next step.” Despite some marginal individual improvement, this team remains the same team it’s been for years. Meanwhile, the Raptors have improved significantly (thanks to a GM who has unearthed gems in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and others — shoutout Ernie Grunfeld, Ramon Sessions, and Ty Lawson!) and look ready to move on to bigger and better things.

#2) Washington will likely make this competitive, especially if John Wall has the physical stamina to endure the series, but an upset seems unlikely. I’m predicting Toronto wins this series in five games, though an inspired Wall could drag it to six or seven. In my dream world, the Wizards get swept and fire Ernie Grunfeld, then enjoy a busy offseason that sees them move on from Marcin Gortat and invest in young, high-upside wings. But I doubt very much that will happen.

Troy Haliburton — @TroyHalibur

#1) The Wizards will ultimately continue their streak of winning in the first round. The thing that gives me so much confidence is not the sweep from 2015, but the fact that in four games with Toronto this season the two teams were separated by a total of five points. They split the season series 2-2, and John Wall did not play a second of the four games. Wall, arguably the best player in this series (he certainly was in 2015), will have a major impact with his ability to control the pace of the game. The Wizards will come into Game 1 not showing any fear against a team they know they can dominate in a matchup of stars.

Toronto finished with an amazing point differential of plus-7.8, which was second best in the NBA behind the Rockets. Part of the reason why the Raptors had so much success this season was the play it bench unit. They led the league in point differential, outscoring opponents benches by 10.4 points per game. For Washington to win the series, they will need Tomas Satoransky to show just how much he has improved this season as a playmaker.

#2) I want the Wizards to win because I honestly believe this core group is too fragile mentally to have another unsuccessful playoff run on their resume.

Rashad Mobley — @rashad20

As much as I want to believe that the version of the Wizards we saw toward the end of the regular season will give way to a meaner, more focused team who crushes the dreams of the Raptors three years after Paul Pierce helped them do it, I just don’t see it happening.

I think Wall will continue to be indecisive, Beal’s fatigue will start to show even more, and the “supporting” cast will not be able to keep the team afloat. Conversely, I think DeRozan will continue to play like a man possessed, and Lowry will strike that balance between being deferential and taking over in crunch time. I see the Raptors winning in five or six games.

But that’s not what I want…

What I want to happen is for the Wizards to win in five games to extend Toronto’s playoff misery.  Then, I’d like to see the Cavaliers defeat the Pacers in seven games, which would setup yet another classic Wizards-Cavs series, and I’d want Washington to win that, too.

But none of that is possible, unless they first defeat the fragile Toronto Raptors.

Kyle Weidie — @truth_about_it

#1) The Wizards in six games, because I’m a last-minute optimist — all the while bitching and moaning along the way. But I’m not so sure Washington takes this series on its own merits, necessarily. They will need Bradley Beal to carry the first round, f0r sure. But I more so get the feeling that the Raptors will just do something to blow it.

Bare with me for a second. My Mississippi State Bulldogs trounced the Louisville Cardinals on their home floor — the KFC Yum! Center — in the N.I.T. quarterfinals about three weeks ago. They were up 25-12 by early second quarter, and then 49-29 midway through the third quarter, never looking back and leading by as much as 27 points.

What struck me was Louisville’s crowd. The 22,000-seat arena wasn’t half full according to box score, but those who were there were loud. The whole game. In a blowout. At one point the Cardinals cut their deficit to 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the crowd cheered as if the comeback were complete and their team had just tied the game. It was truly amazing, even watching over television.

Of course, the Bulldogs went on to get blown-out by Penn State in the N.I.T. semi-final — in front of my very own eyes at Madison Square Garden. You can imagine the fun of sitting near the Penn State band as the Nittany Lions went on a 24-0 run between the first and second quarters.

Back to the Wizards, and Raptors. Even if the Raptors do finally win a Game 1, the psyche of Toronto fans, who are incredibly awesome fans, is nonetheless, fragile. Players, too, probably. If Beal and Wall can muster enough punch in any game on Toronto’s home court, it might just be enough to do the damage, bench units be damned.

#2) Sure, I want the Wizards to win. And I’ll admit, I’m a person who hates losing more than I love winning. But that kind of changes in the playoffs — or at least in those moments of anticipation before the playoffs start.

But in another way, I’m numb to the slog of this season, numb to the slog that team management is seemingly dragging potential through. Sometimes the forest needs to be burned in order to replenish the nutrients. Think I’m just afraid the Wizards will do something like advance to the second round, making everyone praise the front office since the media will focus on an 8-seed beating a 1-seed when the reality is that this could be the most evenly-matched 1-8 series of all time … only then to have the Wizards lose to Cleveland in the same old way with the same old blemishes. What are we to do?

We are to basketball. Let’s get Wizard.


