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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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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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