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Morning tip: Defensive abilities separate Wall and Beal from most backcourts

Morning tip: Defensive abilities separate Wall and Beal from most backcourts

Suddenly, out of nowhere, John Wall and Bradley Beal are the "in" backcourt again, and the lost 41-41 season that was 2015-16 is all forgotten. Bygones. 

Except, it shouldn't be. How quickly the narrative turned on a duo that was Wall's broken left hand and wrist from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance when he was undercut by Jeff Teague in Game 1 of the semifinals vs. the Atlanta Hawks.

It was a small sample size but in the 10 games of that playoff run that included sweep of heavily favored Toronto in the first round validated their claim to best backcourt in the East. 

Then came the fallout. Wall played through two bad knees last season -- both required surgery May 5 -- and still averaged 20 points and 10 assists. Beal played a career-low 55 games because of a stress reaction for the fourth year in a row to his lower right leg. 

Wall went from being an All-Star starter to a reserve again. Damian Lillard jumped him in the national conversation as being the better point guard, and that point was further cemented after he scored 41 points in an overtime win over the Wizards. No one ever talks about Beal, but he probably should've been a first-time All-Star this season. 

A 2-8 start this season understandably led to no attention and low expectations. But Wall was playing his way back into shape as he beat the timetable from returning from his surgeries. The Wizards won 17 games in a row at home before losing in overtime to the Cavaliers on Monday night. 

Going into tonight's game at the Brooklyn Nets, they have a chance to run the table until the All-Star break that begins after Feb. 16 with as many as 34 wins. A 50-win season would be in reach for the first time since 1979 when they were the Bullets and advanced to the NBA Finals. 

If someone has said: "If John Wall ever develops his mid-range game ..." they haven't been watching not just this season but the previous two.

If someone has said: "If Bradley Beal can develop his game off the bounce ..." they haven't been watching as he has set a career-high assists (nine) and reached eight twice already this season. 

[RELATED: Harlan calls Wiz-Cavs 'best regular season game' he's seen]

Wall is averaging career-highs across the board and has 30 double-doubles with no other guard in the East being anywhere near half that total. Beal has scored 41 or more points three times and had five or more assists 14 times. 

Statistically, an argument can be made for most top-flight players as there are enough numbers to support an argument for anyone. While they matter, the eye test still matters, too.

Most numbers, unfortunately, have to do with offense. When is the last time you've heard an analysis of the lock-and-trail technique of Beal? (For the record, it's pretty damn good. Isaiah Thomas? Not so much).

If anything beyond a player's individual stats matter -- creating for others, deflections, close outs -- then no one should be shocked by the ascension of Wall and Beal other than they're both healthy at the same time.

When Wall went out in that playoff series in 2015, did Beal shrink without his playmaker in that series with the Hawks? He averaged 23.7 points, 7.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds minus Wall before they lost in six games to the No. 1 seed. Wall returned to play through the broken hand to average a double-double wearing little protection.

Beal signed for $128 million this summer in what was a no-brainer negotiation for president Ernie Grunfeld. Where else was he going to find a 23-year-old shooter with his upside on the open market who is a two-way player? Let Beal walk with nothing in return and make a move to sign Dwyane Wade in free agency? There was no other choice but to max Beal. None. There was no better option on the market in terms of age, talent, attitude and upside. None. This decision was as easy as an uncontested layup and no need to debate this. None.

[RELATED: LeBron admits he got away with travel vs. Wizards]

The final number for Beal's contact was much bigger than what Wall signed for in 2013 under a much small salary cap ($80 million), but where else were the Wizards going to find a pass-first point guard who had a track record for making everyone around him better; who is 6-4 and can post up Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving; and who can score just 10 points and still be the best player on the floor?

Smart contracts are more about the ceiling -- what a player can grow into during the life of a deal -- and not as much about where he's at during the moment he signed (Gordon Hayward). It's a futures market. There are players out there with more accomplishments, All-Star apperances and national reputations but where will they be during he life of the max deal. Will they still be max-worthy or will their returns diminish with age (Carmelo Anthony).

Beal's leg injuries never required surgery. It was an overuse injury that's cured by monitoring his workload not just in games but practices which have been tamped down under coach Scott Brooks. 

Now that he's at optimum health and Wall is, too, the it shows how such short-sighted views on both could've backfired. Now they're exploding into the NBA's national consciousness. How ridiculous are those early-season, "It's time to trade John Wall and start over" blog posts, sound? 

The roster had to be turned over to the two young stars to see what they were made of, having to co-exist and lead by example. They drew chuckles for making too much of a "funeral" game vs. the hated Celtics and dominated them. Wall was questioned for calling Monday's game the biggest regular season game of his career and then helped make it one of the most memorable finishes of all time in a showdown with LeBron James.

Maybe, instead of rolling those eyes use them to watch. Relatively speaking, it's easy to be a one-way player who scores 30 points a game. It's more difficult to defend Irving for an entire game, hold him to 8-for-24 shooting (yes, he did hit big shots in overtime) and average 23 points and 10.4 assists yourself like Wall. Or 22.2 points, 3.7 assists and 39% from three-point range like Beal who takes on equally tough assignments. 

