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How Marcin Gortat sets table for Wizards' half-court offense with screens

How Marcin Gortat sets table for Wizards' half-court offense with screens

Setting screens is a nuance of basketball that's taken for granted. But if a team doesn't have bigs who can free shooters, by disrupting coverages by opposing defenses, it won't have very good shooters. Marcin Gortat has long be lauded for his screening.

For several seasons, the Oklahoma City justified having Kendrick Perkins, who was a liability defensively against small-ball lineups as shown in the 2012 NBA Finals vs. the Miami Heat, as its starting center under current Wizards coach Scott Brooks. 

Gortat, however, is different. He's more offensively capable than Perkins, more athletic and has 14 double-doubles just 25 games into the season following his 12 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in Friday's 122-108 win over the Detroit Pistons. The John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt combined for 50 points on 18-for-30 shooting and 15 assists. 

Snapshots of the evidence:

"Marcin did a great job. The thing about Marcin and I see it, every team needs good screeners and he's turning into our best screener and I think he's one of the best in the league," Brooks said. "He doesn't get credit but he gets Brad and John a lot of open looks. If it wasn't for his screens we would struggle.”

Wall was complimentary, too. There have been challenges with his big man when it comes to support on pick-and-roll coverages, but the Wizards' half-court is efficient in large part because of Gortat's role. 

"Our bigs did a heck of a job screening for us," Wall said. 

Indeed, they did. Jason Smith and Markieff Morris had a hand in what happened, too.

There's a back-and-forth banter between the team's oldest player at 32 and his two guards in their mid-20s. Sometimes it gets tense when things aren't going well and that's usually regarding communication on the defensive end. Sometimes Gortat fades on shots rather than going strong to the rim. Sometimes he's reluctant to help because he's overly concerned with his man getting lobs. Gortat wants his backcourt to commit more to stopping dribble penetration to help him out. 

The key, however, is having a respect for each other and how each part helps the whole in an 82-game season that's bound to have its ups and down. And the trio seems to be keeping that balance between them better under Brooks' guidance. 

"He's realizing how important he is and he's realizing how many more shots he can get when he screens," said Beal with a laugh. "When he does that, it frees us up as guards and it gives us more space and a better opportunity for everybody else. He does a tremendous job at it. We're tough on him sometimes, but he's a key piece to our team. We know he sets some of the best screens on the team and it gets guys open all the time. We definitely need to give him more credit than we give him. He does an excellent job. We just need him to be a workhorse and be as dominant as he is."


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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.


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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...


Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.