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Film study: Where Wizards went wrong with spacing on offense

Film study: Where Wizards went wrong with spacing on offense

Two concepts have been emphasized ad nauseam from Wizards coach Scott Brooks since Day 1: Defense and spacing. They faltered mightly at both in the opener but have had a few days since that debacle with the Atlanta Hawks to clean themselves up at the Memphis Grizzlies tonight (CSN, 7:30).

Before any player gets into any detail explaining their offensive role, "spacing" is always the key word.

"Our offense wasn’t great. I think our spacing needs to be better in terms of our offense," said Bradley Beal, who had 13 points but was limited by foul trouble in a 114-99 loss in Atlanta on Thursday. "It’s not our offense that’s the problem. We got to get stops. We got to be able to take pride in our one-on-one defense and our team defense and not get rattled when teams go on runs."

A perfect example comes here with the second unit. Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith worked hard to get the Wizards an extra possession off a missed shot with them trailing 33-30. Nicholson tried to go right back up but didn't have the angle or a good look vs. Paul Millsap so he made the correct read. He passed out to Marcus Thornton and reposted and received the entry pass for an isolation. 

But look what goes haywire with the spacing: Kelly Oubre cuts into the middle during the first sequence, doesn't get the ball and and fans out to the weakside corner with Smith. Smith tries to alleviate that spacing problem by cutting baseline to the ball simultaneously as Thornton cuts from the top. There's no passing angle and Thornton brings an extra defender (Thabo Sefolosha) into the paint who traps Nicholson. There even isn't an angle to relieve the pressure with an outlet to Trey Burke, who is at the top of the key. It all results in closed off passing lanes, turnover and transition bucket for Atlanta. If four defenders are in the paint, the play is to move the ball outside -- maybe split action between a guard and a forward to make the defense react -- and a ball reversal. But Nicholson has to have an outlet for the simple pass and his teammates have to read the floor correctly. 

The Wizards led 81-80 in the fourth quarter but just wilted after that. The Hawks kept getting turnovers and open looks in return. When the Wizards were able to keep them in half-court sets, the dribble penetration to the paint was the culprit. It's a lot to address in a short period of time but with this being Brooks' first year the spacing issue was expected to take some time to grasp. A lot of the defensive stuff involves better effort -- sometimes multiple efforts -- to stop the ball. 

In this one, it's not a set play either.  Beal tries to catch the defense on its heels with the push after a made three by Millsap. First problem with his push is that the Hawks have all five defenders back and in position to load up to the ball. Second, when he drives he has nowhere to go and gets trapped in the air. Third, look at where Marcin Gortat and Oubre are cutting from at the top. They've helped Atlanta's mission to clog the lane. There isn't a passing angle and any one defender for the Hawks can cover two people. That's never a good thing and an easy steal for Sefolosha. Oubre would've been better suited sinking to the deep short corner -- not "surrounding the ball," as Brooks likes to say --  to spread the floor. Beal could've found him with a simple kick out for a wide-open three. The proper spacing would've made Atlanta pay for packing in the paint.

"We have to continue to believe in our spacing. We'd like our players to be aggressive and attacking without the crowding," Brooks said after Saturday's practice at FedEx Forum. "That allowed them to pressure us and get into the passing lanes because they were easily into our passing lanes becuase of the bad spacing. That's correctible."

Then he addressed the response to giveaways like that one. The effort to get back on transition in the fourth quarter faded as the Hawks kept feeding off their defense.

"Turnovers are going to happen. You can't compound the turnover by not running back on defense," Brooks said. "Because you turn the ball over doesn't mean they should get a layup or a wide-open three. That's definitely about multiple efforts, not compounding a mistake and making it a double mistake. That's something that was focused on today in our film ssession with our spacing. It's so critical not only to us but everybody in this league."


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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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