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Film study: How Wizards have taken away Isaiah Thomas from Celtics

Film study: How Wizards have taken away Isaiah Thomas from Celtics

Defenses in the NBA are about a system. They change pending the opponent in an 82-game season. The same goes for a seven-game playoff series. Just because Player A scores 53 points doesn't mean Player B opposite of him allowed that.

Usually, it's a system fail. In the last two games of their series with the Boston Celtics, the Wizards have succeeded in bottling up Isaiah Thomas, who had 53 in an epic comeback overtime win in Game 2, and holding him to less than 20 points for the second time in a row. 

A lot of it was 1 vs. 1 defense that funneled the 5-9 point guard into the eye of the storm, closing off the rim and forcing him to either shoot over 6-11 Marcin Gortat, 6-10 Markieff Morris and try to turn the corner on handoffs and screens vs. 6-4 Bradley Beal who outweighs him by 25 points, too.

Thomas only got up eight shots in a 27-point loss in Game 3. He only took 14 in a 19-point loss in Game 4. 

This is how the Wizards are getting these results, and that included taking Thomas to task on the other end by making him defend. Gone are the coverages 2 vs. 2 coverages in pick-and-rolls where they allow him to get into the paint and pull up to shoot over the big and hoping he misses. No more going under on screens and handoffs. And they're adding an extra body in the mix and taking away his space to operate:


Beal's pressure stops the ball near half-court. Thomas doesn't get a full head of steam to run at the defense. The resistances keeps the ball out of the operational zone and the Wizards can live with Marcus Smart running the offense instead while Avery Bradley takes the shot.

Beal locks and trails off the screen to deny the pull-up three but Gortat also denies Thomas from getting to his strong hand. He prefers to drive left and finish with his left at the rim. Notice how Thomas is forced to stay on his right hand but as he jumps he's so left-hand dominant that he pulls the ball back into the big rather than using his right hand to protect the ball. Gortat wisely doesn't even try to block the shot which could illicit a whistle. He lives with the result that's a bad miss.

Beal doesn't accept the screen from Smart. He fights over the first pindown and Otto Porter comes to help with containment while keeping Marcus Smart in his sights. When the ball is reversed, Porter makes a late, hard closeout of Smart, who puts the ball on the floor, which isn't his strength, and turns it over.

Despite Thomas' claims that he was being held constantly -- similar to Beal after Games 1 and 2 when Smart, Bradley and Jaylen Brown were all over him -- he wasn't being stopped from moving off the ball. It's just that refs are less likely to call fouls off the ball if the grabs aren't prolonged. Beal keeps his hands on Thomas so he never loses connectivity. He still gets the ball but when Thomas gets in the paint he's surrounded by three bodies. That forces the ball out of the danger zone and when Gortat switches out to prevent the three-point look by Thomas the Celtics get confused and end up with a 24-second shot clock violation instead.

Beal is into the ball yet again. The deflection throws off Boston's timing. When Amir Johnson comes up to screen, the spacing is gone. The Celtics need his size but he doesn't spread the defense. The Wizards can trap the ball aggressively off him in the screen-and-roll action because the chances of him getting the ball and finishing aren't good.

Earlier in the series, Gortat was allowing Thomas to split the trap which left the defense exposed in the middle. Porter recovers to force the ball out of Thomas' hands, and when he gets it back and into the paint, Morris is standing in between him and the rim because, again, Johnson, is a liability. And Morris' length prevents the pass from getting through anyway.

Thomas initiates the contact and falls. Beal doesn't trip him. Beal doesn't reach. This isn't a foul. Beal doesn't play for steals or blocks. He plays for position, which makes him a likely better option on Thomas than Wall or Kelly Oubre.

This play was developing so slowly thanks to the pressure defense and Gortat's containment, Porter came from under the basket to jump the passing lane. Thomas has trouble playing through contact and length.

On the other end, this is all day for Beal as long as he makes the right read. Post and repost until he gets better position. If Al Horford commits too soon to help, it's an easy pass back in the two-man game with Morris for a wide-open three.

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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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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class


Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller analyze the Wizards' two picks the night of the draft.

They went in-depth on first round pick Troy Brown, Jr. and why the Wizards took him when some big names were still on the board. They also broke down why the Wizards chose to pick a draft-and-stash guy in the second round.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!