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Film study: Wizards find success by having Marcin Gortat extend defense beyond low post

Film study: Wizards find success by having Marcin Gortat extend defense beyond low post

The defense of Marcin Gortat has been a bright spot in the last three games even though the Wizards are 1-2. Forget that he had a season-best 21 points and18 rebounds in a loss to San Antonio. It's Gortat's position defense one-on-one that has stood out along with his help rotations.

"The last three games," said Wizards coach Scott Brooks, alluding to vs. the Sacramento Kings, Oklahoma City Thunder and Spurs, "that's the best I've seen him."

It's not about how much the person Gortat guarding scores, or any player for that matter. It's about how difficult he makes it and doubling his efforts to protect the rim. That doesn't mean shot blocks. It means making the opponent finish over his size (6-11) and fighting them for position on the low block to prevent clean looks. 

How has Brooks gotten through in ways that others haven't with the Polish center? DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points for the Kings, but it took 34 shots in that victory for Washington. Steven Adams of the Thunder was neutralized. He even stepped away from the rim to match up with LaMarcus Aldridge, a forward who is too big for Markieff Morris, in Friday's loss in San Antonio. 

"I keep talking about it. That's important. It's simple," Brooks said of Gortat's play on defense. "He's helped us put us in position to win. He did a great job on Cousins. On the road against two very good teams in tough buildings, he gave us a chance to win both of those games with the way he was defending. Even against LaMarcus, he did a great job guarding him. (Pau) Gasol hit those two threes but those weren't his fault."

Gortat, who has come under fire for several years for his role in the defensive breakdowns in the interior, explained his improvement. 

"It's not like we're playing suddenly a different defense than any other team in the NBA. We are playing the same defense. It's about committment, it's about basketball knowledge and basketball IQ. Stay solid. Don't foul. Put a guy in a stuation when he's going ot shoot a difficult shot or I'm in a situation where I have to hit him hard," Gortat said after Sunday's practice. "Make sure next time he's not going to come into the paint. He's not going to do certain moves against me. I'm not doing anything specific. I think we're all playing hard. It's about being dedicated and have the passion to play defense. It's a commitment. It's a hard-ass thing to do. It's easy to go on the other side, set a screen and shoot the ball. It's easy to play offense. Playing defense is the hard part." 

Showing that he can actually defend away from the basket without help at times, Gortat gives the Wizards options with his 11.8 points on 58.1% shooting and 12.1 rebounds. The "without help" part is significant because it allows teammates to focus on defending their man without having to pull double duty as often. It can make the Wizards a better team though the results so far have produced a 6-12 record.

"I'm not really surprised," Gortat said when asked about how he has played on defense recently. "Looking at the game against Sacramento, Cousins was going out to destroy me. He made so many shots, so many drives and I missed so many easy blocks on him. It's not like he beat me, I lay down on the court and I was just crying and he was laying it in going to the basket. I was right there missing the block. I would say it's just commitment. Staying in the right place. Knowing tendencies of the guy you're guarding. I dont think I'm great. I dont think I'm terrible. I'll say I'm definitely above average. I take a lot of pride in what I do and I'll try to do better."

A quick look at Gortat's work in the the last three games:

Brooks surprisingly left Gortat on Cousins, opting to go with his size and strength over Morris who was too small to defend him. Cousins made shots like this over Gortat, but what's important is he had to work for most of them and he danced with the ball so frequently for long periods of the shot clock it took away shot opportunities for others. Despite the make, Gortat defended well in space without help most of the night and kept his man in front of him. He played more as a stretch forward than a center which was totally out of his comfort zone.

Note how he battles the Thunder's big man pre-catch. Where Adams wants the ball to post up is a much different spot than where he actually catches it. Gortat harrasses Adams every step of the way and holds his ground without reaching for a cheap foul.

Andre Roberson empties the space on the strongside so Adams can have room to go one-on-one. Adams, however, can't get to his spot because he meets too much resistance from Gortat and leaves it short. 

