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Film study: How Wizards diffused Celtics sparkplug Isaiah Thomas

Film study: How Wizards diffused Celtics sparkplug Isaiah Thomas

The 20-point fourth quarter for Isaiah Thomas never came on Tuesday, unlike the Jan. 11 comeback win for the Boston Celtics over the Wizards. Then, they showed Thomas the same coverages. 

This time, they gave Thomas different looks and were successful in exploiting the 5-foot-9 point guard's weaknesses at both ends.

Thomas had 25 points and 13 assists, which looks great if he's on your fantasy team, but those terms were dictated by Washington. All stat lines aren't created equal. Thomas' impact paled in comparison to Bradley Beal's 31 points and five assists, or John Wall's 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in Wednesday's 123-108 domination.

The Wizards (25-20) stuck to coach Scott Brooks' gameplan to near perfection. 

[RELATED: Morris raises level to meet Scott Brooks' demands]

On the defensive end:

Ball pressure. Kelly Oubre wouldn't let Thomas breathe as he splits screens and gets help from Otto Porter to stop the momentum. When Thomas gets the ball back after an awkward pass out to relieve the pressure, Oubre tries to deny the return and harrasses Thomas every step of the way until he settles for deep jumper that wasn't in rhythm. 

Find Thomas in half-court at all times. If it's between closing out him or Marcus Smart on the perimeter, that's an easy decision. Let Smart shoot.

Make Thomas finish over size. Sometimes he'll succeed but many times he won't.

Another example of the same concept. Marcin Gortat has to switch with Oubre, who takes Al Horford. The Wizards pack the paint successfully to prevent dribble penetration and Gortat keeps his 6-11 frame in front and contests the jumper which falls short. 

Find Thomas in transition and either run him off the three-point line or contest at all cost (he shot 1-for-6 from the arc).

Be physical with him on screen, dribble-handoff and dribble-pitch action. Gortat steps out to slow him from turning the corner and Oubre's 7-2 wingspan prevents Thomas from exploding to the rim. Instead, he gets too deep with no where to go among the trees, stumbles and turns it over. 

On the offensive end:

Isolate and make his defense a liability. The moment the second half began, the Wizards went at Thomas with Beal, who at 6-5 is too big, too strong and too athletic. Over a guy his own size, this is a difficult shot for Beal. He has an unobstructed view on this one. He takes the handoff and Gortat twists the screen. Although Horford's containment initally works and Gortat gets the pass back, the spacing is created to allow Beal to isolate. Beal holds his ground for the return pass and Gortat cuts to the weakside of the floor, which forces Horford to either double-team immediately tor follow the big into the paint. Horford leaves. Beal goes to work.

Run him through multiple screens. Thomas isn't physical and is easy to knock off balance with contact. He has to fight through this pindown from Wall then a screen from Gortat and has no chance to recover to Beal. Horford is playing so soft in coverage, he's giving him a mid-range practice shot.

Don't let him hide. Oubre isn't the offensive threat at the level of Beal, but the Wizards made Thomas defend him, too. Oubre is 6-7 and comes off this curl cut for a runner in the lane that misses. But it was a quality look that broke down Boston's defense which allowed Trey Burke to slip in for the putback. 

This looked similar to what the Wizards did in 2015, when they were supremely confident they'd figured out how to deal with troublesome matchups with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Korver in the playoffs. This is just one regular-season game, and certainly Boston will make adjustments when they meet for a final time March 20 at TD Garden to determine the season series.These concepts regarding Thomas, however, still should apply.

[RELATED: Wizards walk the walk vs. Celtics: Is it a rivalry now?]

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry


Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.



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2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2020 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Robert Woodard II

Team: Mississippi State
Position: SF
Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
Height: 6-7
Weight: 230
Wingspan: 7-1

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 33.1 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 49.5 FG% (4.4/8.9), 42.9 3PT% (1.0/2.3), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Jae Crowder, Chandler Parsons

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, Sports Illustrated 43rd, Ringer 28th, NBADraft.net N/A, Bleacher Report N/A

5 things to know:

*Few players in college basketball took as big of a jump as Woodard from his freshman year to his sophomore season. He transitioned from a bench role player that could do a little bit of everything, into an able-bodied scorer off the ball that could take advantage of multiple size matchups. His scoring improved by a six-point average and had a key role in the Bulldogs' offense.

*Most impressive for Woodard was the development of an outside shot. His growth included a 15% jump from long-range with an added confidence to score at all three levels. Mind you, his 42.9% shooting was only on 70 attempts and an area of his game that was not previously highlighted. 


*How Woodard fits on an NBA roster is what has mock draft experts split on where he will be selected. Some don't even have him being drafted. It seems he's most natural on the floor playing as a guard, however, he has a high dribble and commits two turnovers a game for someone that typically does not run the point. He has the accuracy to be a wing scorer, but lacks the consistent shot selection of a 3-point threat. Some evaluators see him as an undersized four, for his rebounding and presence around the rim, but his post-moves are really nonexistent. 

*Woodard is built well and has an NBA-ready frame. It led him to be an effective rebounder 6.5 boards per game as a nontraditional post player and a good defender with the agility to block shots. He also has a high basketball IQ which makes him a high-level defender off the ball.

*Woodard's father, Robert Woodard is Mississippi's all-time high school scorer with 4,274 points. He also continued his playing days at Mississippi State. 

Fit with Wizards: Positional flexibility with a knack for hitting 3-pointers would be why the Wizards would take a chance on Woodard. Many of the fundamentals of his game are already set which wouldn't mean Washington would need to spend time on development. 

He has a similar offensive game to Rui Hachimura: Nice size and build, that occasionally also steps out behind the arc. He can also rotate to multiple positions.

How the Wizards would utilize Woodard remains to be seen though. Backing up Hachimura, who was drafted just the year prior is not a long-term sustainable plan. Having Woodard even be a bigger wing (ie. Davis Bertans if re-signed) would be another back-up role. Yet, Woodard does not nearly jack up as many threes as Bertans. Playing Woodard as a guard isn't really in the cards either.

A depth piece that can fit in multiple spots is Woodard's biggest asset for the Wizards. And from there they could develop him into the role they see fit. His one season of a robust 3-point shooter is not enough to see that being his future.

There's not much to justify him going in the lottery. However, if Tommy Sheppard wants to add a young, NBA ready-built player in the second round or even as an undrafted free agent, Woodard could provide value in those spots. The athleticism and ability are there.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.