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Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks coached Russell Westbrook for seven seasons in Oklahoma City, as Westbrook developed into one of the best and most electric players in the league. He knows just how good Westbrook is and does not throw around comparisons to him lightly.

But when Brooks watches Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, whom the Wizards will see for the first time on Saturday when they play at the Grizzlies, he can't help but be reminded of the eight-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

"He's as dynamic and explosive as any player that has come in [the NBA] in a long time. You see a lot of Westbrook in him where he attacks and is fearless. He plays hard, he puts so much pressure on the defense," Brooks said.

The No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, Morant is technically ahead of schedule with the Westbrook comparison. He's only 20 yet as a rookie he's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Westbrook wasn't scoring that much until his third season, at Age 22.

Certainly, Morant still has a long way to go to reach Westbrook's level as a perennial All-NBA player who is the first to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. But Brooks is already surprised by several things Morant is doing that make him wonder just how good he can someday be.

"It's pretty remarkable to come in and do what he's doing. He won a game defensively by blocking a shot. He attacks the rim. He makes plays, he can pass with either hand. He sees the floor. A lot of times, it takes two or three years to get all of those reads down and he seems to be able to have his checkpoints off pretty quick. He finds the next read if [the first one] is not open," Brooks said.

Brooks also remarked how he didn't think Morant would shoot threes this early in his career as well as he has so far. Morant is knocking down 42.2 percent from long range, much higher than Westbrook's 30.5 percent career average, for comparison.

The Wizards will have their hands full when they face Morant and the Grizzlies with no ideal option to guard him. Perhaps Brooks can tap back into his OKC days to come up with an answer.

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Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

WASHINGTON -- Turns out there is a familiar refrain when you ask NBA players who recovered from torn Achilles injuries about the rehab process and its biggest challenges. Spurs forward Rudy Gay brought it up, and so did Clippers broadcaster and 17-year NBA veteran Chauncey Billups.

They say it is not just the process of coming back physically. There is a mental hurdle, a very specific one, they had to overcome, and they believe Wizards guard John Wall will have the same experience once he returns to NBA action.

"There's a mental component to it that's really necessary when you're coming back from something like that. You're going to be in that position in which you hurt it 50 to 60 to 70 times in one night. You have to get over that," Billups told NBC Sports Washington.

"You think about it. You think about it all the time. You have to just trust in the work you put in, you have to trust in the science and just know you can't continue to think about it because if you do, you're not going to play your game. It's easier said than done, it really is."

It makes sense. Most injuries in basketball are suffered while running, cutting or jumping. Though Wall technically tore his Achilles while falling in his house, the tendon is going to be tested over and over by every move he makes on the basketball court.

Billups said getting over that can take a long time. He suffered his Achilles tear in 2012 and was back playing in an NBA game 296 days later.

But it took much longer than that to truly get to 100 percent.

"One thing I noticed is that when I came back, I came back at [10 1/2] months. But it took me probably another 10 or 11 months to really feel like myself. I don't think that will happen with John [because] he's a lot younger and his body probably heals a lot quicker than mine did," Billups said.

Billups said his lateral movement and jumping ability were affected the most. Lateral movement is particularly important on defense, especially for a point guard who has to stay in front of some of the quickest athletes on the planet.

As for jumping ability, Wall may have an advantage as he tore his left Achilles and has always been a much better leaper off his right leg. It's why most of his dunks are thrown down using his left hand.

Given Wall was seven years younger than Billups when they suffered their injuries, Billups believes Wall is likely to get most, if not all, of his athleticism back. But he also sees a way Wall can change his game to remain effective even if he never regains his trademark speed.

"I think that John could be a very good post-up type of point guard [because] he's such a good passer and facilitator," Billups said.

"A point guard being down there and being able to pass out of the post, it's tough. Teams don't work on that. I think that's a weapon he can add, especially as he gets older. Naturally, he will slow down and his athleticism will diminish as he gets a lot older, but he can be just as effective if he can develop that," he added.

Just like Wall, Billups tore his Achilles in February. He was back playing in games by late November, so Wall has already taken longer than he did to return. The Wizards have even indicated Wall could miss all of this season due to the injury. And if he returned next year, he would end up taking about 20 months to recover.

