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Film study: Why are Trey Burke, Jason Smith playing better for Wizards?

Film study: Why are Trey Burke, Jason Smith playing better for Wizards?

The improved play of the Wizards can be directly traced to the output they're now getting from a second unit that had been at best invisible all season. Kelly Oubre's value already has been accounted for, though he hasn't played well since a Dec. 16 concussion. 

The backup point guard, Trey Burke, has become more aggressive offensively and is looking to shoot more and Jason Smith is knocking down his open looks on screen-and-rolls and benefitting from defenses leaving him uncovered. 

But this is about much more than making or missing shots. Players go through hot streaks all the time. Coach Scott Brooks has used them in different ways and with different combinations to get better results. 

So let's compare what Burke and Smith looked like earlier in the season (discombobulated) to what they're looking like in December, when the Wizards went 10-5 to get to 16-16 entering 2017:


Early in the season, Burke was watching Oubre run screen-and-roll with Markieff Morris. Having him stand on the weakside waiting for a pass from Oubre whose strength isn't creating for others off the dribble isn't going to work for anyone. 

Running a screen-roll with Andrew Nicholson makes this easy to defend. The defense isn't going to worry about Nicholson rolling and finishing at the rim. It forces Burke into a difficult spot and he makes an impossible pass at Morris' ankles for a turnover.  And the spacing isn't good, either.

Smith doesn't seem really involved in this screen-roll with Burke. They force the switch but Burke doesn't attack Bismack Biyombo. Smith doesn't roll to the rim (not his strength) and doesn't spot up as if he's expecting the pass for an open shot. He's just lost in space and he's completely out of position to hit the offensive glass. Burke steps back and takes a low-percentage look rather than making Biyombo, who is really good at defending small players, actually defend him.

How much different does the Burke-Smith screen-roll action look here when they run it crisp and with confidence? And Smith finding the soft spot in the coverage looking to shoot.

Now let's look at how they're being used diffreently now. The most obvious observation is the personnel grouping, using John Wall and the likes of Otto Porter and running Burke of screens with Marrcin Gortat. Less floor time with Marcus Thornton who shoots first:

Porter is being used as the screener as he sets multiple ones on the strong side for Marcus Thornton. It's a good action because he's the best offensive player on the floor with the second unit and will draw the help and attention as the Nets anticipate he's going to get the shot somehow. When Porter cuts, it forces Justin Hamilton to hesitate just a bit while his man, Smith, shifts to get the pass or an open 18-footer. 

Smith dribble pitches to Burke and does with his screen what bigs such as Cody Zeller and Al Horford tend to do which is behind over to get an additional bump on the trailer (Spencer Dinwiddie) to make recovery impossible. By the letter of the rule, that's an illegal screen but Wizards' players have been victimized by it repeeatedly and it goes uncalled. 

Burke goes off the ball and gets it back as he runs a two-man game with Smith, gets the switch with Brook Lopez defending him. Burke uses a hesitation move, gets to the baseline and then uses the rim to get separation for the reverse. This is how Burke plays best. 

Burke can spot up in transition while Wall pushes, draws the defense which is always going to load up on him, to get space for a corner three. 

A simple screen-and-roll option with Gortat gets Burke a favorable swtich. He has to be decisive in how to attack and drives hard at Lopez's feet to create separation and is able to pull up and get off the shot before the contest.

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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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