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Adam Rubin <![CDATA[Point/Counterpoint: Would it be Good or Bad if the Raptors Swept the Wizards?]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55437 2018-04-13T16:52:20Z 2018-04-13T16:52:20Z

The Washington Wizards are in the playoffs for the second straight year. For most NBA fan bases, this would qualify as good news. However, the Washington Wizards are not most teams. Immediately after the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Orlando Magic, which set up a first round matchup against the Toronto Raptors, several fans expressed a variant of the same thought:

This raises two questions: 1) How did we get to the point where a life-long fan openly pines for a swift playoff loss? And, more importantly, 2) is Conor right?

To settle these questions, TAI’s Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) and Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) engage in a lively debate about the Raptors series, what it means to be a fan and the future of the franchise.

Adam Rubin: Conor, explain your tweet.

Conor Dirks: I think that people assume I want the Raptors to sweep the Wizards because it will prompt the Wizards to replace their team president. While that’d be nice, it’s equally the case that I want the Raptors to sweep the Wizards so that a correction can occur. On a macro level, the Wizards believe that they are better than they are. On a micro level, let’s say each game, the Wizards believe that they are better than they are, that there’s a switch they can flip and become the team that swept the Raptors in 2015 (but not the team that lost in the next round). On an even more micro level, let’s say each quarter of basketball, the Wizards believe that they have plenty of time to demonstrate that they’re superior than their opponent, or that their superiority will carry them to the final bell. On an ultra-micro level, each possession, the Wizards think their talent can carry them to points. None of it is true.

All that said, I put that tweet out into the wild so that it could exist before my playoff-cognitive-self takes over, and roots for the Wizards to win every game through the filter of immediate glory attainable. In other words, I’ll want them to win, but it would be better if they didn’t. Did I explain it, or did I just sound like an asshole?

AR: I understand your basic point that the Wizards suffer from a collective delusion of grandeur that manifests itself in big and small ways. This is holding the team back from reaching its full potential and needs to change. However, your plan to rebuild the Wizards psyche by forcing them to endure a humiliating sweep, Clockwork Orange-style, butts up against a very strongly held principle of mine, forged through decades of being a Bullets fan: Never Take The Playoffs For Granted.

I, like you, have been a Bullets fan my whole life. You know when I first saw the Bullets/Wizards in a playoff game? I was a freshman in college. You know when I first saw the Bullets/Wizards win a playoff game? Eight years after that. My childhood/teenage/adult years consisted of 16 straight seasons with a total of one playoff appearance and zero wins.    

So, I look at the playoffs as a precious commodity to be cherished and preserved. I don’t care what the odds say, or what can theoretically be accomplished by punting a post-season trip. A playoff appearance is just too valuable to waste. Also—and this may go a long way toward explaining our differing levels of interest in watching this particular Wizards roster in the playoffs—I kind of do think this team has a switch they will turn on come Saturday.

CD: Man, I hope you’re right. There’s some limited data to suggest the Wizards are better than their record. They were a winning team before the All-Star break, at least. And they have their best player back—at the end of it all, he’s looking mostly good, save the turnovers.

I hear you on not taking the playoffs for granted. Like the Little Mermaid, I want more. I would like the Wizards to win a title. But I’m not one of those championship-or-nothing guys, and I’m more than happy to watch a team develop into a title contender. What’s frustrating is the inertia. Consider the 2007-08 Atlanta Hawks, who made their way into the 8th seed after 8 seasons of missing the playoffs. And they’ve made the playoffs every year since other than this season. Most of the time, they placed 4th or 5th. There’s another 8th sprinkled in there, and a 6th. AND also a 1st. Point is…that’s cruel. None of those Hawks teams were serious contenders aside from the 1st place team in 2014-15 that beat the Wizards in the second round after Washington swept Toronto. And even that team got rolled by LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I’m not advocating for the Wizards to go Full Process. They have a legitimate star (Wall), an evolving star (Beal), and an underrated stud in Otto Porter. This isn’t the Jrue Holiday Sixers team. But they need better decision-making from upstairs, and the players need a kick in the ass. Do you think a good playoff run could accomplish the same objective as some good old fashioned negative reinforcement?

AR: Ah, now you are asking the important question. Would getting swept by the Raptors even lead to any significant changes? If you told me a sweep would result in Ernie’s termination and a set of fresh eyes evaluating the roster and finally building an appropriate team around Wall (read: loads and loads of 3-point shooting guards and wings plus an athletic big man—think Capela not Vesely), then sure, I’d have to think about it.

But I don’t think Ernie is judged based on on-court performance. If so, he wouldn’t still be here. It’s more of a business decision and as long as Ted’s Wizards, Caps and Valor are playing in late-April—even as the 8-seed—Ernie is safe. Only a season-ticket holder mutiny that affects the bottom line, and not just Ted’s Twitter mentions, could oust Ernie after a playoff season.