The position defense by Gortat here, coupled with his physical strength and not biting his fakes, forces Adams into a traveling call. This basket is negated.

Aldridge feasts on teams with this post-up, fadeaway. Gortat defends it better than Markieff Morris, who had trouble with his size and allowed some easy duck-ins to the basket, and was able to contest the lower-percentage shot that misses against the Spurs. 

Brooks took a risk by leaving Gortat exposed on Cousins, but that experience appears to have given both confidence. The assignments won't get much tougher than that on the perimeter. 

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What the Wizards hope to clean up in their final two games of the season

What the Wizards hope to clean up in their final two games of the season

Individual progress and development has taken a front seat over wins and losses for the Wizards in Orlando, as Washington remains winless in the NBA's restart, now at 0-6 and 0-9 overall, if you include the exhibition schedule. So, as they ponder their final two games of the season - against the Celtics and Bucks - what would more would the coaching staff like to see?

Head coach Scott Brooks has been trying to drill in some lessons to his young players and he wants to see some strides in key areas. He held a lengthy film session on Saturday, but did not get what he was hoping for in Sunday's loss to Oklahoma City.

"They’re all teachable moments," Brooks said. "We can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. I said [at halftime] ‘either you’re not understanding it or I’m not doing a good job of explaining it.’"

As for specifics, Brooks said he wants his team to do a better job of stopping the ball on defense. Opponents are getting into the lane off the dribble far too easily and it is dismantling their defensive gameplan.

He also wants his team to execute better with outside shots. The Wizards are 21st out of the 22 teams in Orlando in three-pointers made (9.0/g), attempts (27.8/g) and percentage (32.3%). Not having Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal has done them no favors in those categories.

RELATED: WIZARDS FALL TO 0-6 IN BUBBLE

And perhaps most noticeable to Brooks has been the team's tendency to be pushed around physically. 

"You’ve gotta make a stand," Brooks said. "I thought [the Thunder's] physicality in the start of the game bothered us and it put us back on our heels. We played timid."

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Brooks highlighted rookie Rui Hachimura as a player who could put up more of a fight. On Sunday, Hachimura matched up at times with Chris Paul, who did a good job preventing him from reaching his favorite spots on the floor.

"You have to catch it deeper and go right through the guy’s chest. He’s going to learn that," Brooks said. "He’s still learning the league and the defenses that are going to be thrown at him."

Ish Smith is the most experienced player in the Wizards' rotation with 10 years of NBA service. He thinks the Wizards collectively are allowing other teams to be the aggressors. He says they need to cut harder on offense and be more assertive initiating contact on defense.

But overall, he thinks the young players on the team are learning that games with higher stakes are played differently.

"It’s such a good time for us because everybody that’s here is trying to get to the playoffs. So, they’re playing at a high, high level," he said. 

"Sometimes, no offense to the regular season and all 82 games, but some games you catch a team on a back-to-back or with injuries and different things. This is a good thing for all of us, to show us the level that you have to play at. The physicality that you have to play with, the level that you have to play at not just to make it to the playoffs but to be a champion."

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5 takeaways from Wizards' loss to Thunder, as they fall to 0-6 in restart

5 takeaways from Wizards' loss to Thunder, as they fall to 0-6 in restart

The Washington Wizards lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-103 on Sunday afternoon in Orlando. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

The losing continues

Disney World is said to be the place 'Where Dreams Come True,' but after nine total games in the restart the Wizards are still dreaming of their first win.

Okay, that was corny. But there are only so many ways to say the same thing over and over. The Wizards are getting what they wanted in terms of player development but have done nothing to dispute the fact they were the worst team in the standings invited to Orlando.

On Sunday against the Thunder, they never once looked like a team capable of the upset. They went down 10-0 early and never recovered, ultimately losing by 18 points.

