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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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Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Just a few weeks ago, the Masai Ujiri-to-D.C. movement was gaining steam quickly. Just moments after Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors began celebrating their NBA Championship, reports began to swirl that the Wizards were prepared to aggressively pursue the GM.

Sources told NBC Sports Washington that there could be the possibility of a sort of mega-deal that went beyond just giving him control of the Wizards. But Wizards owner Ted  Leonsis denied earlier this month that the team had reached out, saying that "we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process."

And on Tuesday, Uriji seemed to make it official that he will stay in Toronto.

"I love it here, my family loves it here. My wife loves it here, which is very important. My kids are Canadians. You want to win more, for me," Ujiri said on Tuesday during his end-of-season press conference.

"Yeah, I can continue to address teams wanting me and all those things. That's a blessing in life," Ujiri said. "For me the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy, and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person. This place has made me grow as a person."

"I identify with this place and I love it. So in my mind, I'm here."

On paper, Ujiri and the Wizards looked to be a good match. Washington could offer him money and control, while also allowing him to work with his "Basketball without Borders" program in D.C.

As NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh explained recently, the Raptors late-season championship run could have messed up the timing and situation that could have lured Ujiri to a new team.

The Wizards made it through the NBA Draft without a new GM, but as July and free agency approach, the search may continue to ramp up.

The answer is still out there, it just may not be Masai Ujiri anymore.

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Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

The Wizards added two pieces during the 2019 NBA Draft that franchise expects to be vital pieces of their future in Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura at No. 9 and Tennessee's Admiral Schofield at No. 42

Before Monday night's 2018-19 NBA Awards ceremony, NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller caught up with the two faces of the franchise, Bradley Beal and John Wall, to see what they thought of the new additions to the squad.

Beal had high praise for Hachimura.

"I didn't know much," Beal said on what he knew about the Gonzaga product prior to the draft. "But from what I've seen watching the draft and things I've seen pre-draft and things like that, he's a monster."

The praise did not stop there. 

"He plays hard, extremely hard," Beal said. "Hopefully, he can have an impact right away." 

While an immediate impact would be beneficial for a Wizards team that could use Hachimura's scoring (he averaged 19.7 points per game at Gonzaga), Beal understands that Hachimura is still a very raw player. After all, he's only been playing basketball for eight years.

"But at the same time, we want him to grow," Beal said on Hachimura. "We know he hasn't been playing too long. But that's something we can build off of and mold him into the player we need him to be. He has tremendous upside, and I'm excited to get going. Hopefully, come September, October he's ready to go."

While Beal may not have known too much about Hachimura, he had followed the other Wizards draft pick, Admiral Schofield, for quite some time. 

"I love his game; I loved him in college," Beal said on Schofield. 

Beal joked about Schofield's body type, wondering whether basketball is the sport the Wizards second-round pick should be playing.

"He's got a football body. He's built like a tight end, wide receiver," Beal said. "I'm definitely happy that we have him, a fellow SEC guy. Him and [Jordan] McRae are going to hit it off. He can shoot, he's athletic, so I'm definitely excited to have him as well."

While Wall did not go into as much detail as Beal about the Wizards draft class, he was just as excited about the two new additions.

"I think it's good," Wall said. "We added some pieces [in the draft], [we'll] see what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

According to head coach Scott Brooks, both Beal and Wall can identify talent very well

"The thing I love about John and Brad: they love the game," Brooks said last week. "You can call them up, there could be high school players, WNBA players, it could be college players, it could be European players, they know them."

"It's like, 'don't you guys have a life?'" Brooks joked.

Wall spent most of his time with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller discussing his Achilles rehab, where he revealed he is going to begin jogging soon. That's a good sign for the Wizards, even though Wall s expected to miss the majority of the 2019-2020 season.

In Hachimura and Schofield, the Wizards got two pieces that are not expected to contribute right away, but also potentially have the ability to do so. Earning high praise from the two most important players on the Wizards' roster is a good start for both of the Wizards 2019 NBA Draft selections. 

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