Nationals

Frazier gets new running mate in Penn St backcourt

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Frazier gets new running mate in Penn St backcourt

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State coach Patrick Chambers figures the best way to keep his two best players sharp for the rigors of the Big Ten is to have them going up against each other at practice.

Senior Tim Frazier, try to go easy on newcomer D.J. Newbill.

How the Nittany Lions' new, potentially explosive backcourt, navigates the treacherous Big Ten could go a long way toward determining whether Chambers' rebuilding project can take another step forward in his second year in Happy Valley.

Chambers said he's always tempted to put Frazier and Newbill together at guard in practice. But he also said the best way to keep them sharp is have them practice against each other, like two brothers going at it in a pickup game in front of the garage.

``They know they can't go easy on each other,'' Chambers said. ``Those guys have got to know how (other league guards) are going to compete against you for 40 minutes. You need to do it to each other, so that it's much easier in a game.''

Frazier emerged last year as one of the top players in the Big Ten after leading the league in assists (6.2 per game) and finishing second in scoring (18.8 points) and steals (2.4). Frazier led a team that had lost four senior starters from the previous year, including school career-leading scorer Talor Battle.

Throw in a coaching change, when Chambers took over for Ed DeChellis, who resigned in the offseason to coach at Navy, and 2011-12 turned into a major transition season. The Nittany Lions finished 12-20 (4-14 Big Ten).

But a year of growth for the young roster, along with the addition of Newbill, has Chambers excited. So much so that Newbill has joined Frazier as faces on a banner for the Penn State basketball tailgate at football games - before the redshirt sophomore has ever played a game in Happy Valley.

Newbill, a Philadelphia native, is returning to his home state after averaging 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman at Southern Mississippi in 2010-11.

The ever-optimistic Chambers likes to match up Frazier and Newbill against each other in practice so they know what it's like to compete against top Big Ten guards like Michigan's Trey Burke and Ohio State's Aaron Craft.

Chambers, in fact, isn't backing down from his prediction that Frazier and Newbill could be one of the best backcourts in the country.

``I'm standing by that. Two feet in with that one,'' Chambers joked.

Frazier has been working on his 3-point shot. He's already lethal driving into the lane. Chambers likens him to former St. John's guard and Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

Newbill is described as a 6-foot-4 guard with a rugged mentality who runs the floor with a ``chip on his shoulder,'' Chambers said.

Frazier is also trying to mentor Newbill as a leader, the way Battle took Frazier under his wing when Frazier was a sophomore.

Junior guard Jermaine Marshall (10.8 points) should also benefit, giving Chambers three scoring options at guard. Throw in 6-foot-6 forward Ross Travis, a hard-nosed sophomore working on improving his perimeter shot, and Chambers may go with his preferred offense of four guys on the perimeter, with 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore Jon Graham assigned to man the middle.

Graham and 6-foot-9 junior Sasa Borovnjak combined to average about 8 points and 6.8 rebounds together as the Penn State big men. Chambers would love to see at least a slight increase in those numbers after a year of playing in his system and getting used to the physical Big Ten.

Still, breaking .500 in the Big Ten schedule will be tough, especially given the top-heavy trio of preseason No. 1 Indiana, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan. Michigan State (14) and Wisconsin (23) are also in the AP poll.

But the optimism Chambers infused in his rookie campaign has carried over to this fall among his players. An NIT bid may be realistic if things break the right way this season and Penn State can win at least one or two Big Ten games on the road after going winless last season away from the Jordan Center.

``Everybody knows the system, we know what coach wants,'' Frazier said. ``Now we're right where he's at. We're a lot farther than we were last year.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

With the MLB trade deadline only two weeks away, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo expects the team to be more focused on acquiring players than trading away any - and that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of season.

"Obviously, we’re always listening and we’re always talking to people," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "But I don’t anticipate moving Anthony Rendon, no."

Rendon's contract extension of $18.8 million going into the 2018 season will expire at the end of this season, and while Rizzo and the Nationals have made it clear they are actively working to re-sign him, a deal has yet to be made.

Rendon's agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas during the All-Star Break that he and the [Nationals team owners] Lerners have "always worked out things -- usually."

“There are times that they make decisions and we make decisions, and I think they’ve been very good decisions for all parties involved," Boras added at the time. "When they sit down and look at where their franchise is going, that’s a direction they have to give us. Obviously, they have to make those decisions. Rendon is a superstar and that is a major decision in their franchise. I don’t ask. I just go and prepare for our meetings and we talk and kind of listen to what they tell us they want to do. It’s really in their corner as to how we go from there.”

