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Film study: With Morris engaged, Wizards look like different defense vs. Nets

Film study: With Morris engaged, Wizards look like different defense vs. Nets

A 66-51 halftime deficit to the Brooklyn Nets was stunning to the Wizards, who were 6-12 at the time and desperate for a win. They turned it on in the second half with better defense, quickly erasing the disadvantage out of the locker room to pull out a 118-113 victory.

John Wall led eight players in double figures with 25 points and 13 assists. But a major key to the comeback was Markieff Morris. 

The power forward had 16 points, five rebounds and four steals but his help defense was a key component as he held his man, Trevor Booker, in check and disrupted the Nets' half-court offense with Bogan Bogdanovic. 

The Wizards have won seven of 10 games and a large part of the reason is defense. This was the first real signs of it in the second half of this game and they've been on a roll ever since. 


The evidence, most of which is from the second half:

— Booker tries to isolate vs. Morris on the low block which is a mistake. His offensive game isn't strong enough as he's left-hand dominant, doesn't have the ball-handling, strength or the finesse in his game to draw Morris out of position. Morris can have difficulty defending bigger, stronger post players by relying too much on reach-ins which is why he gets into a lot of foul trouble. Booker can't exploit that tendency. Instead of a bucket it's a turnover for Brooklyn. 

— Morris plays off this screen-and-roll because Booker isn't a threat to pop to the three-point arc. It allows him to sag to help on any dribble penetration by Randy Foye, who goes to Lopez's side of the double screen and makes the errant pass. It leads to a transition dunk for Morris. 

— Bogdanovic curls around Booker's screen from the other side of the floor. Porter goes over the top for the deflection and misses, but Morris is there. He's bigger, stronger and longer than Porter and creates the miss that would be a layup for Bogdanovic. 

— Another example of Morris leaving Booker away from the rim where he's not a threat to close down Bogdanovic catching and finishing at the rim. 

— Morris goes at Booker to finish at the rim. Then he gets back to create a turnover. This is a staple of the Nets' offense with Bogdanovic curling around screens from the weakside to get the ball running full speed into the lane. If he catches it cleanly it's difficult to stop without help. Porter has had trouble with blowing up this action but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson doesn't acccount for Morris, who correctly reads the biggest threat isn't his man. It's Bogdanovic. He gets the steal and forces a foul. 

— This is how Wall routinely picks apart the defense from the slot. Brook Lopez is playing what his coach, Kenny Atkinson, calls the MIG position -- Most Important Guy. That's because that post player, which is loading up on Wall to stop dribble penetration (also called the 2.9 position because of the defensive three-second rule), also has to keep the man he's defending (Gortat) from scoring. Gortat isn't a threat at that distance from the rim but the moment Lopez takes one more step in his direction behind Booker who has no prayer in stopping Wall from getting into the paint, the dive happens. Lopez can't recover in time and it's a dunk. 

— This is basically the same type of read from a different spot on the floor by Wall. If you're in crunch time, who commands the most attention on a set? Beal. The entire defense is loading up on him. Gortat is setting a backscreen and his man, Lopez, is facing away from the strong side to provide containment. Thanks to all of this activity -- and Booker zooming in on Wall to back up Joe Harris who has no prayer of keeping the point guard out of the paint -- Morris backdoor cuts for the slip pass to make it a two-possession game with less than a minute left.  



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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Scott Brooks, head coach

Year with team: 3rd

Grade: B

Season review: There is no question that from a basketball perspective, the 2018-19 season was among the most challenging of Scott Brooks' career. Even for a man who coached a 23-win team in 2008-09, and the mercurial Russell Westbrook, it would be hard to top all that went on for Washington this year.

Brooks had to navigate around a serious injury for John Wall for the second straight year. Dwight Howard missed all but nine games. The Wizards made five trades and suited up a franchise-record 25 players. 

They often played rotations mostly comprised of guys on expiring contracts. And there were in-practice spats between him and players that were made public.

Brooks, along with his players, were not able to keep the ship afloat. They sank to 32-50 by the end of the season and along the way it cost Ernie Grunfeld, the man who hired him, his job. That set the tone for what could be a tumultuous offseason, one that offers no certainty Brooks will be back with the Wizards for a fourth season.

There was some good and some bad with Brooks' job performance in Year 3. He oversaw the continued development of Bradley Beal, who has a chance to make All-NBA when the honors are announced next month. Thomas Bryant had a breakout season after Brooks promoted him to the starting lineup. 

Despite a revolving door of a roster and the absence of Wall, the Wizards continued to feature an above-average offense. They finished the season 10th in points and 14th in offensive rating.

But on the other end of the floor, the team continued to trend in the wrong direction, this year bottoming out as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA and in franchise history. They were 29th in defensive rating and 28th in points allowed. They gave up about 11 more points per game than they did the year before, 116.9 compared to 106. 

And when it comes to the success of some players, it was fair to question if those leaps could have been made earlier. 

Troy Brown Jr., their 2019 first round pick, didn't earn consistent minutes until late February, when the season was essentially long lost. That was despite him showing flashes of promise in his first few months as a rookie. And at times, it appeared Brooks was choosing to play lesser players like Ron Baker or Gary Payton II over him.

