In seasons past, when Bradley Beal was having an off-game or out extended time with an injury, coach Randy Wittman didn't have any real options for scorers until Gary Neal. A career 40% shooter from three-point range, he's at 46% in his first season with the Wizards.
All of a sudden, the Wizards (9-10) have options. They can spread the floor in ways they couldn't imagine with A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford in 2012-13, or Glen Rice and Eric Maynor in 2013-14. Garrett Temple can stick to what he does best, which is defending and hitting the occasional spot-up three-pointer like he did Monday when the Wizards took their largest lead at 38-24 over the Miami Heat.
And Neal can be the third scorer, especially now as the Wizards have resorted to small-ball lineups out of necessity because of injuries to Nene (calf), Drew Gooden (calf) and the absence of Marcin Gortat (personal leave).
"Right from the start, he was probably the most consistent guy we had throughout the game. He gave us a big lift," coach Randy Wittman said the 114-103 win in which Neal scored 21 points off the bench. "When we're going small like that to be able to have guys on the floor that can space it as well as put the ball on the floor and create a shot, I thought he did a great job."
In his last seven games, Neal is shooting 14 of 22, or 64%, from three-point range. But he's doing more than shooting. He is defending which is key to when Wittman goes to lineups where Jared Dudley, at 6-7, is playing center and Otto Porter is slotted at power forward. Neal also is creating off the dribble as defenders run him off the arc, getting inside the paint and either finishing there or kicking out to open shooters when the defense collapses. His four assists were a season-high.
"You kind of have to show that grit, have to show that toughness to even make it a game," Neal said of the Wizards going so small. "I think we did that. Offensively, we were able to make shots. That helped us win the game."
The dynamic has changed a bit. Neal had been sharing the floor with Nene, who the offense ran through with the second unit, as Ramon Sessions ran the point. Now he's playing more with the first-unit backcourt in the small-ball alignments. At $2.1 million for one season under the bi-annual exception, Neal is proving to be a steal.
"They were expecting me to be a guy to score the ball off the bench. It was more important for me to find where my shots would come from with the second unit you're playing with Sesh, when we have a fully healthy group you got Nene out there," Neal said after scoring in double figures for the third game in a row. "You got a lot of guys who are also capable of scoring the ball. With the adjustment, with the injuries and small ball you got to figure out where your shots are going to come from with John (Wall) and Brad. It's a learning process."
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