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Falcons' White focused on postseason, not Pro Bowl

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Falcons' White focused on postseason, not Pro Bowl

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White has gotten over his initial disappointment of missing out on the Pro Bowl for the first time in five years.

White is focused on winning a playoff game.

Under fifth-year coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have gone 0-3 in the postseason, but at 13-3 they're in the same spot they held two years ago as the NFC's No. 1 seed.

White insists that ``it's going to be a lot different outcome'' this time.

In suffering playoff losses to the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, White thinks the Falcons still had too much youth on their roster to know what it takes to win on the big stage.

``We're not doing a lot of the young things we used to do to lose games and stuff like that,'' White said on Friday. ``This was a pivotal point for us as a football team this year. In previous (regular seasons), I felt like we didn't win those games against teams we needed to beat and this year we did.''

Now in his eighth year with Atlanta, White says he's pleased that receiver Julio Jones was named to the Pro Bowl in just his second year.

``That was the best part,'' White said. ``I probably would've been upset if neither of us had made it. It made a little more at ease. I really would've been ticked off if neither one of us had made it.''

White has more catches and yards receiving than Jones, but Jones caught 10 touchdown passes to White's seven. They have combined for 171 catches, 2,549 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns.

``Roddy has been so good to me in helping me learn what it takes to be a professional,'' Jones said. ``We compete just like players at any position, but we're close and we're always pushing to make each other better. Same thing with Harry (Douglas) and everyone else.''

White sees no sense in belaboring the Pro Bowl talk even though he became just the fifth NFL player to post three consecutive seasons with 90-plus catches and 1,200-plus yards.

``I've been to a couple of them,'' he said. ``I know what it feels like to be out there and stuff like that, so it wasn't a big thing that I had on the list.''

Another reason that White is encouraged about the Falcons' next game on Jan. 13 is that quarterback Matt Ryan has become the team's most indisputable leader.

When the Falcons lost at Arizona in the 2008 wild-card round, Ryan was a rookie. In getting blown out the last two years by Green Bay and New York, White thinks Ryan might have been handcuffed by predictable play-calling of former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Now that Dirk Koetter has taken over the job, the Falcons have said all season that they're more aggressive in the passing game and able to move downfield and control the clock even though their running game has been emphasized less.

Ryan has ``been mentally prepared throughout the whole season for this stretch run,'' White said. ``He knows we have to win a playoff game. Everybody knows that, and not to put any pressure on him, but I just think that at this point in the season, everybody knows they have to play their best football right now. That's all that matters, and that's what counts.''

White overcame a right knee injury late in the season that caused him to miss practice time, but the pain and swelling subsided enough for him to keep an important streak alive.

He has never missed a game since the Falcons drafted him 27th overall in 2005.

``I'm kind of that guy that brings a lot of energy to the team,'' he said. ``As I know that I'm out there, I know that everybody is going play like they usually do. That's the best part about it and the fact that I just love playing football. I love being out there with those guys and going out and competing.''

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Follow George Henry athttp://www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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