All in all, though, it's hard not to grade Brooks on a forgiving scale due to all that went wrong that was out of his control. A head coach could have only done so much to overcome the obstacles the Wizards were presented by injury luck and the front office.

Now the question is whether Brooks will be back for another year and, if he is, whether there will be changes to his staff. Until the Wizards hire a new general manager, it is tough to predict.


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The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

Back on April 2, the day Wizards owner Ted Leonsis addressed the media after firing Ernie Grunfeld as team president, he said he would commence an evaluation process of his organization to determine the next step. He said this process would take approximately three weeks.

Well, three weeks have now passed.

Though there has been little news about their plans, that means things should start picking up in terms of their targeting of candidates and the interview process.

Whomever takes over the Wizards will have a long to-do list. Paramount will be working around a cumbersome salary cap situation in light of John Wall's injury, few trade assets and the presence of just one draft pick this June. 

The Wizards also only have six players currently under contract for next season and that includes Wall, who will probably miss at least 50 games. That also includes Jabari Parker, whose $20 million team option is highly likely to be declined, and Ian Mahinmi, who can't really be counted on for a rotation spot given how things went last year. 

There is also Troy Brown Jr., who is only 20 and still finding his way, as well as Dwight Howard, who missed the final five months of last season after having back surgery. Outside of Bradley Beal, it is a bunch of unknowns.

Here is a look at the Wizards' biggest on-court needs and how they are most realistically going to be able to address them.

Wizards' Biggest Offseason Needs

1. Rim protection

This tops the Wizards' wish-list seemingly every summer but never before has it arguably been this bad. They posted the worst defensive rating in franchise history last season (113.9), ranking 28th among NBA teams in the category and 29th in points allowed (116.9/g). 

Though the Wizards had a litany of problems on the defensive end, protecting the rim was arguably their worst. No team allowed more field goals per game within five feet than the Wizards (22.1) and only two teams allowed a higher percentage (64.2). 

This year's draft is thin on big men at the top and in the Wizards' likely range. If they luck into the No. 1 pick and draft Zion Williamson, that would certainly help. But outside of him, the best options for rim protection are probably Texas freshman Jaxson Hayes and Maryland sophomore Bruno Fernando.

Per usual, the free agent crop of shot-blockers isn't deep. Brook Lopez and Nerlens Noel may be the best fits based on their likely price range. Still, it seems more likely they find some help in free agency.

2. Wing defense

One thing that can help rim protection is preventing opponents from getting there and the Wizards weren't good at that, either. Only two teams allowed more field goal attempts from within five feet of the rim than the Wizards (34.4). Washington was also bottom-five in the league in three-pointers allowed (12.1) and opponents three-point percentage (37). 

The numbers paint an ugly picture and the eye test didn't do them any favors. The Wizards just aren't a physical team on the perimeter. 

The good news is that they might be able to find help in the draft. If they find some lottery luck and vault into the top three, Duke's R.J. Barrett has the athletic tools and competitive drive to be a perimeter pest. 

The guy who stands out the most defensively is Virginia's De'Andre Hunter. He was the ACC defensive player of the year and a driving force in the Cavs' national title run. He is big and rangy and can guard multiple positions, a guy who has All-Defense potential at the NBA level.

In free agency, it will be hard to find a real difference maker given the money they are currently set to have. It's hard to see them affording Patrick Beverley, for instance, much less Malcolm Brogdon or a top tier guy like Jimmy Butler.

So, the draft is probably the best avenue.

3. Point guard depth

With Wall out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the Wizards need to stock their roster with some point guards to make do while he is out. The question will be how many resources do they want to apply to what is an important position. It could be seen simply as 'how badly do they want to win in 2019-20?'

If making the playoffs is the goal, then re-signing Tomas Satoransky is probably their best option. It is hard to see them doing any better than him in free agency or via trades. 

There are, though, some solid options in the draft. If they get lucky and land the second or third pick, that could mean Murray State's Ja Morant. If they fall in the seven-to-nine range in the first round, 6-5 North Carolina guard Coby White could be the guy.

This free agent class is deep with point guard options, but they would have trouble finding a starter-level player in their price range. You are probably looking at a group that includes Beverley and Cory Joseph. Beyond them, it's a bunch of players like Elfrid Payton, Jerian Grant and Jeremy Lin.

The best option is probably to just bring back Satoransky and hope Brown can continue to develop his point guard skills.

4. Rebounding

Rebounding was the Wizards' most glaring weakness in 2018-19. It affected both ends of the floor and made matters much more difficult defensively. Even when the Wizards would force missed shots, they couldn't complete their stops by rebounding the ball. That also affected their ability to start fastbreaks and play up-tempo.

Last season, the Wizards ranked 27th in total rebounds and defensive rebounds. They were 28th in rebounds against and 29th in offensive rebounds allowed. They gave up 14.1 second chance points per game and only five teams allowed more.

Though they were 32-50 on the season, they were 16-6 in games in which they rebounded their opponents. That means they were 16-44 when they lost the category, a huge difference.

Among draft prospects, Williamson, Barrett and Fernando are the best options, depending on where the Wizards land. But free agency will be deep with rebounders including DeAndre Jordan among the longshots and Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh among the potential bargains.

Even if the Wizards have Howard back and re-sign center Thomas Bryant, using what money they will have to acquire a rebounding power forward may be the smart move here.