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Film study: Before praising Brandon Jennings too much for offense, defense is problematic

Film study: Before praising Brandon Jennings too much for offense, defense is problematic

Brandon Jennings led the bench with 10 points.

He made 4 of 5 shots, and had a key assist, helping the Wizards come back in Game 2 late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the Atlanta Hawks.

But pump the breaks with the praise.

He only helped undo a deficit that he had a major hand in creating in the first place because of his porous one-on-one defense that has been a recurring theme.

The obsession with points and offensive statistics in general -- see the NBA MVP race which has become hijacked by it -- ignores how the Wizards got behind.

Jennings made three consecutive shots, all jumpers, in a 2:07 span to start the fourthh quarter. The score went from an 80-76 deficit to 84-all following Jennings' assist to Jason Smith at the rim. John Wall and Bradley Beal closed the 109-101 victory for a 2-0 series lead.

Jennings' defense, however, has to change. He's not old and slow. He doesn't have any apparent physical limiations. There is no shame in getting beaten 1 vs. 1 in the NBA. It happens. But Jennings is getting beat on the first move before his help defense is in position to clean up the miess. The Hawks haven't shot the ball well but even the worst shooters can make layups:

Frontline foul trouble

Instead of moving his feet laterally to stay in front of Tim Hardaway, who has shot 7 of 28 in two games of the series, Jennings allows him by with red carpet treatment to the rim. This isn't on the rim protection. This is on the guard's lack of containment. To make matters worse, Jennings has to know who is on the court and the situation. Aside from Hardaway not being able to buy buckets from the outside, Markieff Morris gets put in a bind and ends up fouling Hardaway going downhill. It's his fifth foul. He'd started the fourth quarter after being on the bench most of the game and went right back to it.

Non-shooters get layups (and a rhythm)

Despite going under on the screen and Smith hedging to slow the ball, Jennings still gets beat to the rim by Schroder. He'd given him the cushion to take the shot and still gets blown by. Schroder had missed 2 of 3 shots to start the game -- all jumpers. Easy buckets can get a player like Schroder into a rhythm and then all of his other shots start falling. He started on a down note but Jennings' defense let him off the canvas. First and foremost, Schroder wasns to get to the rim. Not take jumpers.

Straight-line drives allowed

Before the defense even gets set, Kent Bazemore -- a lefty -- goes straight at Jennings and gets to the basket. Smith was correctly concerned with his man, Mike Dunleavy, running to spot at the arc (Smith was guarding Ersan Ilyaova but in transition defense you match up with the closest man). Smith's containment help could've been better as he made a reach, too, but he wasn't prepared for how quickly it developed. Bazemore's ballhandling can be suspect and he loves to go left. At least force him to change direction to his weaker side where he's more prone to mistakes and less likely to finish.

Turning corners allowed

Jennings has Schroder pinned on the sideline which should serve as an extra defender. There's only one thing he can do here to be successful. But Jennings is on his heels which allows the real estate to the rim rather than dictating to the ballhandler where he's permitted. Smith is out of position to help as he's tracking three-point shooting big Mike Muscala off a split . By the time he tries to slide down, it's too late. 

Solution

Beal defends Schroder late in the fourth quarter exactly the way you're supposed to each and every time. He shoots an airball. That simple. Beal has been consistent defensively all season because he doesn't go for the home-run plays. Give Schroder enough space to take away the drive, move your feet but keep your hands in your own pockets. 

Each time the Hawks were able to erase early deficits to get back into games with the Wizards in this series, they went at Jennings. Being targeted should motivate him to do better, but in later rounds of the playoffs vs. better teams these moments will ultimately cost the Wizards a close game or two and ultimately a series.

Talking about it or addressing it then will be too late. Of course, making shots like he did Wednesday can smooth some of that over but he can't be an open door on defense and the 27.4% shooter he was in 23 regular-season games in Washington.

MORE WIZARDS: Jennings helps Wizard's 4th quarter turnaround in Game 2

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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