Quick Links

Film study: Scheme or effort? Tale of 2 halves with Wizards' defense

Film study: Scheme or effort? Tale of 2 halves with Wizards' defense

The Jekyll and Hyde relationship that the Wizards have with defense never has been more pronounced than Monday's game with the Brooklyn Nets. They were getting buckets at will on offense to start the game and took defense for granted. 

They trailed 66-51 by halftime to a five-win team, but they put it in another gear out of the locker room to win 118-112. 

When coach Scott Brooks, and before him Randy Wittman, highlighted effort being the main culprit it seems cliche. It can even seem like a coach who could be blaming his players for his own shortcomings. The schemes didn't change for the Wizards in wiping out a 15-point deficit. The assertiveness did:

They began the first quarter this way to get into a hole:

-- Isaiah Whitehead gets into the lane after a handoff from Trevor Booker, getting around John Wall easily. That penetration forces Marcin Gortat to sink into help stop the layup which frees Brook Lopez for his first made three-pointer of the game.

-- This is an easy entry pass to Lopez as he's being defended by Gortat. Sean Kilpatrick meets no resistance as he cuts to the rim for the handoff. Bradley Beal is trailing the play and Gortat doesn't anticipate or help to stop the straight-line run to the rim. Handoffs are difficult to guard and require help unless the on-ball defender can disrupt the play by getting a deflection before the ball changes hands. Too often, the Wizards' backcourt doesn't cover it correctly with initial defense (Brooks said Otto Porter, in particular, has struggled with defending this action).

-- Booker meets no resistance and posts deep on Markieff Morris who is on the outside the wrong hip. Entry passes and finishes don't get easier than this. Either Morris is expecting help from Gortat, who can't because Lopez is spotting in the corner, or just fell asleep. He didn't do enough to fight his way back back into the play to three-quarter Booker and is pinned. When Gortat sees that Booker is going for the shot, he starts to cheat inside but it's too late. Booker makes a counter move away from potential help to get to his preferred left hand for the finish. 

The began the third quarter this way to turn the tide:

-- Gortat makes a quick show on Kilpatrick to contain the ball on the pick-and-roll to help Beal. His help defense, Porter and John Wall, stop Lopez's roll to the basket by tagging him and sprint back to recover to their men as Gortat gets back in position on Lopez. Morris makes an immediate switch on Bojan Bogdanovic realizing he's the threat from the arc (originally Porter's man before he helped) and not Booker. Contested three way off. Shot clock violation

-- The ball pressure on Whitehead by Beal starts this. Porter tries to go over the top and get the deflection as Bogdanvic comes off this curl, but Morris helps to contest to stop the layup at the rim. Similar to handoffs, these can be snuffed out with help but it requires recognition ahead of time and the helper holding up that slasher for his teammate to recover or making the play on the ball. And when the helper vacates his frontline position, someone has to bump down on his man on the low block to prevent the extra pass or offensive rebound and putback.

-- Wall gets into the ball, and Gortat traps aggressively as they negate the screen-roll with Lopez. The moment Kilpatrick gets his back turned, Porter anticipates the only pass he can make out of this and that's to Lopez. Porter is on his blindside, too, and look how far he travels to get that steal and the breakaway. The tide has officially turned.

Fortunately for the Wizards, this was a five-win team. These sorts of sleepwaking episodes will result in losses against better opponents.

[RELATED: The 5 must-see moments from the Wizards' win over the Nets]

Quick Links

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."


Quick Links

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it