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Film study: Dwight Howard, Hawks struggle against Wizards' screen action

Film study: Dwight Howard, Hawks struggle against Wizards' screen action

Before going overboard with the Wizards' Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, it's important to understand that it's just one game. The goal for the road team in a series is to win one of the first two games, which flips home-court advantage, and it puts the burden on the higher seed to when on their home floor to get it back. 

That's what the Wizards did in 2015 when they upset then-No. 1 seed Atlanta in Game 1. The split is the goal going into Game 2. 

Now with a level head in place, time to look at what went right for the Wizards on Sunday at Verizon Center.

A lot of what transpired was reflected in the film study session that set up the series. Bradley Beal wasn't taken away as he shot 2-for-11 on 3-pointers — he just missed repeated open looks and passed on others. Marcin Gortat's help and individual defense was Ian Mahinmi-like, the ability to cover Paul Millsap without help for Markieff Morris allowed the ball pressure to take a toll elsewhere and John Wall pushed the pace whether he had numbers in transition or not and was equally successful.

Going into this series, I'd watched plenty of film on the Hawks. I stopped short of being hyper-critical of their pick-and-roll coverage because they had so many moving pieces because of injuries and ailments that it wasn't certain if it was a chemistry or IQ thing. 

The Wizards went away from being pick-and-roll heavy during the regular season to mix up their attack. In fact, they incorporated more motion first under Scott Brooks and then would flow in to pick-and-roll. And they went away from it being a 1-5 (point guard-center) and used more varations such as Morris in the 1-4 which gave the option of him diving to the rim or popping instead to the three-point arc.

When in doubt and in need for a clean look at the basket, it might be in the Wizards' best interest to go to their bread-and-butter based on how lost Altanta was in coverage. And Thabo Sefolosha, who was a healthy scratch for them, might need to find his way on the court though the Hawks lose offense with such a move.

Dwight Howard's coverage too soft on pick-and-roll ballhandler

When faced with a guard who curls or comes around the screen, Howard retreats and gives up in-rhythm, foul-line/elbow jumpers. Before the shot is even released, Howard turns, boxes out and goes for the rebound. This is where stats can be deceiving. He had a game-high 14 rebounds. He did not have a good game or outplay Gortat who had fewer (10). The most dangerous place for the ball to be is in the middle of the paint because it gives the ballhander options. He can take the shot and all of his teammates are accessible so he can find them on spot-ups. No part of the floor is closed off. Collapse into the paint, the ball goes outward for long-range bombs. Howard has to take something away and not play for rebounds, or the Hawks have to mix up coverages by using big-to-big switches if necessary. Just letting Wall step in isn't good enough.

Bigs not named Howard aren't athletic enough

What are the other options? Ersan Ilyasova, a good stretch four, and Mike Muscala who plays the spread five for Atlanta. Neither can defend Gortat on the low block. Neither are going to be much help on Wall as the ballhandler. The trap of the ball has to be aggressive. Even if the result of the play is the same something has to be taken away. The moment Gortat dives, he's Muscala's switch. Jason Smith, who is the man he's originally defender, becomes Ilyasova's switch. The big-to-big switch didn't work out. 

Poor job on dealing with screens

Beal had a miserable night shooting 18.2 percent from three-point range, but it wasn't because of Atlanta's steller defense. Often late getting over screens or a step slow on the trail technique, the Hawks were fortunate Beal didn't get cooking, too. His touch wasn't there, and he began to hestiate. But when he came alive late, those same type looks kept coming. He finished with 22 points. Banking on a smaller guard like Dennis Schroder being able to clear the screen for a late contest on a shooter of Beal's caliber isn't a good strategy. Howard has to help and his weakside help has to cover for him when he does. 

Getting beat with numbers advantages

This took place constantly in transtion, especially when Wall pushed off long rebounds and went 1 vs. 3 or 2 vs. 4. He's fast, but getting layups and and-1s are an indication of hustle, recognizing personnel and basic basketball IQ. The Hawks went 0-for-3 in Game 1. Even when the Wizards run a ram screen — screening the help big's man who is setting the ball screen — in the half-court set when the Hawks are prepared for it they botched it. They defend 3 vs. 2. That allows Howard to get back to Gortat and Kent Bazemore is there to seal Wall from the rim. Schroder, however, dies on the recovery into the play. Bazemore gambles for the block/steal from behind and whiffs. Wall ends up with an uncontested layup that shoulnd't be.