The Atlanta Hawks comparison is apt and a bit scary. No one wants to look back at the John Wall era as a decade of 40-win 4/5 playoff matchups. I think we both want the same thing—for the Wizards to take that next step as a perennial threat to win the East—but I feel a sweep at the hands of the Raptors would be much more likely to nudge this team toward an implosion than catapult them up the 2018-19 standings.

Ironically, these very Raptors present the best argument in your favor. Toronto averaged 51 wins over a four-year stretch but they were swept by the Wizards in 2015, lost convincing to the Cavs in 2016 then were swept again by the Cavs in 2017. Despite that regular season success, which dwarfs anything Washington has accomplished in the last 40 years, their general manager Masai Uliri announced that the Raptors need a “culture change.”

The front office and coach took a hard look at the team and instituted a major overhaul of the their outdated style of play. The result was a faster-paced team with a deep bench that was top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. And they accomplished that turnaround without a coaching change or roster overhaul.

That sounds like the type of kick-in-the-ass you envision for the Wizards if they get swept in the first round. There’s only one problem: Ernie Grunfeld is not making that same proclamation Ujiri did if the Raptors win 4-0. If there wasn’t a call to arms after missing the playoffs in 2016 or sleepwalking through this year or even going back to the low-40-win Gilbert Arenas years, then there won’t be one now. If Washington ever pulled off a four-year run like the Raptors did, which included two 50-win seasons and an Eastern Conference Finals trip, Ted and Ernie would be celebrating, not demanding an organizational overhaul and a “culture change”.

That, in a nutshell (a big nutshell), is why I think the fun and excitement of a playoff run—even a six or seven game one—far outweighs the small likelihood that a sweep will bring about lasting, institutional changes for this franchise.    

CD: You bring up an interesting point regarding culture potential. In the NBA, culture is a complicated thing. It can come from the team executives, like Masai Ujiri in Toronto, and trickle down to the coach and the players. But I think we both know that Ernie Grunfeld is not Masai Ujiri in either culture, character, or the ability to conjure forward-looking proclamations that ignite the fanbase. Grunfeld’s id is the introductory veteran addition press release, which you have chronicled elsewhere on our website.

Culture can come from coaches, but I get the sense that Scott Brooks views his role as being there to help the players excel in their own skin, rather than impose his own personality on the team.

And so we reach the players. Culture can, and often does, bubble up from the bottom. After all, the players are the public face of the Association, and the defining feature of any team. Do the Wizards have a culture that can benefit from a first-round victory and another second-round thumping? Will they take the right lesson from that? Alternatively, do the Wizards have a culture that can benefit from a beatdown in the first round, or will it unravel the team’s psyche and force a series of moves that could ultimately put them in a worse position?

I don’t know that I’d describe Washington’s culture as good. Or stable. Or even defined. That lack of definition could make the team receptive to a culture shift, which I’d argue has to come from the replacement of the team’s de facto visionary, Grunfeld. The lack of definition could also make the team vulnerable to deterioration and infighting, which you’ve seen on display a few times this year, most notably when Marcin Gortat subtweeted Wall and Wall retaliated by going after his teammate on national television during a series of promotions for Kumho Tires. What a world.

These are tough questions. As we get closer to Saturday, I’m ready to see what happens. My resentment is already melting into excitement for the playoffs. But I remain steadfastly curious about the potential ramifications of a Toronto sweep, and how it might spur this team to better things. In other words, my mind is telling me “no,” but my body…my body…is telling me “yes.”

AR: If you are asking me whether the players would react well to a first round sweep, then the answer is a resounding “no.”  Whatever kick in the ass this team needs to get them over the hump is going to have to come from ownership and the front office. Scott Brooks is who he is—a player’s coach who is two parts enabler and one part disappointed dad. Since we both seem to agree that a sweep won’t spur Ernie to make major changes, the only way a 4-0 loss would help is if it led to Ernie’s dismissal. But as I said above, I don’t think that’s happening. So, there seems like very little upside in a sweep.

I’ll close with this thought. Conversations like ours about the direction and leadership of the franchise are necessary at a macro level. The Wizards won’t succeed unless they take a good honest look at themselves in the mirror—that goes for the owner all the way down to 15th man on the bench (correction: 14th man, because ya got to maintain that roster flexibility). The points you are making are good ones.

But that’s a conversation for another time. This is the playoffs. This is the entire reason we sat through those miserable 82 games. This is what John Wall and Bradley Beal live for. This is their opportunity to re-write the narrative. You don’t get that many shots at the playoffs. You need to take advantage of all of them.

 

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Scott Brooks Is Not Getting Fired]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55419 2018-04-12T22:17:15Z 2018-04-12T21:57:41Z

Everything fell right for the Wizards – and then they lost to the Magic, when Orlando was actively trying to give them the game in the second half. Amazing. Raptors will play Wizards in round one.

— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 12, 2018

There is really no way around it, the Wizards loss to the Orlando Magic last night was a master class in the art of lethargy.

The Magic, who didn’t even let the ink dry on the final stat sheet before they fired Coach Frank Vogel, finished with a record of 25-57, and have effectively been out of the playoff race since before All-Star break. To make matters worse, they outscored the Wizards 25-17 in the fourth quarter with players named Rodney Purvis, Khem Birch, Jamel Artis, and Mario Hezonja.

With the exception of rookie Devin Robinson, who saw his first action of the entire season last night, the Wizards rolled out the same lineup that at one point put together 10 wins to just 3 lossds without John Wall. Yet in the fourth quarter of a game that could have pushed them up to the sixth seed to face the upstart Philadelphia 76ers, they could only manage 17 points, 20 percent shooting and nine personal fouls.

For some perspective, those same 76ers, who are without arguably their best player in Joel Embiid, were going to have home court advantage whether they finished with the third or fourth seed. Still, when they took the court against the Milwaukee Bucks, they jumped out to a 46-point first quarter, and ended up winning by 35 points. No starter played more than 25 minutes, Markelle Fultz messed around and got a triple-double, and Coach Brett Brown continued to push the correct buttons to motivate his team.

It could be argued that the Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo, had no motivation, since a win coupled with a Cleveland win, would mean a Bucks/Cavs first-round matchup. Still, the Sixers were motivated to play and removed any doubt. The Wizards lacked that motivation.

Coach Brooks, on the other hand, was getting slammed on Twitter for his inability to motivate his team in such an “important” game, and there was a groundswell of “Fire Coach Brooks” sentiment on Twitter, which is still going on as this article is being typed.

That sentiment is semi-understandable in lieu of not just the Magic game but the way the Wizards limped down the stretch with a 5-7 record with Wall in and out of the lineup. Coach Brooks uttered the word “unacceptable” more than once, Bradley Beal avoided the post-game locker room twice, and both Otto Porter and Tomas Satoransky were clueless about what was wrong and how it could be fixed.

But Brooks will not be fired–not now anyway. And here’s why:

The Chase, The Contract, The Expectatioins

Just two years ago around this time, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld along with team Vice President Tommy Sheppard flew out to California to visit with Scott Brooks. That was on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. By Thursday, Brooks had already agreed in principle to a seven-year deal worth $35 million. At the time, that made put Brooks the sixth-highest paid coach, and tied with Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle as the highest-paid coach without a front office title.

Although Grunfeld’s statements whenever the Wizards make any type of coaching or personnel move resemble form letters and not statements actually uttered by a real person, he did say this about Brooks during the introductory press conference:

“Scott was our top candidate and we moved quickly on an agreement to make him our head coach,” Grunfeld said. “His presence, the core players we have returning and our cap flexibility this summer have us all looking forward to the possibilities of what our team can accomplish.”

Cynics and lifelong Wizards fans would say that Owner Ted Leonsis and Grunfeld signed Brooks to grease the skids of then-free agent Kevin Durant’s arrival to DC.  But Leonsis and Grunfeld presumably conducted a thorough amount of research before ultimately making their choice and trusting Brooks with guiding franchise players Wall and Beal. After all, committing to that amount of money for that length of time, demonstrates a certain amount of trust with the (only) person they considered for the job.

In his first season, the Wizards won 49 games and fell just one win short of the Eastern Conference Finals with a loss to the Boston Celtics. The culprit there was the Wizards’ thin bench, not coaching. That’s on Grunfeld.

During this, his second, season, Brooks has had to battle injuries to Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, and most importantly a little someone we like to call John F. Wall. During the 26-game stretch that Wall missed, thanks to the emergence of Satoransky and ascent to All-Star status of Beal, the Wizards went a respectable 14-12. More importantly, they held on to a playoff bid. Barely.

All complaints about how badly the Wizards played down the stretch are 100 percent justified. But that same coach kept them in the hunt, and that deserves as much praise as the slump deserved criticism. As Marlo from “The Wire” would say, “You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way.”

Barring a devastating four-game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Raptors–which isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility–Leonsis and Grunfeld aren’t about to throw in the towel on someone who is still owed $21 of the agreed-upon $35 million. There’s nothing in the Leonsis/Grunfeld track record which suggests that drastic of a move is nigh. It is also worth noting that Leonsis evaded the luxury tax until this season (when he had to max-out Wall, Beal and Porter), so it is highly unlikely that he’d bookend a season of that added expense with paying off the coach who he coveted just two years ago.

