Wizards

Quick Links

Morning tip: Gortat misses sharing floor with Nene

usatsi_8540214_141983962_lowres.jpg

Morning tip: Gortat misses sharing floor with Nene

Glee greeted the Wizards' open-court offense, with Marcin Gortat as the lone big man on the floor with the starting unit, when training camp opened in the final week of September. Two months later, with a losing record and the team on a four-game losing streak, talk of going back to what worked before is inevitable.

Gortat, never shy to make his feelings known, was the first to say something this strongly. Is he implying that Nene should start again, or just want to have the rotations adjusted so he's playing more with Gortat on the floor? The Wizards have outrebounded the Milwaukee Bucks (twice), New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, the latter of which is impressive because of Andre Drummond (19 rebounds per game), with Gortat as the only big in the paint.

"We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside," he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors, who had a 47-42 edge on the boards. "I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four."

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward the previous two seasons, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound. His screens, passing from the high post and reads make the Brazilian so unique though his full impact is rarely reflected in the boxscore. He gets his hands dirty so others can do the rest.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn't happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding. The Hawks, who won 60 games last season, are 28th again.  

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity and have dropped from seventh in the NBA last season to 25th in rebounding. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2013-14. Last season, going smaller with Paul Pierce in the postseason as the "stretch" four got them past the Raptors and almost past the Hawks in the semis until Wall broke his left wrist. They've succeeded at a high level with both styles.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat's with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

"Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him," Gortat said. "But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is. 

"Coach is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy."

Nene could be out for a while, so maybe this is a moot point. There's no timetable on his return from the calf strain which has bothered him since preseason.

When the Wizards made that leap from a 29-win team after 2012-13 to a playoff team, they had to learn how to win without Nene as they were 9-34 at one point. When the 7-footer returns, it will be up to coach Randy Wittman.

The second unit, which only had eight points without Nene vs. Toronto, has been so effective because of his presence. Nene hasn't played more than 23 minutes this season, so playing him more minutes would reduce his efficiency and put him at higher risk for foot and leg injuries.

MORE WIZARDS: Wall: 'I missed 2 big free throws that cost us the game'

Quick Links

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

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

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

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.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: