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Morning tip: A free-agent bargain for Wizards, Jason Smith turns into game-changer, too

Morning tip: A free-agent bargain for Wizards, Jason Smith turns into game-changer, too

The answer to the Wizards prayers came in Jason Smith, perhaps the most unlikliest of their offseason moves. They allowed Jared Dudley to leave in free agency without an offer, Drew Gooden was not longer able to proved the start he had previously and eventually retired and Kris Humphries had to be shipped in a trade after a failed "stretch 4" experiment.

Smith, who'd set a career-best with four made three-pointers in a game at the L.A. Clippers during a five-game road trip, set a new marker for himself Tuesday by going 5-for-9 from deep en route to 17 points in leading a comeback for a 118-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets. 

"I told him take his mask off. He's really Ryan Anderson," said Markieff Morris of Smith, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal last summer. "It just gives another dimension to our team, a guy coming off the bench shooting threes like that."

That Morris mentions Anderson is appopriate. CSNmidatlantic.com reported after the Wizards whiffed on recruting Kevin Durant in free agency that Anderson was among their top targets as long as his pricetag didn't rise above $15 million-$16 million range. Anderson, who was confident that he was going to be in Washington, was shocked that an offer never came and he accepted $20 million per year for the next four from the Houston Rockets.

When Smith was signed, the face-up 7-footer had averaged just 7.2 points and 25% from three last season in 76 appearances with the Orlando Magic. This season, he's only averaging 5.6 but shooting 49.2% from three in 69 games. His overall shooting is 53.1% as he is automatic on elbow jumpers.

On the surface, it doesn't add up. But it does. Coach Scott Brooks has dropped Smith from the rotation completely at times when Ian Mahinmi returned from knee injuries. To clear a spot for him to get minutes, Smith has been sacrificed. Even after shooting 6 of 7 for 17 points in win at the Phoenix Suns, Smith was a healthy scratch the next game. 

And before that, Smith was 4-for-4 during 10 minutes to spark a blowout victory at the Toronto Raptors but didn't play in the next game, either. 

That Smith handles these moments with such professionalism is part of his allure. Even as he explained what took place Tuesday, he deferred to his teammates such as John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre and Bojan Bogdanvoic for setting the table for his offense.

"It's not me," Smith, in his ninth season, said. "It's John, it's Brad, it's Kelly, it's Bojan. They're all attacking the rim. I just space out. It's a credit to them."

When the season began, Smith was out of sorts as were the Wizards in a 2-8 start. He was on the floor with Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton. Neither complemented him. It's a classic of case of playing with better players now has allowed Smith to be better. 

During the 2016 calendar year, Smith attempted just two three-point shots. In 2017, he has taken 68. He's big enough to play at the five spot behind Marcin Gortat and versatile enough to play behind Morris at the four. 

But to reduce Smith's value to just shooting is not doing him justice, and what he does isn't always quantifiable by a number. The eye test is best. And he's correct in Beal and the like are forcing defenses into such chaos, all he has to do is find the soft spot for the high-percentage look.

The film:

This the NBA in 2017. Screens are everywhere. If the switches are done properly the opponent takes the least likely to be made shot. That happens with Kemba Walker. He makes the jumper but Smith gets close enough to deny him the open three (the ideal shot) because he's 7 feet tall and can close to contest because of his athleticism. And by not being too close Walker he doesn't give up the driving lane There's no middle which is where Walker would have the most options. Instead he takes the long two via stepback.

Smith makes repeated switches, the most important one is cutting off Walker to help John Wall on the sideline. Imagine if Smith is late to that spot. Walker has a clear path to turn the corner and get to the rim. But Smith makes the initial switch with Gortat (from Marvin Williams to Cody Zeller) to stopping the ball and then sliding back to Williams as he fades to the weak side. Proper rotations eveywhere. The ball ends up out of bounds.

In the middle of the frontline, that's the MIG -- Most Important Guy -- or the 2.9 which is how many seconds you can stay in the lane without being called for a violation. Smith has to decide when to slide to the ball and when to slide towards his man floating weakside in case of a reversal or skip pass. He has to have good enough reaction time to successfully do both and does, blocking Jeremy Lamb on help to stop the layup. It's a multi-tasking role. 

Smith knocks down the three. But look at everything he does to get Beal the look before settling into the soft spot as the defense forgets to account for him. Take away Beal. Take away Gortat. Oh, what about Smiths' three-ball?

This is just a snapshot of what Smith has done so effecitvely. His $5 million per year is a bargain compared to other fowards on the market at the time.

-- Mirza Teletovic (Bucks): 3 years, $30 million for 6.4 points, 34.3% three-point shooting and less than 40% shooting overall. And not able to play as a spread five or defend at anywhere near Smith's level. 

--Luol Deng (Lakers): 4 years, $72 million for 7.6 points, 31.1% three-point shooting and less than 40% shooting overall. Also, not able to play the spread five or defend that spot.

--Solomon Hill (Pelicans): 4 years, $52 million for 7.0 points, 35.8% three-point shooting and less than 40% overall shooting. Can be a solid defender away from the rim, but can't play or defend the low-post spots at 6-7. 

There are plenty of other examples of players who are less efficient but cost more than Smith, but as important as the film or the stats is how he fits on a roster led by young stars.

"Jason is one of the best, true professionals that I've played with," Wall said. "A guy that didn't get too many minutes on the road trip and comes back and have a big game for us today. He's just always ready. ... Couldn't ask for more from a guy like that."