While some of these things are fixable, some might not be. But a seven-game series is about adjustments. The Hawks will make them, but the Wizards will have theirs in anticipation. The Hawks may have to change up some personnel groupings and maybe even sacrifice some offense to get better defense.

The Wizards dropped 114 points despite shooting less than 40 percent for most of the game.

MORE WIZARDS: It's not time to panic over Bradley Beal's Game 1 performance

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

Drew Gooden was nearing the end of his second 10-day contract with the Wizards in the 2014 season when he went off for 21 points against Brooklyn. 

It was a game that changed his career, led to being signed to the team for the remainder of that season and ending his career as a Washington Wizard two years later. “My career was totally reborn as a veteran leader on the Washington Wizards,” he said. “And that’s something I never would have thought would come full circle.”

And now? Gooden will serve as the game analyst on NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast this season. NBC Sports Washington announced on Wednesday he will join new play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher as part of the Wizards' game broadcast team. Chris Miller will return in his role as sideline reporter.

“It’s a dream and I never thought in a million years I would have retired a Wizard and that out of all my teams that I played for, that Wizards would be the favorite organization that I played for, never thought I would be a color analyst for NBC Sports Washington,” Gooden said. “All of this is a dream.”

And while Kutcher may not have the same playing resume that Gooden does, he promises to bring the same passion Gooden does to broadcasts.

During the early days of his career, Kutcher wasn’t just the voice of (and practice player for) the Boston University women’s basketball team. He was such a passionate fan that he was the one making the most noise on the team bus after a big win or a big loss. Now, after decades in the business, he’s not sure he’ll go to that extreme – but Wizards fans can expect him to be “a fan who’s calling the game,” he said. “I say that about myself all of the time. I think of myself as just this incredibly lucky person that gets to call a sport that I love. When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.”

Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB. Prior to FOX Sports, Kutcher served as a play-by-play announcer for ESPN for four years. During that time, he led live coverage for a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, across professional, college and high school leagues and conferences. He also appeared on studio shows during his tenure with ESPN. In addition to FOX Sports and ESPN, he has also called collegiate events for CSTV, now CBS Sports Network, for two years, as well as BTN, and contributed to MLB.com digital programming.

“I have known Justin since he was a runner for us at FOX Sports,” said Joe Buck. “He’s gone from working hard behind the scenes to one of the best, young voices in sports. Wizards fans are getting a great broadcaster and a better person .”

Here’s five more fun facts about Kutcher and Gooden.

1.    Kutcher’s worked the past five Westminster Dog Shows. “I get more ticket requests for that than any other event I go to,” he said. But, at first he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with it. The first year, he said, was a little tough. “I called my dad after it airs and he said that it was my mom’s favorite thing that I’ve done.” But, he stuck with it. And now? “I love it,” he said. 
2.    His favorite thing in DC is … the breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin. “They have a breakfast burrito that I get, I eat two of them at a time and people can’t believe it,” he said. Oh, and also his family. His family in the area includes a 3-year-old nephew, who when asked for real estate recommendations in the area, declared “you can live at our house!”
3.    Meanwhile, you can find Gooden at his favorite crab shack. “Quarterdeck in Arlington is my favorite, favorite restaurant,” he said. In the two years he’s known about the crab spot, he’s eaten there, he estimates, “800” times. 
4.    Good news for Wizards fans: He thinks the Wizards will be a team everyone sleeps on – and that’s great for them. “They’re going to have the opportunity to surprise a lot of people early,” he predicted. 
5.    Kutcher expects Rui Hachimura to … “be one of the steals of the draft.” Kutcher covered the new Wizard as a play-by-play announcer during Hachimura’s college career. “I would not be surprised if you see Rui average 15-18 points per game and close to 8 rebounds per game. I think he’s that type of player, he’s a really good kid, when I saw the Wizards drafted him I said that’s a great, great pick,” he said.

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga