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Film study: Why are Trey Burke, Jason Smith playing better for Wizards?

Film study: Why are Trey Burke, Jason Smith playing better for Wizards?

The improved play of the Wizards can be directly traced to the output they're now getting from a second unit that had been at best invisible all season. Kelly Oubre's value already has been accounted for, though he hasn't played well since a Dec. 16 concussion. 

The backup point guard, Trey Burke, has become more aggressive offensively and is looking to shoot more and Jason Smith is knocking down his open looks on screen-and-rolls and benefitting from defenses leaving him uncovered. 

But this is about much more than making or missing shots. Players go through hot streaks all the time. Coach Scott Brooks has used them in different ways and with different combinations to get better results. 

So let's compare what Burke and Smith looked like earlier in the season (discombobulated) to what they're looking like in December, when the Wizards went 10-5 to get to 16-16 entering 2017:

 

Early in the season, Burke was watching Oubre run screen-and-roll with Markieff Morris. Having him stand on the weakside waiting for a pass from Oubre whose strength isn't creating for others off the dribble isn't going to work for anyone. 

Running a screen-roll with Andrew Nicholson makes this easy to defend. The defense isn't going to worry about Nicholson rolling and finishing at the rim. It forces Burke into a difficult spot and he makes an impossible pass at Morris' ankles for a turnover.  And the spacing isn't good, either.

Smith doesn't seem really involved in this screen-roll with Burke. They force the switch but Burke doesn't attack Bismack Biyombo. Smith doesn't roll to the rim (not his strength) and doesn't spot up as if he's expecting the pass for an open shot. He's just lost in space and he's completely out of position to hit the offensive glass. Burke steps back and takes a low-percentage look rather than making Biyombo, who is really good at defending small players, actually defend him.

How much different does the Burke-Smith screen-roll action look here when they run it crisp and with confidence? And Smith finding the soft spot in the coverage looking to shoot.

Now let's look at how they're being used diffreently now. The most obvious observation is the personnel grouping, using John Wall and the likes of Otto Porter and running Burke of screens with Marrcin Gortat. Less floor time with Marcus Thornton who shoots first:

Porter is being used as the screener as he sets multiple ones on the strong side for Marcus Thornton. It's a good action because he's the best offensive player on the floor with the second unit and will draw the help and attention as the Nets anticipate he's going to get the shot somehow. When Porter cuts, it forces Justin Hamilton to hesitate just a bit while his man, Smith, shifts to get the pass or an open 18-footer. 

Smith dribble pitches to Burke and does with his screen what bigs such as Cody Zeller and Al Horford tend to do which is behind over to get an additional bump on the trailer (Spencer Dinwiddie) to make recovery impossible. By the letter of the rule, that's an illegal screen but Wizards' players have been victimized by it repeeatedly and it goes uncalled. 

Burke goes off the ball and gets it back as he runs a two-man game with Smith, gets the switch with Brook Lopez defending him. Burke uses a hesitation move, gets to the baseline and then uses the rim to get separation for the reverse. This is how Burke plays best. 

Burke can spot up in transition while Wall pushes, draws the defense which is always going to load up on him, to get space for a corner three. 

A simple screen-and-roll option with Gortat gets Burke a favorable swtich. He has to be decisive in how to attack and drives hard at Lopez's feet to create separation and is able to pull up and get off the shot before the contest.

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Middleton outduels Beal as Bucks bury Wizards

Middleton outduels Beal as Bucks bury Wizards

The Washington Wizards lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 151-131 on the road on Tuesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. The Milwaukee Bucks may appear from afar like a one-man show; Giannis Antetokounmpo and a supporting cast of good, but nowhere near great players. On Tuesday night, the Wizards got to see the Bucks without their MVP, as he sat with a shoulder injury. Turns out they are still very, very good.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points and won by 20 as they demolished the Wizards for much of the night with the exception of some isolated second-half runs.The Wizards would end up cutting the lead to seven midway through the third quarter, but overall they were no match for the league's best team.

The Wizards fell to 15-31 on the season, while the Bucks improved to 41-6. That puts them on pace for 72 wins, which would tie the 1995-96 Bulls for the second-best regular season record of all-time.

