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Film study: What Wizards look like when defending right way vs. wrong way

Film study: What Wizards look like when defending right way vs. wrong way

The breakdowns on defense have come from all over. It's not one person. It's not one unit. It's not one game. It's multiple games for long stretches and it almost cost the Wizards when they gave up 63 first-half points to the Charlotte Hornets before coming back to win 118-111.

Tonight, they play the depleted, demoralized and hopeless N.Y. Knicks. They allowed the Knicks to come back from a 27-point deficit on Nov. 17 by scoring 47 points in the fourth quarter to make a 119-112 loss look more respectable. 

What has gone so horribly wrong lately with Washington?

Transition defense

In this loss to the L.A. Clippers last month, a very winnable one coming out of halftime, the Wizards shot 6 of 9. But they allowed the Clippers to make 8 of 9. And repeatedly they couldn't find J.J. Redick. That he remained this open for this long in transition is almost criminal. Redick set his season high of 31 points on seven made threes because of plays like this.

Absent frontline help

Dribble pitches and handoffs are difficult to defend if there's no pressure on the ballhandler. In this case it's Griffin and he's handing off to the best shooter on the floor.  The primary defender, Bradley Beal, is trailing. Ideally, Markieff Morris switches from Griffin to Redick to take away the look and Beal does one of two things: Double the ball off the trail to prevent it from getting back to Griffin at the arc or switch to Griffin. The latter is the more conservative play. Morris can defend Redick 1 vs. 1. Beal can defend Griffin at the arc 1 vs. 1. But giving Redick, or any kind of shooter, this kind of space on the handoff is begging for trouble. If DeAndre Jordan was taking this handoff (would never happen, but hypothetically speaking), then the soft coverage would be understandable. But this is basic knowing of personnel.

Unnecessary gambles

John Wall is the most notorious but far from the only Wizards player to do it. In this situation, he had to switch with Morris. Teams prefer to switch smalls on Griffin because he's not really adept playing in the post and good position defense can pick up offensive fouls. He has bad footwork. Wall, however, reaches from behind which opens up the lane and puts the bigs in a tough spot. If Marcin Gortat is in deeper position, Wall can get away with this reach and whiff. Gortat's man is DeAndre Jordan who is 16 feet from the rim and not a threat. Instead Griffin gets an uncontested dunk which is the worst possible outcome. When the Wizards beat the Clippers in December, they succeeded in making Griffin a jump shooter. In this game, he was alllowed to be a dunker.  

And this gamble on Nic Batum wasn't necessary. Wall simply had to move his feet and stay in front of him on the switch. Instead he gambles for the strip from behind which opens up the paint/mid-range to suddenly put pressure on the frontline. This is a quality look and it leads to an easy bucket for Charlotte.

[RELATED: Brooks says Wizards are at best when they commit on defense]

Contrast what you've seen in those examples to the Wizards in the second half agaisnt the Hornets, who went from 60.5% shooting to 42.5%. This is how they did it:

Better transition defense

Gortat doesn't bail out Kemba Walker by overextending himself to stop this open-floor drive. He stays vertical and forces the small guard to try to finish over him and gets the block. Most importantly, he's back and in position to do so rather than trailing the play. Four Wizards are back vs. three and it leads to Beal getting a transition dunk the other way.

Aggressive rebounding

After roaming to help ball contaiment, Gortat gets back to find his man (Cody Zeller), puts his body on him and boxes him out to rebound in traffic.

Aggressive coverage on the dribble pitch/curls

Gortat jumps out on Batum after he takes this handoff and challenges that three.When a good three-point shooter gets the ball in this position, the close out must be aggressive because the player making the pitch/handoff essentially is a screener. And then he picks up Batum again off the handoff and the ball pressure forces a bad pass turnover. Beal gets the steal and the dunk but Gortat created it. 

