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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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Wizards tasked with limiting the Towns and Wiggins show in Minnesota

Wizards tasked with limiting the Towns and Wiggins show in Minnesota

The last time the Wizards and Timberwolves met, six Minnesota players reached double figures, Washington scored just 16 points in the third quarter and the Timberwolves won by 22—all without Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor due to suspension.

Towns will suit up this time, however, when the Wizards travel to Minnesota looking to snap their three-game winning streak. The Timberwolves have won two straight, most recently beating the San Antonio Spurs 129-114 in game Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins combined for 58 points.

With all due respect to Robert Covington (11.8 PPG), Jeff Teague (13.9 PPG, 6.3 APG) and rookie Jarrett Culver, Towns and Wiggins have been the driving forces behind the Minnesota offense, which ranks fifth in the NBA with 117.2 points per game.

That duo will enter Friday night as the biggest stars to watch on the Timberwolves.

Karl-Anthony Towns

The Wizards lucked out Nov. 2, when Towns missed the first of two games after getting involved in an altercation with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid three nights prior. Yet Minnesota still outscored Washington 56-24 in the paint, led by Covington and Gorgui Deng.

Those problems will likely continue Friday. Towns is averaging 25.8 PPG and 12 RPG while keeping defenders honest with a 40.7 shooting percentage from behind the 3-point line. The two-time All-Star has played up to his resume so far this season, but one area he’s taken strides in is his passing.

Towns has assisted on 21.8% of points scored while he’s been on the floor this season, easily his career high. The emergence of Wiggins as a legitimate scoring threat has helped boost that figure, but Towns has been looking to pass much more this season than in years past.

Andrew Wiggins

The former No. 1 overall pick has always been able to score in bunches, but he’s turned his game up to another level this season. Wiggins has dropped at least 30 points in four of his last five games, shooting well from behind the arc but doing most of his damage in the lane and from midrange.

Wiggins’ contributions have opened up the rest of the offense to focus more on their individual assignments. Teague and Culver don’t need to score in high volumes and can instead be the ball distributors that they are. Covington can work out of the post more frequently and spot up from three when he has the opportunities.

It’s turned the Timberwolves’ offense into a well-oiled machine that runs like it’s fresh out of the factory. Under head coach Ryan Saunders, the Timberwolves are playing as well as they have ever have with Towns in tow. If Wiggins and Towns find a rhythm early, this game could be over before it even gets started.

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Bradley Beal sought advice from Ray Allen on leading the Wizards rebuild

Bradley Beal sought advice from Ray Allen on leading the Wizards rebuild

Bradley Beal was in line to be the next NBA superstar to change teams.

His contract was up after next season and if he declined the Wizards' offer on an extension, it'd be time for Washington to ship him elsewhere. But then Beal agreed to a two-year, $72 million deal to remain in DC, giving the Wizards more time to build a contender around him and John Wall. 

The decision shocked plenty of NBA talking heads. The player empowerment era that began when LeBron James formed a Big Three in Miami built up to an unprecedented amount of movement during this summer's free agency period. What was Beal thinking potentially wasting his prime on a lottery team?

As a guest on the Woj Pod with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Beal opened up on his decision-making process and how he went to future Hall of Famer Ray Allen for advice. 

"I talked to Ray Allen during the summer," Beal said. "He was in Milwaukee and Seattle and those years were rugged you know, they weren't always great but he was one of the best players and he was always making sure those teams were in the playoffs or making some type of noise.

"He was like, 'Ultimately it's your decision. The only person that can make Brad happy is Brad, and you have to what's best for you,'" Beal said. 

Allen spent a little over six seasons with the Bucks to start his career and then over four seasons with the Supersonics. He was a seven-time All-Star, went All-NBA twice, but made the playoffs just four times over that 10-year span. 

It wasn't until Allen's age-32 season with the Celtics where Allen finally won a championship. It's not the career path many superstars are interested in nowadays, but Beal seems ready to make the most of the hand he's been dealt in Washington. 

"It was kind of a no-brainer, just duke it out and make it work," Beal said. "My leadership has to grow, it's kind of growing every day, but I feel like I have a natural knack for it.

"You can't think about, 'Is the grass greener on the other side? Are we not going to be as good here?' You can't necessarily think in those terms because you can always play 'Devil's Advocate' on the other side, so for me, it's just sticking to your guns."

Wall is most likely out for the remainder of the season and the Wizards are off to a less-than-inspiring 2-7 start this season, but Beal is ready for the challenge.

With Rui Hachimura finding his own and Tommy Sheppard making shrewd moves along the margins in the front office, Wizards fans can feel good about the direction of their franchise now that Beal is locked up for the next three seasons. 

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