The Upset Factor

The Wizards split the season series with the Raptors 2-2, all four games played without the services of Wall. Although the core of each team is different, the backcourt of Wall and Beal was around during the 2015 playoffs when the Wizards defeated Lowry and DeRozan and the rest of the Raptors. Yes the Raptors will have an ax to grind, but the Wizards will not be scared, which means the air is ripe for an upset.

In that series, the fifth seeded Wizards–buoyed by veteran Paul Pierce and coached by Randy Wittman (who was on a hotter seat than Coach Brooks is now)– surprised everyone and defeated the fourth-seeded Raptors despite not having home court advantage.

It’s true, the Raptors can’t seem to solve the LeBron riddle and Coach Dwane Casey seems to go in and out of trouble, but that doesn’t diminish how well they’ve played this season. The Wizards upsetting the Raptors would be even taller this time around because the top-seeded Raptors have a stronger bench, a much-improved DeRozan and consistency on both ends of the floor.

What if Indiana upsets Cleveland, and the Wizards win that round two matchup? Or what if yet another Wizards/Cavs matchup emerges in the second round, the Wizards push LeBron to seven games or win it? And while we’re thinking crazy, what if the Wizards find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals (or beyond)? Will anyone still remember the end of the Wizards’ season, let alone game 82 against the Magic?

LeBron is still the King (just look at his shoes) and he’s been leading teams (first Miami, then Cleveland) to the NBA Finals for seven consecutive years. But top to bottom (where the Wizards are) the Eastern Conference is as up for grabs as it has ever been during LeBron’s reign. The Wizards may have stumbled into the postseason party, but they are there, and they have a chance to go far, which would only cement Scott Brooks’s status as the Wizards head coach.

The Dreaded Reset Button

There has been plenty of slander thrown in Ernie Grunfeld’s direction over the last several years and some of it is justified. If Grunfeld convinced Leonsis that Brooks had to go after this season–a conclusion that we’ll hypothesize would only happen if the Raptors beat the Wizards in four or five games–it would have to be viewed as a failure by both men.

Grunfeld would have fired his second coach in three years, and he would have had to replace his fourth coach during his 15-year tenure (counting interim coach Ed Tapscott). There would be nothing to show for it except premature second-round exits and little else of substance. And in his eyes, Brooks may not be Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich, but he’s still an upgrade and more proven than Jeff Hornacek, Monty Williams and the other assistant coaches currently vying for a head coaching slot.

Leonsis would bear the burden of those same failures, but he’d also have to hear and read criticism about his reluctance to part with a GM/President who has not given him desired results. And while fans and some writers would happily deal with those types of problems, to an owner, that sounds like starting over. To loosely quote Yoda, starting over leads to fan angst, fan angst leads to lowered ticket sales, and low season ticket sales leads to the Dark side (just ask Orlando).

Rather than endure that level of upheaval, it would be much easier for Leonsis and Grunfeld to stay the course, praise the job Brooks did this season with a shorthanded roster, attribute Satoransky’s success to the stewardship and nurturing ways of the entire coaching staff, and lean on the core and promise of  Wall, Beal and Porter. They could even throw in a trade or a signing of a player who could possibly have an impact—like the signing of Ty Lawson today.

The stay-the-course method would possibly anger fans after a premature playoff exit. But come the start of the 2018-19 season, Leonsis and Grunfeld would be willing to bet that the support would indeed return.

 

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It is possible that Coach Brooks could still get fired at season’s end it is highly unlikely. Given the track record of this current Wizards administration and the sliver of success Brooks has had in two of the five years he’s scheduled to be here, it’s likely we’re all in for more Brooks, more platitudes and, depending on what happens in Jurassic Park, more fan frustration.

 

…….unless the Raptors sweep the Wizards of course

 

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Wizards Defeat the Celtics: The Glass Is Half Full Once Again]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55411 2018-04-11T17:40:57Z 2018-04-11T17:40:57Z

The @WashWizards’ offense was clicking and they down the Celtics at home!#DCFamily pic.twitter.com/6SXTzLTtb3

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 11, 2018

“…We wanted to get a win. We wanted to feel good about ourselves going into the last couple days of the season.” —Scott Brooks

The Washington Wizards’ 113-101 win over the Boston Celtics wasn’t a win that finalized their seeding in the upcoming playoffs. And even against a depleted team that seemed to run out of energy after the first quarter, the Wiz still exhibited some of the same problematic issues that had plagued the team during its recent four-game losing streak.

But given that Wall probably won’t play tonight against the Orlando Magic due to his scheduled rest on the second night of back-to-back games, and Otto Porter (calf) is also likely to sit out the season finale as a precautionary measure, this served as a final dress rehearsal for Coach Brooks. His team responded—for the most part.

