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Markieff Morris raises level to meet Scott Brooks' demands

Markieff Morris raises level to meet Scott Brooks' demands

The moment the Wizards went after Al Horford in free agency to offer him a max contract, it meant Markieff Morris would've had to return to a role from earlier in his career as a sixth man. 

Morris, still the starting power forward, begins the second and fourth quarters with the second unit players and tends to go against opposing team's second units. And even when he's facing starters, his versatility puts him at an advantage most of the time when he can face up from 20 feet and beat even finesse bigs off the dribble.

"We've figured out who we are as a team," said Morris, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday's 123-108 rout of the Boston Celtics. "Every game we just staying with that same intensity. That same defensive intensity. We're getting wins."

Morris has five double-doubles, with four of them coming since Jan. 1. He also had four assists Tuesday, proving to be a playmaker with the ball from the high post or low as he quickly exploit defenses trying to help on him.

He now has a chemistry with backup point guard Trey Burke that was non-existent for months. They've run the pick-and-roll to near perfection in recent weeks, benefitting from each other's presence.

[RELATED: Beal came up with Wizards' 'all-black' idea, and delivered]

Defensively, Morris has responded. When he was with the Phoenix Suns, he was asked to do so many things away from the rim. Foot and ankle injuries earlier this season seemed to slow him down from a fast start. 

"His ability to switch and guard and make perimeter players take tough shots, I thought that was another important key to our win," said coach Scott Brooks, who has emphasized to the 6-10 vet second efforts and contesting three-point shooters more aggressively.

Isaiah Thomas drove into the paint with the Celtics trailing 91-84 but was stopped at the rim by Morris' help. He snatched the rebound and went to the other end to attack backup Jordan Mickey off the dribble for the and-1 layup which stretched the lead back to double digits. 

Not long after that, Morris hustled back following a turnover and challenged Thomas' three-pointer that hit the side of the backboard. Once he grabbed the rebound it put Bradley Beal in transtion for a throwahead dunk. 

“It’s a simple philosophy. If you contest the shot, he has a less chance to make it," Brooks said. "We’ve talked about that philosophy many of times. It’s the moment of truth. Every possession ends up with either you are going to contest the shot or you’re not. I think we are doing a much better job of doing that." 

The Wizards can play a two-man game with Morris which they exploited in the fourth quarter with Beal posting up the 5-foot-9 Thomas and the big making the entry pass. That gives Beal a high-percentage look if there's no help or Morris can read off the help and get the ball back for a better shot himself. 

Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Mickey had no chance sticking with Morris. Even Horford couldn't defend him well enough on post-ups.

Horford, who starts at center, had 22 points but just four rebounds in his matchup with Marcin Gortat. But he lost that battle just as the Wizards lost out on traveling to Atlanta to recruit him in the offseason.

Morris, who is on a contract that pays him an average of $8 million per year through 2019 and acquired in a deal with the Suns for a 2016 first-round draft pick in a weak class, is averaging 14 points, 6.6 rebounds. 

Horford has the same issue now that he had before leaving the Atlanta Hawks where he also was disadvantaged playing so much at center. He's posting 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists, but the Celtics gave him a contract that pays an average of $28.25 million per for four years. 

That's another numbers game that ends up in the Wizards' favor, ending up much better off salary-cap wise in the long run.

[RELATED: Stephen A. Smith has some nonsense reason to claim Wizards-Celtics isn't a rivalry]

 

 

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2020 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Robert Woodard II

Team: Mississippi State
Position: SF
Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
Height: 6-7
Weight: 230
Wingspan: 7-1

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 33.1 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 49.5 FG% (4.4/8.9), 42.9 3PT% (1.0/2.3), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Jae Crowder, Chandler Parsons

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, Sports Illustrated 43rd, Ringer 28th, NBADraft.net N/A, Bleacher Report N/A

5 things to know:

*Few players in college basketball took as big of a jump as Woodard from his freshman year to his sophomore season. He transitioned from a bench role player that could do a little bit of everything, into an able-bodied scorer off the ball that could take advantage of multiple size matchups. His scoring improved by a six-point average and had a key role in the Bulldogs' offense.

*Most impressive for Woodard was the development of an outside shot. His growth included a 15% jump from long-range with an added confidence to score at all three levels. Mind you, his 42.9% shooting was only on 70 attempts and an area of his game that was not previously highlighted. 

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*How Woodard fits on an NBA roster is what has mock draft experts split on where he will be selected. Some don't even have him being drafted. It seems he's most natural on the floor playing as a guard, however, he has a high dribble and commits two turnovers a game for someone that typically does not run the point. He has the accuracy to be a wing scorer, but lacks the consistent shot selection of a 3-point threat. Some evaluators see him as an undersized four, for his rebounding and presence around the rim, but his post-moves are really nonexistent. 

*Woodard is built well and has an NBA-ready frame. It led him to be an effective rebounder 6.5 boards per game as a nontraditional post player and a good defender with the agility to block shots. He also has a high basketball IQ which makes him a high-level defender off the ball.

*Woodard's father, Robert Woodard is Mississippi's all-time high school scorer with 4,274 points. He also continued his playing days at Mississippi State. 

Fit with Wizards: Positional flexibility with a knack for hitting 3-pointers would be why the Wizards would take a chance on Woodard. Many of the fundamentals of his game are already set which wouldn't mean Washington would need to spend time on development. 

He has a similar offensive game to Rui Hachimura: Nice size and build, that occasionally also steps out behind the arc. He can also rotate to multiple positions.

How the Wizards would utilize Woodard remains to be seen though. Backing up Hachimura, who was drafted just the year prior is not a long-term sustainable plan. Having Woodard even be a bigger wing (ie. Davis Bertans if re-signed) would be another back-up role. Yet, Woodard does not nearly jack up as many threes as Bertans. Playing Woodard as a guard isn't really in the cards either.

A depth piece that can fit in multiple spots is Woodard's biggest asset for the Wizards. And from there they could develop him into the role they see fit. His one season of a robust 3-point shooter is not enough to see that being his future.

There's not much to justify him going in the lottery. However, if Tommy Sheppard wants to add a young, NBA ready-built player in the second round or even as an undrafted free agent, Woodard could provide value in those spots. The athleticism and ability are there.

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