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Charles Barkley back leading the Wizards bandwagon


Charles Barkley back leading the Wizards bandwagon

Charles Barkley became something of a Wizards rooter over the last two seasons with a particular affection for the backcourt pair of John Wall and the sweet shooting Bradley Beal. Like many during this season's second half slide, Barkley's love diminished a bit. The NBA Hall of Famer turned TV analyst picked the Toronto Raptors in their first round series.

“I don’t think they’re going to beat the Raptors,” Barkley said during a conference call for TNT before the playoffs tipped. “I thought what they did last year, I thought they came together and they were looking great for the future, but they regressed, to me, this year. I really thought that they had turned the corner.”

Following Washington's 4-0 sweep over Toronto capped off by Sunday's 125-96 blowout, it's fair to say Barkley is back leading the bandwagon.

After "Inside the NBA" host Ernie Johnson set him up - " Your Wizards hitting their stride." - Barkley provided the primary commentary during the late night recap.

"You know Ernie, this is a team that last year in the playoffs won in the first round and then they didn't play in the second round," Barkley said. (Editorial note - The Wizards actually played in the next round, just not as well as the Indiana Pacers, who won the series in six games).

"They're playing fantastic again this year in the first round," Sir Charles continued. "This is the team we expected all season. They've got a dynamite backcourt. They've got Nene and Gortat down low. Paul Pierce brings veteran experience. But the key is the two guards*. They make everything go."

Before the season there was some debate about whether the Wizards or Warriors had the league's best backcourt. Any such debate ended quickly as Golden State's "splash brothers" ruled throughout while Beal dealt with injuries. Maybe the Wizards aren't the gold standard, but how about silver medalist?

"I can say they're behind [Klay] Thompson and [Stephen] Curry as the second best backcourt in the NBA," Barkley stated. "When they get it going - the biggest reason they've been inconsistent is because Bradley Beal has been injured all year. If those two guards play well and they get anything from those big guys and spot stuff from here from Paul Pierce, it's going to be a tough matchup whomever they play in the second round."

Beal missed 19 games with various injuries and his scoring dipped by nearly two points per game to 15.3. The third-year guard led the Wizards with 23 points in Game 4.

(* By two guards of course he means Beal and Wall. Just clarifying since Barkley never says Wall by name and because Ramon Sessions also rocked the Raptors in the series clincher.)

Other Wizard-y related thoughts from Barkley:

On Beal, who he gushed over during the highlight package whether slashing to the basket or pulling up for a jumper: "If he can stay healthy he has it all."

On his potential sleeping accommodations later in the postseason: "If the Wizards make it to the Eastern Conference final*, I might sleep at the White House. I'm gonna call the President. I want to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom." 

On the Wizards fan who does "the sprinkler" basically at some point during every game and was introduced to a national television audience Sunday night. "I want my grass to die if that's a sprinkler.")

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Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

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Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season. Today, at No. 2, a look at the Wizards' young core and how those players can make another leap...

In signing Dwight Howard and Jeff Green, trading for Austin Rivers and drafting Troy Brown, Jr., the Wizards arguably added more talent to their roster this summer than they did in any recent offseason. Yet, the ceiling for this team will once again be determined mostly by a familiar dynamic. The best and most likely way for the Wizards to significantly change their fortune as a team is for one or several of their young, core players to make a big leap in their development.

Those core players would be John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr., four first round picks drafted between 2010 and 2015 who have served as the nucleus of their recent success. 

Wall, Beal and Porter in particular are the straws that stir the drink. Oubre is worth including because of his pedigree and potential and because this, a contract year, is such an important season for him.

There are reasons to believe that all four of the Wizards core players can get better, despite what they have already shown at the NBA level.

Wall, at 28 and entering his ninth NBA season, is probably looking for more incremental improvement at this point in his career. He has already made five All-Star teams and earned All-NBA honors. As long as he's healthy, which wasn't the case last season, the Wizards know what they are going to get.

That said, it may be unreasonable to expect Wall to make another major leap in his career. It's possible he has already entered his prime and his peak as a basketball player. If there is another level for him to reach, he will likely need to get there soon, as he's two years away from turning 30.

When healthy, Wall is one of the 10 or so best players on the planet. More consistent defense and more efficient scoring are the ways he can move up the ladder. Also, simply going further in the playoffs would change a lot about how he is perceived among NBA superstars.

At 25, Beal is young enough to have a lot of room to grow. Last year was his first All-Star season. If he has another gear, the logical next step would be All-NBA honors and perhaps going from a guy who scores 22-23 points per game to one of the elite scorers in the league.

Porter is also 25 and therefore may still not be in his prime. He has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA and is as reliable as anyone on the Wizards. But to become an All-Star or an All-NBA candidate, Porter will need to have volume numbers to buoy his high shooting percentages. 

Bad players in the NBA have neither volume or efficiency, good players have one or the other, while true stars have both. Porter may take his game to the next level simply by taking more shots and expanding his role from a usage perspective. If he can maintain his efficiency while adding a few points per game to his scoring average, Porter will enter another echelon as a player.

Oubre has more room to develop than the other three because he is younger and less accomplished. He is 22 and entering the final year of his rookie scale contract.  

The Wizards have kept Oubre around, hoping for a breakout year much like they saw from Beal and Porter at this point in their careers. Those guys did not get contract extensions from Washington before their rookie deals were up, but ended up with max money. If Oubre can follow a similar track, the Wizards will be significantly better.

Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre are all at different points in their careers and have a wide range in their room to grow. Their continued development will be the most important indicator for the Wizards' success this year and beyond.



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Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'


Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'

No matter what happens this fall and winter, the year of 2018 was a big one for Ted Leonsis. His Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup and the new practice facility and arena for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go in Ward 8 was opened. Even his Valor won the Arena Football League and Wizards District Gaming played their inaugural season.

The Caps winning and the St. Elizabeth East Entertainment and Sports Arena opening its doors has Leonsis thinking bigger and particularly when it comes to the Wizards. As he puts it, there are "no excuses" anymore. It's time to accomplish their goals and Leonsis has some specific ones in mind.

"We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I'd like us to win 50 games. I'd like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington.

Leonsis, in many ways, feels like he has done his part as the owner. He has given the Wizards the resources to compete and win at the highest level. They have the salary commitment - the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in payroll ($134.9M) - and the facilities that any team in the NBA would covet.

"We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They're healthy entering the year," he said. "Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you're getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let's play ball."

When it comes to the practice facility, it's much more than just added space, new locker rooms and shiny courts. The Wizards will have at their disposal the newest training technology and all the medical resources they need from Medstar. 

The facility has a virtual reality room, which goes way beyond the headsets and cameras they have utilized in recent years. They will also have a sensory deprivation tank. 

It's a pod that fills with salt water and allows people to float without light or sound. The benefits include decompression of the spine, alleviation of soreness and muscle tension and stress relief. In case you are wondering, they aren't cheap.

The weight room at the Medstar performance center is also calibrated for different exercises and methods. And with more space, the Wizards can continue to move into the future from a technology perspective and stay ahead of the curve.

"It's not just being an early-adopter. If you make an investment in this size and scale, you'll be at an advantage because you can build in and not add on a lot of that right into the utility of the building," Leonsis said.

In having this type of facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, Leonsis hopes those teams can follow the model that worked for the Capitals. The Caps have had a specialized training facility in Ballston, Va. for years and have benefitted from a strong minor league system, most notably with the Hershey Bears. That top-to-bottom approach can help the Wizards, in particular, as they now have a G-League affiliate.

The foundation is in place for the Wizards to someday compete for an NBA championship. Many never expected to see the day the Capitals would reach the mountaintop. Now the Wizards can follow the blueprint.

"We've proven that there is no [D.C. sports] curse," Leonsis said. "If you are patient and work hard and are committed to continuous improvement than you can win a championship."