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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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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Aaron Holiday

School: UCLA
Position: Point guard
Age: 21 (turns 22 in Sept.)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 187
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 33

2017/18 stats: 20.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT% (2.7 3PT/6.2 3PA), 82.8 FT%
Player comparison: Darren Collison
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 19th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report 23rd, Sports Illustrated 23rd

5 things to know:

*Holiday played big minutes in all three seasons for the Bruins. As a junior, he broke out as an elite scorer, averaging 20.3 points while also dishing 5.8 assists per game. Holiday scored in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he averaged 5.8 attempts per game and knocked them down at 82.8 percent.

*He is a terrific three-point shooter, one of the best in this draft class based on his college numbers. He hit 42.9 percent of his shots and on 6.2 attempts per game. Holiday shot 42.2 percent from long range in his three-year college career and never shot below 41 percent in a season. He had some games where teams just couldn't stop him from long range. He made four threes or more in 13 college games. Twice he went 5-for-5 and he once made six threes against USC.

*Though he has the skillset to play off the ball as a shooting guard, his size will limit him at the NBA level. Holiday is just under 6-foot-1 in shoes and doesn't have the vertical leap to make up for it. He does, however, have a plus wingspan. At this point, Holiday seems to be solely a point guard, though as long as he's good at the position there is nothing wrong with that.

*Holiday worked out for the Wizards at Capital One Arena. He was part of their first week of predraft workouts and by all accounts had an impressive visit. He hit a lot of shots and fared well in the interview process.

*Holiday has two brothers currently in the NBA. Jrue is a former All-Star who starts at point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Justin is a shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. His sister-in-law, Lauren, is a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards already have a point guard in John Wall, so Holiday would have no long-term path to starting. That said, he would shore up a need the Wizards have been trying to address for years.

Backup point guard has been a real void for the Wizards for most of Wall's tenure. This past season they tried out all sorts of options between Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. Though Satoransky remains on the roster, the Wizards don't appear content with their depth at the position.

Holiday's ability to hit threes is very attractive to the Wizards who could conceivably play him off-the-ball alongside Wall, or even Satoransky. Given Wall (6-4) and Satoransky (6-7) are taller than most point guards, they could theoretically guard shooting guards on the other end.

Holiday would add smarts and shooting to the Wizards' bench in the short-term. In the long-term, he could help lengthen Wall's career by taking some of his workload away and also give the Wizards more options once Wall enters his 30s.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Moritz Wagner

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Moritz Wagner

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Moritz Wagner

School: Michigan
Position: Power forward/center
Age: 21
Height: 7-0
Weight: 241
Wingspan: 7-0
Max vertical: 34

2017/18 stats: 14.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 52.8 FG%, 39.4 3PT% (1.6 3PT/4.1 3PA), 69.4 FT%
Player comparison: Mehmet Okur
Projections: NBADraft.net 33rd, Bleacher Report 29th, Sports Illustrated 40th

5 things to know:

*Wagner is one of the best shooting big men in this class. He measured in at just about 7-feet at the NBA Combine, yet he shot nearly 40 percent from three this past year in college on 4.1 attempts per game. He projects to be a stretch-4 or stretch-5 at the next level and those guys are increasingly valuable in today's NBA.

*He had a decorated college career at Michigan as the best player on the 2017-18 team that reached the NCAA Tournament final game. They lost to Villanova, but Wagner was a driving force of one of the best years in school history. He averaged 15.0 points per game while shooting 38.5 percent from three in their six tournament games. That earned him All-Tournament honors.

*Wagner is a capable rebounder, though not a dominant force on the glass. He averaged 7.1 boards as a junior and 4.2 as a sophomore, his first year with extended minutes for the Wolverines. It doesn't seem like Wagner will be an elite rebounder at the next level, at least early on. He has the size and mobility to get boards, but will need to develop other skills to average double-digit rebounds.

*His weaknesses would include rim protection, free throw shooting and passing. Despite his size, Wagner only averaged a half-block per game this season. Though he can knock down threes, he only made 69.4 percent of his free throws. And despite being a big part of Michigan's offense, he averaged less than one assist per game. Assists aren't a major category for big men, but that is remarkably low. Marcin Gortat, for instance, averaged 1.8 assists per game in the 2017-18 season. Big men can make a significant impact with their passing if they commit to the craft and Wagner isn't exactly Nikola Jokic when it comes to setting up his teammates.

*Wagner is originally from Berlin, Germany and idolized Dirk Nowitzki growing up. It's easy to see in watching Wagner play how he has modeled parts of his game after the Mavs legend. They are of similar size and Wagner can stretch the floor with a smooth outside jumper.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards like Wagner a lot. He impressed in his workout at Capital One Arena and would give the Wizards several things that they don't currently have.

Wagner is a mobile big man who can run the floor fairly well and has good footwork moving without the ball on the offensive end. Though he doesn't have a huge vertical leap, he can get up there and finish with power at the rim.

Most importantly, Wagner can stretch the floor and the Wizards do not have a player his size who can do that consistently. If he played center, the Wizards could roll out lineups of five players that can hit threes.

More specifically, Wagner could add a pick-and-pop element that the Wizards haven't really had in John Wall's tenure. He has had pick-and-roll partners, but no one has been able to set a screen and then reliably step out to knock down threes.

It would be a brand new dimension and it could make Wall even more dangerous, not to mention the shooters they have in Bradley Beal and Otto Porter who would then have more space to operate off the ball.

The only problem in terms of fit for Wagner and the Wizards is that he is likely to fall somewhere in between their two draft picks. They pick 15th and 44th and he is expected to go late first round or early second round.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!