With the playoffs near, expect Brooks to rely on Smith more rather than less. His veteran's attitude has allowed him to toy with certain combinations to figure out what to do in the future and chances are that'll be rewarded.

He knows what he has in Smith. There are no longer any questions. Smith has Dudley's three-point shooting ability, Humphries' strength and Gooden's likability rolled into one roster spot.

[RELATED: Kelly Oubre's role model: Russell Westbrook]

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Sashi Brown on his role, team culture and how he can sell the Wizards to free agents

Sashi Brown on his role, team culture and how he can sell the Wizards to free agents

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Wizards have bucked convention by hiring Sashi Brown as their chief operations and planning officer, as he comes from outside the basketball world. He has served as top executive but in the NFL, not in the NBA. 

Brown and Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis, though, believe there are plenty of skills that will translate. After all, there are many commonalities in running the front office of professional sports teams.

They are constructed similarly with executives, scouts, and medical staffs. And the same principles apply to contract negotiations and pitching free agents. 

Brown admits it will take some time for him to acclimate to working in a new league, but is confident his experience as a sports executive, in business and as a lawyer will help the Wizards right away.

"There is far more that will transfer than I think people would imagine," he told NBC Sports Washington. 

"When you have sat in that seat as a GM, the job is so big. These are now billion-dollar enterprises. We've got a lot of things that we want to accomplish and you really just can't have enough talent. That's what it feels like a lot of days. From technology to strategy to contract and negotiation and league initiatives, but also just operational support; things that we would like to get done day-to-day to be world-class."

What could take time is Brown's impact on basketball insight. He was known as a forward-thinking NFL executive when it came to analytics. But advanced stats and their utilization are very different in basketball.

Brown said during his introductory press conference on Monday that basketball decisions will ultimately be made by Tommy Sheppard, the team's new general manager. Brown's role will be making those decisions more comprehensive and informed by organizing and developing the team's resources. 

Between Brown and Sheppard, no one is working for the other. Their boss is Leonsis and they are expected to work in tandem.

"They can focus on the team and the players and winning titles," Brown said of Sheppard and those running the Go-Go, Mystics and District Gaming.

"We're going to be a team. Tommy talked about being a team of teams. Ted would like that as a vision from the top down."

Over time, there will surely be some pain points. Everyone has their own philosophies. There will be disagreements.

But disagreements can be productive. The Wizards feel they need new, outside voices and Brown's fresh perspective will be very valuable to resetting their direction and culture.

Brown knows what that process is like, having started from the bottom with the NFL's Cleveland Browns three years ago. He laid a foundation there as GM that has helped lead to a bright future for one of the NFL's most moribund teams.

Culture is a nebulous concept in sports. It is hard to define. The Wizards just know theirs needs an adjustment.

Brown, for one, believes good culture leads to winning and not the other way around.

"I think that if you're relying on winning to develop your culture you probably don't have a very good culture," he said. "It really has to be the driver for winning. That's what we're going to do. We've got guys that are experienced and passionate that will hold the entire organization accountable."

Brown, 43, has little basketball experience to draw from as he joins the Wizards. He played the sport as a kid growing up. His best claim-to-fame in basketball is that his grandfather coached at Kentucky State University.

"It's been in my family for years. It's in my blood," he said.

What Brown does have a firm grasp of is what professional teams need in order to win. One is a cohesive message when pitching a free agent on signing with them.

Brown will part of that process for the Wizards. He is Harvard-educated and charismatic, the type of person you would want on your side in the negotiating room. And he has a plan to make the Wizards a more attractive destination.

"I think [players] want a commitment. I think they want a chance to win championships. We've seen that in abundance over the last two or three offseasons. The league is transforming itself and continues to evolve. We want to be at the forefront of that," he said.

"Our facilities are top-notch and we'll do everything to keep them there. Our people, our doctors and our medical care for players is great. Our coaching is going to be top-notch and championship-caliber. We want to be comprehensive in terms of what we offer all of our athletes."

Brown is smart, engaging and smooth. It is easy to see why Leonsis is enamored with his potential. Now Brown just has to prove him right.

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Zion Williamson joins Rui Hachimura by signing with the Jordan brand

Zion Williamson joins Rui Hachimura by signing with the Jordan brand

 Rui Hachimura and Zion Williamson, two of the most high-profile NBA rookies from the 2019 NBA Draft class, have joined forces on a new team, Jordan Brand. 

The New Orleans Pelicans' new star and No. 1 overall draft pick announced Tuesday afternoon that he'll be signing with Jumpman on a multi-year deal; the details of the deal have yet to be revealed. 

This decision comes about a month after Hachimura became the first Japanese-born player to sign with the brand

Both players have entered the NBA with an incredible amount of fanfare and hype surrounding their transitions to the Association. Hachimura was the star attraction for 61 media members from 21 different outlets in Japan during the NBA Summer League, while Zion's American media presence, understandably, was also substantial.

When Hachimura signed in June it was a dream come true for him and his family. Williamson shared similar sentiments when outlining why he decided to join the Jordan Brand team:

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family," Williamson told Nike News. "Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league and having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had and continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to, and I really can’t express how happy and excited I am for this journey.”

Since their thrilling faceoff in college, when Gonzaga edged an 89-87 victory over the Blue Devils thanks to Hachimura's 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks, the two talents have experienced a similar, yet unique, tip-off to their careers.

It's said that if you look good you play good, and it seems both Hachimura and Williamson have that first part figured out.  

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