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Blazers pound Wizards 108-98: Five takeaways


Blazers pound Wizards 108-98: Five takeaways

The Portland Trail Blazers had just been embarrassed by the NBA's worst team two nights ago, so they came into Monday's game at Verizon Center ready to make amends. The Wizards, on the heels of an emotional loss to the Boston Celtics, didn't have the same energy as they lost for the fifth time in six home games.

Marcin Gortat (16 points, 13 rebounds) led the Wizards but after they took their first lead of the game, 60-59, to open the third quarter on Garrett Temple's three-pointer then it was all downhill.

Portland (19-25) went on a 23-1 run, led by C.J. McCollum (25 points), Myers Leonard (18), Damian Lillard (16) Alan Crabbe (14) and Mason Plumlee (10 points, 11 rebounds).

Temple (18 points), Bradley Beal (16), Gary Neal (11), Jared Dudley (10) and Ramon Sessions (10) gave the Wizards a jolt offensively but they couldn't get stops on the other end. John Wall (nine points, 10 assists) wasn't himself.

The Wizards already have more home losses (13) than they had all of last season.

  • On the first play of the game, the Wizards had a botched coverage on Lillard's first basket which was a drive for a layup. They didn't change much with their scheme but this showed a lack of preparedness even though the game plan had been established. It's all about recognizing personnel. McCollum rarely goes all the way to the basket. He will pull up for jump shots every time. Lillard tends to pass or stop his dribble and pull up going left. He's more prone to going all the way to the basket going right. The Wizards had poor recognition with personnel.

  • Nene and Gortat, who started together the past two seasons, shared the court for the first time to combat one of the better rebounding teams in the league. Nene was limited to 12 minutes in the last game because the Wizards were playing the second game of a back-to-back so coach Randy Wittman, who had to be measured with how he used him there, had him on the court 17 minutes. They duo was together from 5:38 of the first quarter when Nene entered for Dudley trailing 19-6, and that lasted until Gortat checked out at 1:42 as they remained down 22-12. In the third, the deficit was pronounced with them together. Nene checked in at 7:54 to play with Gortat and the Wizards down 68-61. When Gortat left at 3:59, they were down 84-65. Gortat was  6 of 8 in the first half in 18 minutes. In eight minutes of the third, Gortat didn't a shot attempt as the spacing on the court wasn't as good to receive the pocket passes from Dudley (four) for layups. The combination doesn't work particularly when bigs like Leonard are making 4 of 7 three-point shots. 

  • After playing a season-high 44 minutes on Saturday and missing the game-tying layup because his legs were drained, Wall was flat. He shot just 4-for-17 and missed four consecutive open mid-range jump shots as Portland went on that run after halftime to put the game away. With the game long over, Wall played until less than three minutes were left with the outcome decided. He played 36 minutes and given how this game went should've been less than 30.

  • Portland made 17 of 31 three-pointers, most of them clean looks, for 55%, and had a 48-35 edge in rebounding. It's hard to win if you're the Wizards with those numbers, even having just nine turnovers

  • In a game like this, the Wizards needed Beal who still is on a minutes restriction. In part because of him, they were able to trim a 17-point deficit to 59-57 at halftime. The spacing on the floor wasn't good with no one hitting shots early. Beal made 2 of 3 three-point shots in the first half and it changed the tone for the better but it couldn't last. Still, there are communication issues that go back the previous few seasons with him not moving off the ball. It led to a turnover by Nene who was trying to direct him and he ended up making a bad pass instead. If Beal had moved where directed, he would've had an open shot. Nene was correct.

RELATED: NBA gives John Wall another honor for standout performance

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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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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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