Jaylen Brown was a one-man show in the first quarter with 21 points, 15 of which came from the 3-point line. Yes, he hit some insanely tough shots with the hands of Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal, Porter and Wall in his face, but there were also substandard defensive rotations mixed in there as well, which gave Brown open looks sans resistance. Brown’s hot shooting combined with six turnovers from the Wizards (two apiece from Wall and Porter) gave Boston confidence and a 30-22 first quarter lead.

The first glimpse of what the late-season Wizards are capable of came in the second quarter, when they chipped away at Boston’s lead. Over the first five minutes of the quarter, the bench allowed the lead to get up to ten points, but then they worked it down to four points thanks to a return to the “everyone eats” mentality. All five players (Porter, Tomas Satoransky, Mike Scott, Ian Mahinmi, and Kelly Oubre) scored, hustled, assisted and grabbed rebounds, and, most importantly, they prevented the Celtics from turning the game into a blowout.

At the 7:05 mark of the second quarter, the Wizards trailed 39-33. Then Wall re-entered the game (along with Beal) and he immediately went to work. Wall temporarily put aside his facilitator hat and he decided to wear the assertive one: He scored 10 points via drives, 3-point shots, jumpers, and the free-throw line, and there wasn’t a damn thing Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin or Jaylen Brown could do about it.

By halftime, the deficit was just two points, 54-52.

If there were any doubts that Wall could ramp up his level play before the playoffs, this was the sample size that proved it.

Wall did have three turnovers during that span, which came as a result of him driving, getting stuck, and then throwing an ill-advised, telegraphed pass—much like he did at the end of the loss to Cleveland Cavaliers last week.

Coach Brooks addressed that minor flaw after the game:

“I think sometimes he’s looking for his teammates and sometimes he’s looking for them late and that’s when he’s getting those late, late passes in transition. Once he gets his rhythm down, those are layup opportunities or single passes, as I call them.”

The Wizards finally put everything together in the third quarter, where they outscored the Celtics 27-18.  Oubre, who started the third quarter for the injured Porter, struggled on offense with no points, but redeemed himself defensively by limiting Jaylen Brown to just one shot and one point. The Wizards collectively held the Celtics to just 18 percent shooting (including 1-8 from the 3-point line).

Wall continued to be aggressive offensively with eight points on four shots, but this time he also peppered in assists (the Wizards had nine overall in the quarter). Morris had eight points, Beal hit a wide-open 3-pointer and even Gorat got in on the fun with four points of his own.

The Wizards led 79-72 after three quarters.

Satoransky began the fourth with an assist, and a steal, that led to three Bradley Beal free throws which pushed the lead to double figures 78 seconds into the period, and the Wizards’ lead did not dip into single digits thereafter. Gone was the selfish play Coach Brooks bellyached about during the four-game losing streak, and in its place was a sharing brand of basketball—and everyone seemed to correct the flaws in their game at the expense of the Celtics.

Mike Scott, for example, found his fleeting shooting touch (3-4), and Oubre, who had already played a stellar defensive game, broke out of a 9-for-31 shooting slump in the month of April to shoot 3-for-4 in the final quarter (3-3 from the 3-point line)and 4-for-8 overall.

But the night clearly belonged to John Wall. His seven turnovers were less than ideal, but the 29 pints, 12 assists, three steals, and three blocks in just 36 minutes did more than enough to offset that. He also became the third-youngest player behind Isiah Thomas (from the Pistons) and Magic Johnson to reach 5,000 assists. Not a bad night. Not bad company, either.

https://twitter.com/NBAonTNT/status/983896513779662848

The Wizards will not know who they will start their 2017-2018 playoff charge against, nor where, until the end of tonight’s action. They could play the depleted Celtics, the East-leading Raptors, the charging Sixers, or the incumbent Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.  They won’t have home court advantage, and they figure to be underdogs against each of those team except the Celtics—although the C’s have arguably the best coach in the NBA, Brad Stevens, so nothing is a given.

But what Coach Brooks, John Wall and the rest of the Wizards gang do know is that they have the ability–when they are healthy, willing to share the ball and engage on defense—to beat every team in the Eastern Conference.

That’s gotta feel good. And for now, that means the glass is half full.

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Rashad Mobley <![CDATA[Another Day, Another Wizards Struggle]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55399 2018-04-07T13:24:14Z 2018-04-07T12:42:09Z

Just left a VERY tense #Wizards locker room — in which Otto Porter Jr. and Tomas Satoransky were the only starters who stuck around long enough to talk.

Both guys responded with variations of “I don’t know” when asked for their diagnosis of what’s wrong with this team now

— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 7, 2018

On the surface, Washington’s 103-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 79th game of an 82-game season is really not that big of a deal.