Now that the Wizards are two years removed from Paul Pierce, the credit has no choice to go where it belongs. All the barriers have been removed. It's their team, and they're just not the future. Wall and Beal are the now. 

[RELATED: What's been the reason for Wizards' turnaround this season?]

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Keita Bates-Diop

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Keita Bates-Diop

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Keita Bates-Diop

School: Ohio State
Position: Small forward/power forward
Age: 22
Height: 6-9
Weight: 224
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 35

2017/18 stats: 19.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.6 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 35.9 3PT% (1.9 3PT/5.4 3PA), 79.4 FT%
Player comparison: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 26th, NBADraft.net 41st, Bleacher Report 21st, Sports Illustrated 31st

5 things to know:

*Bates-Diop is a uniquely versatile player who could fit in very well with positionless basketball. He is the size of a small forward, but has the wingspan to play bigger and the athleticism to guard multiple positions. Defense could be the way he makes his name early on in his NBA career. He has proven uniquely adept at blocking shots for his size, averaging 1.6 per game as a redshirt junior. Whether that will translate to the NBA level, however, is a question. He will be guarding bigger, smarter and more athletic players.

*He is a very good rebounder, especially for his size. Bates-Diop grabbed rebounds consistently throughout his career and as a redshirt junior pulled in 8.7 per game. He had 20 games of double-digit rebounds in college and three times had 14 in a game. He had seven offensive rebounds against Robert Morris in a game last November.

*Bates-Diop was the Big 10 player of the year for the 2017-18 season. Some recent winners of the award include Denzel Valentine, Frank Kaminsky, Draymond Green, Trey Burke and Evan Turner.

*He was able to redshirt because he missed most of his junior season with a stress fracture in his left leg.

*Bates-Diop wasn't an elite three-point shooter in college, but he did make strides throughout his career. As a redshirt junior, he shot a modest percentage of 35.9, though the volume he made them was noteworthy. Outside shooting is always important for NBA wings and Bates-Diop would benefit from developing a consistent three-point shot. He will probably need to simplify his motion because his release is a bit slow.

Fit with Wizards: Bates-Diop would give the Wizards depth at two positions where they need it. He could slide into Mike Scott's role as the backup forward, spending much of his time behind Markieff Morris as a smaller four while giving them insurance at the three position behind Kelly Oubre, Jr.

Bates-Diop would add length and athleticism to the second unit and he and Oubre could make a dynamic combination defending the perimeter. They would have over 14 feet of wingspan between them.

Bates-Diop would have to prove himself at power forward at the NBA level before he can be projected as a starter in the long-term. Right now they have small forward solidified with Otto Porter.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Aaron Holiday

School: UCLA
Position: Point guard
Age: 21 (turns 22 in Sept.)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 187
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 33

2017/18 stats: 20.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT% (2.7 3PT/6.2 3PA), 82.8 FT%
Player comparison: Darren Collison
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 19th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report 23rd, Sports Illustrated 23rd

5 things to know:

*Holiday played big minutes in all three seasons for the Bruins. As a junior, he broke out as an elite scorer, averaging 20.3 points while also dishing 5.8 assists per game. Holiday scored in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he averaged 5.8 attempts per game and knocked them down at 82.8 percent.

*He is a terrific three-point shooter, one of the best in this draft class based on his college numbers. He hit 42.9 percent of his shots and on 6.2 attempts per game. Holiday shot 42.2 percent from long range in his three-year college career and never shot below 41 percent in a season. He had some games where teams just couldn't stop him from long range. He made four threes or more in 13 college games. Twice he went 5-for-5 and he once made six threes against USC.

*Though he has the skillset to play off the ball as a shooting guard, his size will limit him at the NBA level. Holiday is just under 6-foot-1 in shoes and doesn't have the vertical leap to make up for it. He does, however, have a plus wingspan. At this point, Holiday seems to be solely a point guard, though as long as he's good at the position there is nothing wrong with that.

*Holiday worked out for the Wizards at Capital One Arena. He was part of their first week of predraft workouts and by all accounts had an impressive visit. He hit a lot of shots and fared well in the interview process.

*Holiday has two brothers currently in the NBA. Jrue is a former All-Star who starts at point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Justin is a shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. His sister-in-law, Lauren, is a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards already have a point guard in John Wall, so Holiday would have no long-term path to starting. That said, he would shore up a need the Wizards have been trying to address for years.

Backup point guard has been a real void for the Wizards for most of Wall's tenure. This past season they tried out all sorts of options between Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. Though Satoransky remains on the roster, the Wizards don't appear content with their depth at the position.

Holiday's ability to hit threes is very attractive to the Wizards who could conceivably play him off-the-ball alongside Wall, or even Satoransky. Given Wall (6-4) and Satoransky (6-7) are taller than most point guards, they could theoretically guard shooting guards on the other end.

Holiday would add smarts and shooting to the Wizards' bench in the short-term. In the long-term, he could help lengthen Wall's career by taking some of his workload away and also give the Wizards more options once Wall enters his 30s.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

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