Wizards

Quick Links

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."

MORE WIZARDS: HOW SERIOUS ARE ALL-STAR CHANCES FOR JOHN WALL, BRADLEY BEAL?

Quick Links

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

usatsi_9843815.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!