The Wizards are still in the playoffs, they will most likely play Toronto (the top-seeded team in the East but currently with a fragile psyche) or the Boston Celtics (the second seed but with fragile bones as evidenced by the absences of Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and maybe Marcus Smart). Now that John Wall is back and looking quick and spry as ever — minus the last minute turnovers against the Cavaliers—there is no reason to suspect the Wizards won’t ratchet up the intensity and make yet another deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, right? Right.

Unfortunately, the postgame atmosphere during Scott Brooks’s presser and in the locker room afterward reeked of a team that is angry, frustrated and clueless about finding the solution to their spotty play.

Coach Brooks has been frustrated with his team’s inability to defend for the past several weeks, and Friday night was no different. During a three-minute span in the second quarter, Hawks forwards John Collins and Taurean Prince drove right down the middle of the lane for easy baskets. And after each, Brooks quickly popped up off the bench and angrily signaled timeout to the refs. Said Brooks after the game, “Defensively, we made the same mistakes. [We] get beat backdoor, we get beat offensive rebounds. We don’t help the helper. When you don’t do that, you hope that they miss, and you’re playing with fire.”

But against the lowly Hawks, it wasn’t simply the lack of defense that drew the ire of Coach Brooks, it was also the lack of passing. The Wizards have been hovering around 30 assists per game without John Wall on the floor, which more than made up for any defensive deficiencies. But last night, the Wizards had just 18 assists, and Marcin Gortat, center, led all Wizards with four. Yes, four.

Coach Brooks is much too democratic to name the names of the players who were most guilty of not sharing the ball, but given that Bradley Beal took 24 shots to score his 32 points — many of which came via one-on-one plays — it didn’t take a Law & Order episode to crack this particular case.

“Selfish basketball is no fun to coach, it’s no fun to play with and it’s no fun to watch. We’re a selfish basketball team right now. If we’re not going to share the basketball, you can’t just say ‘John’s not here’ and all of a sudden we’re going to be one-on-one players. John’s not here, John’s here, it doesn’t matter. We still got to play the right way.”

In Beal’s defense, whenever the Wizards made a run in the second half, he was the one taking and making the big shots, and he shot 50 percent from the field. But those shots did not come via a Satoransky pass or an Otto Porter hockey assist. They came from in-and-out dribbles and herky, jerky, whirling dervish type moves. Beal escaped from the locker room before the media arrived, so he was spared the arduous task of having to answer for his team’s second loss in two nights. Gortat escaped as well, as did Wall, who didn’t play because of scheduled rest.

It is also worth mentioning that Markieff Morris was ejected less than eight minutes into the game after forcefully voicing his objection to a foul called against him. He did this on a night when Wall (rest) and Mahinmi (concussion protocol) were not available, and his ejection left the Wizards even more shorthanded. “He got frustrated he didn’t get the call. There are a handful of calls every game you don’t get. Not just him, everybody. You watch NBA games, a lot of guys don’t get the calls,” Brooks said after the game. “You can’t get frustrated enough to get thrown out of a game, especially when we’re shorthanded. We talked after; he apologized. He feels bad but we can’t put ourselves in that position. He knows that. He’s been in this league long enough and we cannot continue to put ourselves in those positions.”

Porter was on his way out of the locker room and had to be coaxed back to speak the media by the team’s PR staff.  But once he started talking, it was crystal clear he did not have an explanation for the struggles of his playoff team. And the answers he did give were filled with platitudes and the type of solutions that would be fitting for early in the season, not a week shy of the playoffs:

Satoransky willingly spoke after the game, and he sounded like a jilted lover who was no longer getting the attention he had become so accustomed to at the beginning of the relationship.

“What’s concerning is how we’ve played the last three or four games last week and how we’ve changed from how we played before. Those are numbers are numbers, right, but the way we play, no one is happy about it, obviously. We are supposed to be playing great for the playoffs, improving in all things and now we are just struggling all over the floor. We have to really change it quickly … We are not aggressive like we used to be – without weak side help, without communication, lot of lack of communication for the whole game. It’s a little bit the same on offense. We don’t cut, we don’t pass, we are lacking some aggressiveness, the same like on defense. It was on both ends, obviously, so a very bad image.”

The Wizards have two games left in their mercurial season. First, a potential first round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics Tuesday, when they will have the services of John Wall. Then, a season-ending game against the Orlando Magic the next night when Wall will rest. Ideally, the Wizards will win both games handily, average 30 or more assists, and play 1990s Detroit Pistons-like defense versus both teams. This would please Coach Brooks, restore the team’s confidence in their ability to make a playoff run, and maybe even strike a little fear in the remainder of the Eastern Conference.