Having been through the process himself, Billups can speak to how difficult that could end up being for Wall, to just sit out and wait patiently even if he at some point knows he can play.

"That's tough to do when you're a competitor," Billups said. "You miss the game that you love so much. It's my first love. You have an opportunity to feel like you're back after all the work that you put in, man. To feel like I can get out here and help my guys who are struggling? They're doubling Bradley Beal and they've got a young guy [in Rui Hachimura] showing some promise, it's tough to just kind of sit that out and wait and say 'when's the right time?'"

The Wizards appear intent on giving Wall extra time to heal and, it should be noted, they have a major financial investment in his future. This is the first season of his four-year, $170 million supermax contract. It might be worth punting on the first year if it ensures they get something out of the final three.

Whenever he does return, Billups has high hopes for the five-time All-Star.

"I have no doubt that John Wall is going to come back and be dominant," Billups said.

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How Nats fans should view letting Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon walk in back-to-back years

How Nats fans should view letting Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon walk in back-to-back years

When you are as successful as the Washington Nationals, and as good at replenishing your roster with talent as they are, apparently this is the cost of doing business.

For the second straight winter, the Nats have let an elite player walk in free agency. First, it was Bryce Harper, who left to join the Phillies. This time it is Anthony Rendon, who has signed a seven-year contract worth $245 million to play for the Los Angeles Angels.

Both entered free agency as the best position players on the market, perennial MVP candidates who could someday make the Hall of Fame. But the Nationals don't pay position players, they pay starting pitchers and that blueprint helped them win the World Series just six weeks ago.

The fact Rendon got an identical contract from the Angels that Stephen Strasburg did from Washington solidifies the fact they had to choose between them on equal footing. One was not cheaper than the other, this was about big-picture philosophy. This was ownership giving general manager Mike Rizzo a budget and him choosing to allocate money in his rotation and not in his lineup.

Rizzo, of course, has now been a part of two World Series teams that employed that strategy, if you include his days as the scouting director in Arizona. They won the 2001 title and did so with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling leading the way.

The Nationals' decisions to let Harper and Rendon walk should be viewed through that lens. And they should also be stowed away for future reference.

Surely, the idea of letting one player walk to sign another can't be cited ever again. Just because they didn't pay Harper didn't mean they would pay Rendon, and we should know better when looking ahead to Juan Soto, Trea Turner and others.

Those are the main takeaways from Rendon's departure from a baseball perspective, which is the way Rizzo and his front office are paid to view things. But certainly hammering home those details will only do so much to make Nationals fans feel better as they watch another homegrown, likeable star venture off to another team.

What Nationals fans have experienced in these two cases, both within 10 months of each other, is not normal. To lose two players of this caliber in consecutive offseasons is a uniquely tough pill to swallow. That's a lot of jerseys that won't be worn anymore.

Few fanbases have been fortunate enough in recent years to even have two players as good as Harper and Rendon on the same team at the same time. That extends to having them leave. Usually, players as good as they are don't go elsewhere and, if they do, it is because they play for small market teams with low payrolls, and often their exits feel inevitable.

The Nationals aren't a small market team and, as much as some fans might argue, they aren't cheap. But they have acquired so much talent over the past 10 years that they simply can't keep them all.

So, in a way, it can be seen as a good thing. Harper and Rendon left in part because the Nats have a surplus of talent. And, in true Rizzo form, they have replacements waiting in the wings.

When Harper dipped for Philly, there were questions of whether Soto and Victor Robles could replace his production. They not only stepped up to mitigate the loss, but Soto is now by most accounts even better than Harper.

With Rendon now gone, the Nats can turn to Carter Kieboom. He may not play third base, but he's an infielder and a right-handed batter who hits for average and power. He's a top-20 MLB prospect and last season hit .303 with a .902 OPS in Triple-A.

Harper and Rendon aren't the first stars to leave their team in free agency, and Rendon isn't the first to jump ship right after winning a World Series. In L.A., he will join arguably the most famous case of that, Albert Pujols who after winning a title with the Cardinals in 2011 left to sign with the Angels.

Nationals fans should just take solace in the fact the team's front office is always thinking ahead. Plenty of talent remains on the roster and reinforcements are on the way.

Just like how fans became further attached to Rendon when Harper left, it's time to do the same with Soto or someone else. As the churn continues, enjoy them while they last.

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