The more the Wizards lose, the stranger things could get in the standings. They now have to win their final two games to avoid the bizarre situation of having a worse record, but also worse lottery odds, than the Charlotte Hornets. And if they lose their final two, they will also pass the Chicago Bulls in that regard.

We are close to being ensured of total draft lottery chaos. It seems obvious one of the three teams is going to get really unlucky thanks to the NBA's lottery rule change.

No offense

The Wizards were predicted by many to have some trouble offensively in the bubble without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans and their combined 45.9 points per game. That has gone according to expectations, as their scoring has dropped off a cliff through six games now.

The Wizards entered Sunday's game with a 102.7 offensive rating, which is third-worst among the 22 teams in Orlando and nearly eight points below their season average (110.5). And they struggled yet again, only scoring 103 points against the Thunder. They had only 48 points at halftime.

The Wizards shot just 41.3 percent from the field. They went 9-for-36 (25%) from three in what was just a dreadful day from the perimeter.

It didn't help their cause that Shabazz Napier was out with an ankle injury. He is one of the most gifted scorers and best shooters remaining on the roster. 

It might be tough for the Wizards to reverse this trend before they head home. Their two remaining opponents -- the Celtics and Bucks -- each rank top-four in defensive rating.

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Bonga played well

The biggest bright spot for the Wizards in this game was arguably Isaac Bonga, who came through with a solid game of 14 points and eight rebounds. He had some rough moments defensively guarding some really good players like Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari, but overall he played well and showed flashes of what he could provide the Wizards next season if he sticks around.

Bonga is in an interesting category of the Wizards' roster where it is difficult to project whether he will be a part of the rotation next season, without knowing the makeup of their roster. Other young guys like Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. are pretty much certain to play key roles, barring something unforeseen. But Bonga is right on the line because he plays a position the Wizards could stand to upgrade in the offseason.

RELATED: HABERSTROH BELIEVES HACHIMURA SHOULD BE NBA ALL-ROOKIE FIRST TEAM

There is value in what he does due to his versatility and length. But the Wizards may also be able to find someone who gives them more at the three-spot. His best role next season is probably as a glue guy for the second unit.

Though his numbers were boosted by garbage time, Jerome Robinson also had himself a day in what was a bounceback performance. He had 19 points and shot 4-for-9 from three.

A model for Schofield

There is no getting around the fact that Admiral Schofield has not had the best showing in the restart. He lost a bunch of weight and came into camp by all accounts in great shape, but it just hasn't translated to the floor.

Schofield continues to look like a player who doesn't have a defined role or a good idea of what his niche will ultimately be. But that's okay, he is still a rookie and was a second round pick. Overnight success was never expected for him.

The role that could lead to long-term success for Schofield may have been on display in this game with Thunder wing Luguentz Dort. He went undrafted last summer, but has quickly become a reliable piece for OKC as a physical defensive disruptor. He is built a bit like Schofield, just a few inches shorter. And he uses his strength and quickness to wreak havoc on players of all positions.

Schofield could bring some of the same attributes to the table, but in watching the two play you can see a big difference in their approach. Dort is relentlessly aggressive, initiating contact all over the place, likely knowing that no one can match his strength. Schofield has that type of force, he just hasn't found a way to use it yet. 

Napier should be careful

Napier's injury was just the latest negative development for him in what has not been a great stay at Disney World. In five games, he's averaging just 10.2 points on 41.9 percent shooting. It is a small sample size, but he just hasn't taken off as one of the team's primary scorers as it seemed he likely would.

Now that he's injured, it would make sense if Napier plays things very safely in the final two games. He is set to hit free agency at the end of the season and, with less money set to go around due to the coronavirus' effect on league finances, he can't afford to hurt his stock any further. He definitely can't risk a serious injury.

The other side of that coin would be that maybe Napier sees an opportunity to finish strong. If he doesn't do that, it will be fair to wonder if he should have opted out of the restart like Bertans did.

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