But what if this recent stretch of putrid play is foreshadowing the premature demise of this year’s Wizards? What if the recent struggles ensconcing this team are the norm, not the exception, and both the assist numbers and defensive effort stay low? Would that put Brooks and Grunfeld (ok Grunfeld is a made man never mind ) on the hot seat, or would that prompt Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis to make another drastic personnel move?

It feels a tad melodramatic to ask these types of questions after a loss to the measly Atlanta Hawks.  But given the Wizards’s frustration — from the coach to the star players — it really isn’t that farfetched.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017-2018, Washington Wizards…

 

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Troy Haliburton <![CDATA[Fourth Quarter Collapse Leaves The Wizards Limping to the Finish Line]]> http://www.truthaboutit.net/?p=55385 2018-04-06T17:32:43Z 2018-04-06T16:38:24Z

The Washington Wizards put their fanbase through the full gamut emotions with their 119-115 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.

The game began with the Cavaliers working over the Wizards in the first quarter because, once again, Scott Brooks started with a flawed defensive scheme. He decided to double-team LeBron James at the beginning of the game, which is a perplexing strategy with the Marcin Gortat on the floor.

Gortat has the foot speed of a man running in quicksand and his lack of reaction time allowed the Cavaliers–specifically Kevin Love–to get as many open 3s as their hearts desired. Love buried three 3-pointers in the first quarter as Gortat failed to come remotely close on closing out on his man. Part of that is his aforementioned lack of quickness, but a larger part of that falls at the feet of Scott Brooks who panicked and decided to double-team LeBron after not doubling at all in a 57-point performance from the King earlier this season.

When Gortat was removed, Ian Mahinmi helped the team competently defend the Cavaliers offense in the second quarter. He provided rim protection which enabled the Wizards to fly around the perimeter and defend the 3-point line. Ian finished the game with a plus/minus of plus-6, but only played 11 minutes, none of which came in the second half which is also another knock on Scott Brooks’ coaching job last night. Brooks elected to not play his backup center in the fourth quarter of a game in which they led by 17 points. The lack of rim-protection exposed them to one of the greatest rim-attackers of all-time in LeBron James.

A Comeback That Defies All Logic

What the Cavaliers were able to do to the Wizards in the last six minutes defies all logic and reasoning of how basketball games are supposed to end. With a 16-point lead and less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Wizards should have been able to wrap that game up and get their starters some rest before the back-to-back matchup with the Atlanta Hawks tonight. Instead, the team fought for their lives until the final buzzer and in the process had one of the biggest meltdowns of the season.

Scott Brooks elected to finish the game with Markieff Morris and Mike Scott as his center and power forward combination, and this duo has not had much of any success on the season. The combo of Keef and Scott have a net rating of minus-13.7 in 141 minutes played this season. It’s perplexing that Brooks would allow one of the best finishers in the history of the NBA to attack the rim at will because of non-existent rim protection.

Even more perplexing is Brooks’ inability to draw up plays in the final two minutes of games, especially for Otto Porter. The Wizards late-game offense consists of John Wall and Bradley Beal isolations which has yielded very little positive results in end of games situations. It’s not as if the Wizards do not know that Wall and Beal have not had as much success in the clutch this season. TAI’s Bryan Frantz penned an article earlier in the year highlighting the All-Star duo’s struggles late in games, in which Wall famously replied:

Well, the season is nearly over and the Wizards are still doing the same things, expecting different results. The frustrating thing about their late-game situations is that it is completely different from how they play the rest of the game. Washington has adopted the motto “Everybody Eats” as an ode to how much they pass the ball and get everyone involved, but consistently run isolation plays at the end of games. (The team’s so-called prevent offense seems to kick in around the eight-minute mark of games in which they lead.) Beal and Wall take 2.8 and 2.4 shots respectively, per game in clutch situations. Those shot attempts result in 31 and 34% shooting from the field, which is not good enough in close games. The Wizards third “max” player is receiving less than half of those attempts in clutch situation (0.9 FGA’s) while shooting considerably better at 43%.

John Wall made a few terrible decisions in the waning moments of last nights game and when asked about why he didn’t take a layup attempt over Jeff Green and instead decided to pass the ball at the last second, which resulted in a turnover, Wall responded by saying he didn’t shoot the layup because he knew he wouldn’t get the call.

This answer is almost as egregious as the play itself. John Wall, an All-Star, cannot let his assumption of whether he’ll get a call determine whether he’ll attack. Wall’s decision to pass the ball in that situation was a poor one, and this is becoming a common theme in his return to the team. In the three games that Wall has been back, he is averaging six turnovers per game, and is still working to regain the chemistry with his teammates. Washington came into this season wanting the respect of a contending team, but all they have done is provide more of the same inconsistency that has plagued this franchise for the last 40 years.

Not much has changed and the season will be over before we know it, buddies.

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