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Film study: Wizards' stretch 4 headaches solved with Markieff Morris

Film study: Wizards' stretch 4 headaches solved with Markieff Morris

It's difficult to toot anyone's horn when the record is 3-8, but the presence of Markieff Morris as the Wizards' starting power forward is paying dividends above and beyond his $8 million a year average salary. In Thursday's victory over the New York Knicks, he took away Kristaps Porzingis similar to how he made it incredibly difficult for Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka.

These names are all relevant because matchup-wise, those players have given the Wizards fits because of their inability in recent years -- before Morris was acquired in a trade in February for a mid-first-round pick in a shallow 2016 draft pool -- to defend stretch fours. Porzingis, Millsap and Ibaka were too quick for the likes of Kris Humphries, Nene, a traditional back-to-the-basket power forward, and too big for Jared Dudley who was a career small forward unfairly tasked with getting posted up by more athletic bigs.

This is no longer an issue and there's ample evidence to show it with Morris. He only had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting in a 119-112 over New York to go with eight rebounds. But it also shows why reading boxscores to determine effectiveness, or plus-minus ratings, is hardly the most accurate gauge. With Morris on the floor, the Wizards were plus-5, the lowest of any starter.

Sometimes his rebounding numbers will be lower because he's out on the arc defending stretch shooters like Porzingis, taking Morris out of prime defensive rebounding position. 

After scoring 35 points the previous night, Porzingis only had eight points through three quarters in Washington as his team trailed by 22. The focus here will be on the first half when Morris only had two points, and what role he played in helping them get out to a double-digit lead:

First quarter

-- 10:22-10:12: Porzingis slides along the baseline to the weakside for an isolation post up just outside the paint, the same kind of play the Knicks run for Carmelo Anthony and the Chicago Bulls for Dwyane Wade. Morris is on top of him with resistance immediately, not allowing Porzingis deeper position. Porzingis starts his move out farther from the rim than when he started as Morris stays square, doesn't bail him out with a cheap reach-in and doesn't allow him to get to his right shoulder to the middle of the paint. Forced to run baseline for a lower percentage look, Porzingis rises and lofts an airball for a shot clock violation and Morris still contests without fouling. This is picture perfect position defense that's every bit as good as a blocked shot. In fact, it's even better because you're guaranteed possession.

-- 6:22-6:09: Long before Anthony's entry pass to Porzingis in this isolation, Morris fights him out of his position pre-catch. Porzingis does not catch this one in the mid-post area with his momentum going into the paint. He catches 1-2 feet beyond that and is angled towards the baseline. When he tries to go into Morris with his right shoulder, he doesn't have the leverage and is quickly stripped by Morris who anticipates his dribble. It leads to a layup for Bradley Beal. 

-- 5:16-5:07: This has nothing to do with Porzingis. Courtney Lee heaves a three-pointer that misses. The only player for the Knicks near the ball is Willy Hernangomez, but Morris is in a switch and finds his man's body and keeps him from having a shot at the board. Morris doesn't even go for the rebound himself but he makes sure his teammate gets it cleanly. This is why rebounding isn't necessarily about your personal numbers but helping your team rebound better with you on the floor. That's the number that matters most. 

Second quarter

-- 1:57-1:41: To get Porzingis some room, the Knicks use sceen-roll with Derrick Rose. Porzingis, however, slips to the basket which forces a rotation. Jason Smith comes over to seal him from the rim as Morris recovers. Notice Morris' right arm extended to make Rose have to go over the top with the pass and drop it in. Morris jumps with his hands straight up. That forces the pass to arrive a half-second later than if he would've just given up on the play completely. Morris switches with Smith on Porzingis and then stunts towards him to create a mishandle as Porzingis has to retreat to get under control. Morris goes to find the open man after his stunt to get in position for a possible rebound. But Smith doesn't give the same resistance to Porzingis as Morris. Why? If Smith gets too close and physical with Porzingis, he'll get beaten off the dribble. Porzingis gets the separation and a clean look for the made shot. With Morris, that's a more difficult finish because he'd get neither.

-- 0:31-0:24: This is Morris creating a shot that could not be finished by any recent power forward on the roster. Porzingis is a very athletic and long big, but Morris is still quicker. He attacks the close out and when Morris first touches the paint with his foot the corner has been turned on Porzingis. Usually his wingspan is enough to help him recover to alter the shot.

And for extra emphasis, these are some looks on Morris' defense from earlier in the season in which he proved to be a differnce-maker as a stretch four defensively (in the paint and on the perimeter):

A year ago, Kyle Korver gets a cleaner look to send this game into overtime from three. But Morris is big, long and mobile enough to alter the shot. Imagine Dudley, Humphries or Nene trying to do this. Instead, the Wizards pulled out their first win  95-92 vs. Atlanta:

Ibaka roasted the Wizards last season, before Morris' arrival. This is an attempted post-up that turns into a contested, low-percentage chuck at the basket because Morris again is strong enough to fight him off his preferred spot and stay balanced and in position with his feet to contest. Ibaka set a career-high for made threes against the Wizards when they put a true big like Nene or Humphries on him. If it were Dudley, this is a clean and easy post-up look:

The versatility Morris has offensively is on display in this clip vs. the Magic. Name a player at the four spot pre-Morris who could do this on the offensive side of the ball? He doesn't make the basket here but he blows by Jeff Green on the close out to draw the foul for two free throws:

From the earlier look at Ibaka, this is his teammate Nikola Vucevic, who is bigger and stronger and getting the ball in a similar position. He's attempting a duck-in to the lane but Morris keeps him from turning to his preferred shoulder. The result is the same missed shot as Ibaka with a contest at the point of release:

Back to the offensive side, put an undersized four on Morris to defend him away from the rim like Green, he can still do this off the dribble and get to the rim for the finish. He's too big for smallish fours and has a lot of their finesse game to match to create separation/in-traffic finishes like this:

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards battle Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, D'Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Wizards are on a roll

Say what you will about the opponents they've beaten, but the Wizards are heating up. They have won three straight games with their last one a blowout over the Cavs. This is their longest win streak of the season.

Four in a row would be a nice number. The Wizards only had two win streaks of at least four games last season. One stopped at four and the longest ended at five. 

Nets have their number

Speaking of last season, the Wizards had a heck of a time facing this same Brooklyn team. They lost two of their three meetings in 2017-18 with the lone win coming in overtime. One of their losses was by 35 points.

The Nets, though they haven't won 30 games in each of the past three seasons, are now pushovers. They are well-coached by Kenny Atkinson and are known for trying very hard despite their lack of talent. The Wizards generally have problems with those types of teams. Winning this game could help them prove this is a new year.

Nets have some players now

Brooklyn has been ridiculed in recent years as the Boston Celtics have reaped the benefits of their high draft picks stemming from the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. But along the way, the Nets have done a decent job of finding young talent without hitting the lottery.

Caris LeVert was probably the best example of that, though he is now nursing a serious ankle injury and will miss this game. But Brooklyn also has guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who this year is averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three. They also have Joe Harris, who is putting up 13.4 points on a ridiculous 52.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from three. 

Then there's Jarrett Allen, who was acquired using a first round pick the Wizards sent Brooklyn in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal. At just 20 years old, he's turning into a nice young player. This year he's averaging 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

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USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."

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