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Grading the Southeast division: Small forwards

Grading the Southeast division: Small forwards

We've talked about all the various changes made by the Wizards this offseason - or really since they made the move for Nene last season. Now we look at how the local NBA team stacks up with its Southeast Division rivals, position by position. We started with the floor generals, shooting guardsand centers. Now, the small forwards. The Wizards had the top option in two of those previous three positions. We can end the suspense, they won't here, not with some talented guy in South Beach reigning supreme (2011-12 stats listed)...

Atlanta Josh Smith...18.8 points,9.6 rebounds, 1.7blocks...One of the true stat-stuffers in the league, Smith has the opportunity to put up more points now that Joe Johnson has moved on. It also means the career 25.7 3-point shooter can hoist from distance more freely. For the Hawks to maintain their status as a perennial top-four seed in the East, they need the all-court Smith, not the deep chucker version.

Charlotte Michael Kidd-Gilchrist...11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals at Kentucky...The Bobcats added a trio of veterans this offseason, but none of them block the starting lineup path of this high-energy wing. The bulk of Kidd-Gilchrist's rookie year potential stems from his intangibles-heavy game and not from his work-in-progress of a perimeter shot. Defensively and in the open court he should make an impact. Whether the Bobcats utter woefulness will allow said impact to shine through this season is the question.

Miami LeBron James...27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds,6.2 assists...This just in: LeBron has skills. Scariest part of the upcoming NBA season is seeing what this physical freak of nature can do now that the weight of world is off his massive shoulders following the Heat's championship.

Orlando Hedo Turkoglu...10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assistsThe one salary the Magic wanted to dump remains in Orlando. At least the 33-year-old's point-forward skill set should help the patchwork roster find its way. Of course, the way is likely out of the playoffs for the first time in a while. The Magic can also turn to the slashing Quentin Richardson and the intriguing rookie out of St. John's, Moe Harkless.

Washington Trevor Ariza...10.8 points,5.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals...We all know why the Wizards made the move for Ariza and Emeka Okafor: Defense and veteran presence. The 27-year-old will also serve as an ideal fast-breaking wingman to John Wall and his position flexibility means Randy Wittman can turn the lengthy forward into a defensive guard should the likesof Dwyane Wade and Aaron Afflalo overpower the Wizards backcourt. Like Josh Smith, Ariza must avoid falling in love with the 3-point shot. Outside of his championship run with the Lakers, the career 31.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc has never mastered that distance yet enjoys trying. Still not sure how the minutes work behind Ariza with Chris Singleton, Cartier Martin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and the reportedly signed Martell Webster all in the mix for backup minutes.

And the winner is...Come on; do I need to say it? Beyond James, Smith is the only other All-Star in the bunch, but it will be interesting to see how the at times frustrating forward handles more responsibility. Assuming Ariza settles into a complimentary offensive roll behind Wall, Nene and the Jordan CrawfordBradley Beal off-guard slot, he's got third over the likeable rookie.

Rank: 1)James 2)Smith 3)Ariza 4)Kidd-Gilchrist 5) Turkoglu

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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant get John Wall on his podcast

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USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant 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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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. Over the last five seasons that meant winning at least 48 games. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds as 75 percent (30 of 40) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017-18

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016-17

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015-16

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014-15

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013-14

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. Also, look further up the standings. The Wizards are actually only three games out of the third seed; Indiana and Boston are 8-6.

The Wizards need to keep making moves, but they don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.