2. We know the Wizards aren't a good defensive team. In fact, they might be the worst defense in today's game and are arguably one of the worst in league history.

But it was still shocking to see what the Bucks did to them in the first half of this game. Milwaukee made history in several ways by scoring 88 points by the break.

Those 88 points were the most ever allowed by a Wizards/Bullets team in any half. They were the seventh-most scored in a first half in NBA history. And they were the 20th-most scored by any team in any half.

The Bucks actually broke their own record against the Wizards. Last February, they scored 85 points in the first half against Washington, which at the time was the most ever scored against the franchise in a first half. At least that time they had Antetokounmpo.

This, by the way, was the sixth time this season the Wizards have allowed 140 points or more. That is the most 140-point games allowed by a team in a single season since the 1990-91 Nuggets. 

That Denver team had 24 such games, so well ahead of the Wizards' pace. But this is only Game 46 of 82 for Washington, so don't sell them short.

3. The reason why the Bucks were able do that without Antetokounmpo was because their second- and third-best players, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, stepped up and played like All-Stars. Middleton may very well be in the annual showcase next month.

Middleton had a career-high 51 points, 28 of which came in the first half. He went 7-for-10 from three.

Bledsoe added 32 points, including 22 in the first half. He was 11-for-20 from the field. He also had 10 assists and six rebounds, as he bullied the Wizards - even their big men - on the boards.

4. The Wizards were able to stick around and make it interesting because Bradley Beal also put in an All-Star performance. He dropped a season-high 47 points with six assists in 38 minutes.

It was Beal's sixth 40-point game of the season. Only James Harden (16) and Trae Young (8) have more. Beal now has 18 career 40-point games, third in franchise history behind Gilbert Arenas (28) and Walt Bellamy (23). 

5. It wasn't of the Antetokounmpo caliber, but there was a pregame injury update for the Wizards that is worth noting. Backup guard Jordan McRae wasn't able to go due to a sprained right ankle.

McRae rolled his ankle on Sunday against the Hawks and it is apparently more serious than his previous ankle injury, the one to his left ankle, that he suffered on Jan. 17 against the Raptors. That one appeared to be very severe at the time, yet he was able to play in their next game.

It is unclear how long McRae will be out, but the Wizards are expected to get rookie Rui Hachimura back, perhaps within the next week.

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Wizards fail to contain Khris Middleton and fall to league-leading Bucks by 20

Wizards fail to contain Khris Middleton and fall to league-leading Bucks by 20

The Bucks didn't have Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it didn't really matter in the end as the Bucks downed the Wizards 151-131 Tuesday night in Milwaukee. 

The Wizards trailed by as many as 32 in this one, and were down 25 at the half, but as we've learned with this team, they never truly go away. And they always give us a few moments worth watching again. 

Here are some of the best moments from Washington's loss at Fiserv Forum. 

Kobe Bryant tribute

Tuesday was the Bucks' first game since Kobe Bryant passed away Sunday in a helicopter crash so after they won the tip, they took a 24-second violation to honor the late NBA legend.

The Wizards already participated in a similar tribute against the Hawks but took an eight-second violation on the following play regardless. 

The entire sports world was gutted by Bryant's tragic death, and as we continue to see tributes dedicated to him every day, it shows just how far his reach was as a global icon. 

Beal posterizes Lopez

As we stated before, the Wizards were down by as many as 32 points and faced a 25-point halftime deficit. They were able to get things close at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, and much of the credit should go to Beal's loud poster dunk over Brook Lopez. 

Beal was so pumped up after this slam that he got a technical foul for taunting Lopez after the play. Beal secured a career-high sixth 40-point game of the year and went shot-for-shot with Khris Middleton throughout the second half. 

Middleton just couldn't miss. At all. 

Thomas Bryant draws the Wizards close

There was a time that the Wizards nearly clawed their way into a one-possession game with the NBA's best team. Thanks to Beal's heroics of course, but also Thomas Bryant's finishing inside. 

Bryant had a double-double in the game in what was his best game since coming back from injury. 

Interestingly enough, he played his best at the center spot and not power forward. Scott Brooks has been starting Bryant next to Ian Mahinmi and it's resulted in clunky offense and embarrassingly bad defense for the Wizards. 

After this game, Brooks may want to think about changing up the starting five. 

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