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4th seed in NBA Playoffs has mixed history, as Wizards hope to break trends

4th seed in NBA Playoffs has mixed history, as Wizards hope to break trends

The Wizards were the first team in the Eastern Conference to solidify their playoff seed, as the Raptors beating the Knicks on Sunday ensured that Washington will be No. 4. As for who they will play in the first round, which teams will earn the two final playoff spots, and who will lock down the top seed in the East: that has all not been determined.

So, what about this fourth seed? It turns out the recent history of making the conference finals as the No. 4 team is actually pretty good. It's getting beyond that semifinal round that is quite rare.

Here are some notes to consider...

* The 4th seed in either the East or West has made the conference finals 10 times in NBA history. The last time was in 2013, the Memphis Grizzlies. That was the fourth straight year a four-seed has reached the conference finals, including 2011 when the Scott Brooks-led Oklahoma City Thunder got there. Six times since 2006 has a four-seed reached the conference finals: 2006 Mavs, 2007 Jazz, 2010 Celtics, 2011 Thunder, 2012 Celtics, 2013 Grizzlies. Six times in 11 years? Those odds aren't bad.

*Only four times has a 4th seed reached the NBA Finals. The last time was the 2010 Celtics, who lost to the Lakers. The 2006 Mavericks got there and lost to the Heat, and the 1978 Sonics reached the finals, only to lose to the Bullets for Washington's lone NBA championship. The 1969 Celtics also made the finals as a four-seed.

*Those 1969 Celtics were the only four-seed ever to win the NBA championship. That team, however, was not your average four-seed. They won the NBA title the year before in 1968 and each year from 1959 to 1966. They also won in 1957. It was the greatest dynasty in the history of the game, based on titles.

*Ten times has a team ranked lower than four made the conference finals: 1981 Kings (5) and Rockets (6), 1984 Suns (6), 1987 Sonics (7), 1989 Bulls (6), 1990 Suns (5), 1994 Jazz (5) and Pacers (5), 1995 Rockets (6), 1999 Knicks (8).

*Three times has a team lower than the four seed reached the NBA Finals: 1981 Rockets (6), 1995 Rockets (6), 1999 Knicks (8). Two of those teams have connections to the current Wizards. Brooks was a bench player on the 1995 Rockets and GM Ernie Grunfeld was fired midseason from the same role with the 1999 Knicks.

*Only once has a team lower than the four-seed won the championship: the 1995 Rockets. Perhaps Brooks can use that note in a playoff pep talk.

*The only NBA title in Wizards/Bullets franchise history came following the 1977-78 season when Washington was a three-seed, just one off of the No. 4 status they have this year.

[RELATED: Tougher matchup for Wizards: Cavs or Celtics?]

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


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.

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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Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

The NBA is so perimeter-oriented these days that often the first statistic cited for a player leaving college for the pros is three-point percentage, regardless of the position. Even big men are expected to knock down threes, for if they can't then there is less space on the floor and like Neil deGrasse Tyson, NBA teams love them some space.

Three-point shooting, however, is not a strength for Wizards' first round pick Troy Brown, Jr., at least not yet. In his lone season at Oregon, he shot just 29.1 percent from long range. Brown can play multiple positions, from point guard to small forward, and shooting is important to be successful at all of them.

Brown and the Wizards, though, are not concerned about his potential to develop an outside shot in the long-term. Brown addressed the issue after his pre-draft workout with the Wizards earlier this month and cited a very specific reason not to worry.

"I don’t think it was my mechanics. I think it was my shot selection this year," he said. "Some of the shots I was taking weren’t very good. It’s about repetition, getting in the gym and putting up shots. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job showcasing that and I feel like a lot of teams are impressed with my shooting."

Brown knocked down plenty of shots in his workout with the Wizards. That helped convince them to select him at No. 15, as they see a guy with potential to become at least a serviceable shooter from long range.

“We’re very confident that we can improve it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "From what I understand, he’s very coachable and he wants to get better. That’s a big part of the step in developing a young player."

Team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed to agree with Brown's personal assessment, that it's not a problem with his mechanics per se. Surely they will tinker with his shot once he gets in their development system. But they don't see the need for a dramatic overhaul.

"He's got a nice stroke," Grunfeld said. "Obviously, when you're a freshman coming up to another level there are different things you have to work on, and we have a really good player development staff and we're going to get him to work right away."

Players of Brown's ilk developing an outside shot at the NBA level is more common than many may think. Just because someone isn't a good shooter in one college season, doesn't mean they will never be able to develop the skill once they mature as a man and a basketball player.

Though Brown's scoring repertoire may seem limited, plenty of players have gone from rags to riches offensively at the professional level. Brown may have to begin his NBA career helping in other ways, like on the defensive end, before his scoring abilities round into form.

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler could be seen as a best-case scenario example. He made only 36 threes in three years in college and shot just 35.3 percent as a junior. When he was Brown's age, as a freshman he averaged only 5.6 points, and as an NBA rookie he shot just 18.2 percent from three.

Through years of hard work, Butler turned himself into a 20-point scorer with a respectable outside shot, including a career-beset 37.8 percent from three in the 2014-15 season. Some guys take more time than others. At only 18 years old, Brown has plenty of time to figure it out.


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