Marco Belinelli is a very good shooter. Kelly Oubre is trailing over the screen but Ian Mahinmi shows and gets the quick strip to get Brandon Jennings a layup in transition. The key is to be aggressive in the decision-making. Frank Kaminsky is Mahinmi's man and is spotting up in the corner off his help. He can shoot. The ball had to be trapped to prevent the reversal or Oubre had to fan back to cover for Mahinmi. The strip made that a moot point. 

The issues for the Wizards are fixable. It's not talent. It's patience, communication and discipline. The typical claims made on their behalf -- fatigue and rest -- are just excuses.

The more disciplined they play, the less energy they'll expend trying to recover on plays or trying to come back from double-digit deficits.  

[RELATED: Wizards' Smith proves to be among best values in free agency]

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NBA offseason grades: LeBron James leaving changes everything in Central Division

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USA Today Sports Images

NBA offseason grades: LeBron James leaving changes everything in Central Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Central Division...

Cleveland Cavaliers, C

2017-18 finish: 50-32, lost in NBA Finals
In: G Collin Sexton, F Channing Frye, F Sam Dekker
Out: F LeBron James, F Jeff Green, G Jose Calderon

Technically, the Cavaliers had the worst offseason of any team in the NBA simply because they lost James in free agency, but overall they did quite nicely for themselves as they prepare to enter a new era as a franchise. Sexton seems like a solid first round pick and gives them a nice young piece to build around. They also signed All-Star Kevin Love to a contract extension. Cleveland should have enough to remain competitive, at least for the back-end of the playoffs, but they need to clear some salary to justify the step back they are about to take.

Indiana Pacers, B+

2017-18 finish: 48-34, 1st round of playoffs
In: G Tyreke Evans, G Aaron Holiday, F Doug McDermott, F Kyle O'Quinn
Out: G Lance Stephenson, F Glenn Robinson III, F Trevor Booker

There was nothing flashy about the Pacers' offseason, but they did a good job adding talent and depth. Evans on a one-year, $12 million deal is almost certain to work out well for them. McDermott should add shooting and O'Quinn is an underrated big man. And Holiday, their first round pick, is an intriguing young guard who could help on both ends of the floor. Indiana may not have enough to join the top teams in the conference, but they should be set up to recreate the success they had last year.

Milwaukee Bucks, B

2017-18 finish: 44-38, 1st round of playoffs
In: C Brook Lopez, F Ersan Ilyasova, G Pat Connaughton, G Donte DiVincenzo
Out: F Jabari Parker, G Jason Terry

The Bucks didn't have a whole lot to play with in terms of money in free agency or trade assets, and they let Parker go, so it wasn't a great summer for Milwaukee. They did, however make some smart moves in acquiring Lopez and Ilyasova for reasonable prices. The reason they got a 'B' has a lot to do with their decision to hire Mike Budenholzer as head coach. Beyond young guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo getting better, Budenholzer offers the Bucks their best chance to improve year-over-year.

Detroit Pistons, C+

2017-18 finish: 39-43, missed playoffs
In: G Kyhri Thomas, C Zaza Pachulia, F Glenn Robinson III, G Jose Calderon
Out: F Anthony Tolliver, F James Ennis III

It was another low-key offseason for the Pistons, who didn't have much money to spend in free agency and didn't make any major trades. Their biggest acquisition was through the draft with Thomas, a guy who offers intrigue on both ends of the floor. They get a decent grade, however, because of the move to hire Dwane Casey as head coach. If it weren't for that, their grade would be very low.

Chicago Bulls, B+

2017-18 finish: 27-55, missed playoffs
In: F Jabari Parker, F Wendell Carter, Jr., F Chandler Hutchison
Out: F Noah Vonleh

The Bulls had arguably one of the better offseasons in the East. They got Parker on a bargain and brought in two nice young players as first round picks in Carter and Hutchison. Carter was particularly impressive in the Summer League and could form a nice combination with Lauri Markkanen, who looks like a future All-Star. The Bulls might be one draft away from having the necessary pieces to start ascending into the next stage of their rebuild. They just keep chugging along with smart moves.

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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