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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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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


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Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal has been snubbed yet again.

First All-NBA, now Beal was not even included in the NBA 2K20 top 20 rankings, which were released on a livestream on Monday.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard topped the rankings, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and James Harden. 

In what we're sure was a completely scientific poll, SLAM Gaming asked its followers if NBA2K got the rankings right. And, at least as of post time, nearly two-thirds of participants said no. 

Ahead of Beal in the rankings included Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler. Zion Williamson was the top rookie in the ratings. 

Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game last season. That's clear above Mitchell (23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and Butler (18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game).

The ratings are reportedly determined by a statistically based formula, though that hasn't ever stopped fans from expressing their ire at the game's rating gurus. 

Including John Wall in 2017.