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Pace and space helping Wizards draw most fouls in NBA

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Pace and space helping Wizards draw most fouls in NBA

After adopting a new pace-and-space offense over the summer, the Wizards own a 2-1 record one week into the NBA season.

Their transition to an up-tempo, small-ball game hasn't been without hiccups, but it's already paying off in a key area: Drawing fouls. 

In an ideal world, every trip down the floor would result in an easy basket at the rim, a 3-point field goal or a trip to the free throw line for Washington. 

The Wizards haven't shot well from downtown (35.2%), but they're leading the league in personal fouls drawn per game (28) according to player tracking data on NBA.com. They're also 2nd in free throw attempts (34) and fast-break points (20.7) per game.

John Wall has drawn 5 fouls per game by himself, while Bradley Beal and Ramon Sessions are right behind him averaging 4 apiece. 

Those numbers represents a major leap from last year, when the team finished 22nd with 19.6 fouls drawn per game. It's also the most obvious evidence of what their new offense does to opponents. 

Pace creates the threat of fast-break buckets, while space spreads out defenders around the perimeter and opens lanes to the basket. The system forces opposing players into fouls, either intentionally to prevent an uncontested bucket or accidentally as they struggle to stay in front of the ball handler. 

When asked about drawing more fouls this season, coach Randy Wittman said it was part of the plan. 

"That was an area we had to improve on," he said. "Spacing the floor and having people running softer lines has gotten us where we've put the ball on the floor and gotten fouls going to the basket."

Though three regular season games is a small sample size, Wittman noted that Washington got to the line a lot during the preseason as well. 

"I think it's a byproduct of our spacing," he said. 

Drawing fouls has its pitfalls, though. The Wizards are shooting a middling 77.5% from the stripe, plus they're taking hard knocks at high speeds -- a dangerous combination for a team hoping to make a deep playoff run. Want proof? Just check out Beal after the season opener in Orlando. 

But free throws are among the most efficient shots in basketball, so every trip to the line represents a valuable opportunity for Washington. 

Those opportunities will be harder to come by Wednesday night against San Antonio. So far this season, the Spurs have averaged the fewest personal fouls (15.5) in the NBA.

MORE WIZARDS: Marcin Gortat revisits 50-win prediction for Wizards

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Julie Donaldson reset the series and looked ahead to Game 5.

They were joined by TSN Sports anchor Kayla Grey to find out the Toronto perspective. The Wizards have all the momentum in this series, now they just have to keep it going.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

You would not have known it by John Wall's towering poster-dunks over Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl in Game 4, or his fourth quarter takeover after Bradley Beal fouled out, but Wall is still technically working his way into midseason form from the left knee surgery that kept him out more than two months down the stretch of the regular season. Add into the equation that he sprained his right ankle in Game 3, then resprained it in Game 4 right after Beal went out, and it's quite clear that what he is doing is simply not normal. 

Throughout Wall's recovery, his head coach Scott Brooks remarked how Wall can regain his form unusually quick following an injury absence. Game 4 was just his eighth game back, yet through four playoff games he is averaging an absurd 26.8 points, 13.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.

If that's what he's doing eight games removed from recovery, and against the top team in the Eastern Conference, what does peak playoff form look like? 

"I told y'all, I told all the media that I only need like three or four games. I really didn't need too many games," he said. "All the hard work that I did in those two months was to prepare myself to be ready for the playoffs."

Wall said he started feeling like himself in his final regular season game, his fourth outing following the injury rehab. It was against the Celtics and he scored 29 points to go along with 12 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

"I just started to see shots fall down that I was falling short with a couple games before that," Wall said of that night.

Brooks saw a change in Wall against the Cavaliers on April 5, in just his third game back. That game Wall put up 28 points, 14 assists, four rebounds and three steals. Most importantly, he logged 38 minutes.

"I knew I was going to challenge his body with extra minutes," Brooks said. "The way he responded to that, I knew he was back."

Whenever the turning point happened, there is no looking back. Wall has found his groove to not only impact, but at times dominate playoff games against one of the best defensive teams in basketball.

In Game 4 once Beal went down, Wall looked like the best player on the court. He scored eight of the Wizards' final 14 points to seal the victory and did so on a bum ankle. He outshined both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, two All-Star guards.

Wall even played sound defense on DeRozan in big moments. DeRozan shot 10-for-29 in the game.

"I think I did a good job of contesting him," Wall said. "Just do whatever it takes to help this team win."

What Brooks predicted would happen has indeed played out. He has been with Wall for about two years now and knows what the star point guard is made of.

"I've been with him two years, he loves to play," Brooks said, noting there have been some tough conversations to convince him to come out of games.

Consider this: Wall has scored 20 points or more in six straight games, his longest streak of the 2017-18 season. He has actually reached 23 points or more in those six games, which is tied for the longest such streak of his entire career.

Through eight games overall and four games in the playoffs, Wall has reminded everyone of what the Wizards missed. Yes, they went 10-3 when he first went down with the injury in late January, but that was not sustainable.

They need Wall to reach their full potential as a team and especially in the postseason. Late-game situations like in Game 4, when Beal exited and it was tied with 4:58 to play, are when the superstars separate themselves.

Wall did that and now the Wizards are in good shape with the series at 2-2 and having won two straight.

"Blame everything on him," Brooks joked of the Wizards' up-and-down regular season. "If he wasn't hurt, we'd be better, right?"

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