Rizzo told the Junkies that the Nationals plan to keep Rendon, though acknowledged the calls for him from other teams do keep coming in.

‘’[An offer] would have to be something that wouldn’t make sense for us to turn down and probably wouldn’t make sense for them to acquire," Rizzo said on trading Rendon.

Rizzo said the Nationals' front office is prepared to add some players to the roster.

"We’ve been most recently in acquire mode, because, you know, we’ve had the chance to win the last eight seasons and I think we're in that mode again," Rizzo said.

Though, of course, he wouldn't actually rule out making any trades that send some players out of DC.

"We're an aggressive front office, we're an aggressive ownership group, and if there’s a deal to be made that would help us prepare for meaningful games in September and beyond, we’ve shown in the past that we’re capable of doing that and we're not afraid to make a trade," he said.

The Nationals take on the Orioles for game 2 of the Battle of the Beltways Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. 

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at one of the biggest questions on the team’s defense, can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role?

When the Caps acquired Jensen at the trade deadline and immediately re-signed him for four years, the implication was clear. Suddenly, Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit became expendable.

With the team expected to be hard up against the salary cap in the offseason, the salary would need to be moved. Sure enough, Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas.

Gudas is a good pick up for the third-pair, but this trade is a move that only makes sense if you have a top-four defenseman to replace Niskanen on the right. Gudas, Jensen and John Carlson’s are the team’s three right-handed shots. Carlson is obviously cemented on the top pairing and Gudas is headed to the third. That leaves Jensen as the only real option on the second pair. After seeing him struggle since coming to Washington at the trade deadline, it is fair to be a little worried.

Jensen showed last season that he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch on opening night, but he made sure he was not scratched again by the Red Wings and averaged 20:48 of ice-time over 60 games before he was traded.

Sure, a lack of defensive depth helped, but Jensen’s play was what earned him that spot more than anything else and it is why Washington traded for him and re-signed him before he ever played a game for the Caps.

But when he got to Washington, Jensen started struggling. An in-season trade can often be difficult with players forced to adjust to a new team and new system. Jensen certainly will not be the last trade deadline acquisition to struggle to make that transition.

“I think there was a period of adjustment where coaches were asking him to play a different system in a different way than he’s played,” Brian MacLellan said at the team’s breakdown day. “The good games were really good, I thought. And the down games were him trying to figure out system stuff and individual stuff that they were wanting him to do on the ice.”

In Detroit, defensemen do not shift too much from side to side. The blueliners have their side and they skate straight up and down the ice. In Washington, however, defensemen are constantly switching sides during play and you are expected to cover whatever side you are on when the puck begins moving back down towards the defensive zone.

Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and was not at all comfortable playing on the left. That is not uncommon. There are a lot more left-shot defensemen than righties and often if you see a player playing his off-side, it is a lefty playing on the right. Righties just are not expected to play on the left all that often because there are fewer of them. For Jensen, even having to shift over to the left within a play proved difficult.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele used this to his advantage in a regular season game against Washington in which he turned Jensen inside-out.

When you watch closely, this play is less about the fancy stickwork of Foegele and more about a defenseman who does not look comfortable at all playing on the left.

It is important to clarify what we are talking about here. The Caps are not asking Jensen to be a left defenseman. That would not be a great situation and there would be no guarantee he would ever get to the point where he could be a top-four defenseman playing on his off-side. The team’s system simply allows for defensemen to cycle from side-to-side situationally. When the opposition transitions down the ice, you may not have the opportunity to switch back to your original side and are instead expected to defend that transition from whichever side you are on. This would largely apply to quick transitions. Adjusting to that is not at all impossible and Jensen’s ability to do so will be absolutely critical for the team’s success next season.

The Niskanen trade certainly looks like a shrewd move by MacLellan as it not only saved the team money, but also upgraded the bottom pair. The move only makes sense, however, if and only if it did not leave the team with a hole in the top-four. In that case, the team will have gotten worse defensively, not better.

With a full offseason and training camp to prepare, Jensen should look far more comfortable within the system. As last season’s camp with Detroit showed, he can be prone to slow starts, but we should know by Thanksgiving if Jensen is starting to feel at home with Washington or if the defense is in serious trouble.

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