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Morning tip: Josh Harrellson's ticket back to NBA

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Morning tip: Josh Harrellson's ticket back to NBA

When Josh Harrellson first came to the NBA as a rookie in 2011, he was fortunate that he ended up with the New York Knicks who valued a 6-11 three-point shooter. Thanks to then-coach Mike D'Antoni.

"I shot a lot of threes in my rookie year with D'Antoni because that's how he played," said Harrellson, 26, who has played for three different teams and is competing for a roster spot with the Wizards as a free agent. "He spaced the floor with one big so he was the first coach to start playing that style. I thrived in that offense. How the NBA is going I think I can start thriving again."

It's still an uphill climb. The Wizards have the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts for the regular season, so it's going to require them really believing in Harrellson, or one of the other four free agents, to make a move. They could release a player such as DeJuan Blair, pay him the full amount of his guarantee and acquire another player at the minimum and still be under the luxury tax. Or they could simply be taking a closer look at Harrellson with an eye towards 2016 when the only big under contract could be Marcin Gortat.

D'Antoni often was ridiculed for his fast-paced style, spreading the floor with four shooters as coach of the Phoenix Suns but they couldn't get past the Western Conference finals. But with the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA crown even more teams have adopted a similar style, including the Wizards with Gortat as the lone big in the middle. 

"Spreads the floor. Smart player, in the right spots which he has to be," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Harrellson. "I think he understands who he is, how he can be effective on the floor. Stays away from things he can't do. That's the important thing. ... Stay to your strengths and stay away things that get you in trouble."

Harrellson's best season was his rookie year when he averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench for a playoff team in a lockout-shortened season. D'Antoni, unfortunately for him, was fired. Harrellson then spent time with the Miami Heat and lastly with the Detroit Pistons in 2013-14.

He went virtually unnoticed while he at Kentucky, where he spent three seasons before being taken in the second round. Harrellson was a teammate of John Wall when they made a run to the NCAA regional finals but DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton (all eventual first-round NBA draft picks) earned the playing time and the attention. 

"He was making threes in college," Wall said. "We just didn't play him as much because we had DeMarcus and Daniel and Pat so it was tough to get him playing time. He could always shoot the ball."

That was on display in Sunday's exhibition vs. Bauru, a Brazilian professional team that visited Verizon Center. Harrellson made three consecutive three-point shots to finish with 11 points. In today's NBA, front-office officials unanimously will agree on this (and say it often): "You can never have enough shooters." 

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This is especially true if it's a big. That ability has prolonged the career of Drew Gooden, 34, who is in his third season in Washington after having been out of the NBA. He's a 6-10 three-point shooter who can play at the "stretch" power forward.

"I've always had the ability. I don't know what it is," Harrellson said about developing the range so early. "When I first started playing basketball I just had good hand-eye coordination. I guess it's from being a pitcher when I grew up. I just always had the touch. I expanded that after college. ... I got the stroke better."

Harrellson spent last year overseas, including in China. He played for Phoenix at Las Vegas summer league this year before joining the Wizards for camp. He had to get stitches over his eye after Day 2 because of a practice collision.

"It's very important (to be in the NBA). I think I belong here. I'm a solid player," Harrellson said. "Injuries have plagued me for the last few years. I'm more focused than I've ever been in my life. I got a family now. That definitely changes your mentality."

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Three things to watch for Wizards' first matchup with Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors

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USA Today Sports

Three things to watch for Wizards' first matchup with Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors

John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Once again, we await word from head coach Scott Brooks on the status of Dwight Howard. Howard, who missed all of the Wizards' preseason with a piriformis injury, was a gametime decision for the opener on Thursday. He ended up not playing, but appeared very close to finally making his debut.

Saturday night could be a different story, though we won't know until shortly before gametime. The Wizards' training staff will evaluate him pregame and make the call. If he can't go, Ian Mahinmi will get the nod as starter like he did against Miami.

Need more Otto

Though it wasn't the reason why the Wizards lost to the Heat, it certainly stood out in the box score how Otto Porter Jr. went without a three-point attempt in the opener. Porter finished third in three-point percentage last season with a 44.1 clip. He simply has to be more involved in the offense.

It will be interesting to see what adjustment the Wizards make to create more opportunities for Porter, and how Porter responds. All parties involved insist it is a mix of several factors, including a need for Porter to simply be more aggressive. That won't be easy against a tough Raptors defense, but expect Porter to get up plenty of threes in this one.

First look at Leonard

The Wizards know this team well, having just seen them in the playoffs in the spring. But the Raptors have a major difference this season with perennial All-NBA selection Kawhi Leonard swapped in for DeMar DeRozan.

It was the biggest trade of the offseason and now the Wizards get to see the new version of Toronto for the first time. Though Leonard only played eight games last season due to injury, he is off to a strong start so far in this one.

Through two games, Leonard is averaging 27.5 pints and 11.0 rebounds. He just dropped 31 in a win over the Celtics on Friday night. This is his first back-to-back, so that could play a factor.

The Raptors also got guard Danny Green in the deal and he's averaging 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from three so far. Getting him in the trade was a very underrated move by Toronto.

 

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Swaggy Picasso's Sole Talk had the Wizards taking notice opening night

Swaggy Picasso's Sole Talk had the Wizards taking notice opening night

The connection between athletes and their fans is a powerful thing in sports. The NBA is one of the trendiest, fashion-forward leagues in the world. From shoe design to overall wardrobe to eccentric personalities...the Association has it all on display for fans across the globe to consume. 

Lloyd Ferguson, a fan himself and native of Silver Spring, Md., is bursting onto the customized sneakers scene as an up-and-coming artist. 

His Instagram (@SwaggyPicasso) serves as his personal laboratory and a platform to share his creations. 

Prior to the start of Thursday night's Wizards-Heat game, NBC Sports Washington invited Ferguson to Capital One Arena for what would become a memorable night for the 23-year-old. 

Chris Miller and Drew Gooden featured Swaggy Picasso on the pregame show for an interview and sneaker showcase.

"The inside of my body was jiggling and moving. I was like 'I gotta keep composed and stay cool. You're on national televison, Lloyd.'" 

You would have never known it. 

Ferguson, who was a basketball player himself locally, grew up a Wizards and D.C. sports fan all around. 

Little did he know several Wizards would take notice of his artwork. 

Kelly Oubre, Devin Robinson and John Wall - each known for their wardrobes and respective styles - stopped by to take a peek at Ferguson's kicks. 

"Their reactions to my art was all I needed, honestly. They see the potential and growth. It's very overwhelming." 

It was a groundbreaking night for a young talent with lofty dreams and aspirations. 

Swaggy Picasso has no plans of stopping anytime soon. 

"I've been busting out these shoes day and night. I don't sleep. My desire to paint shoes is ridiculous." 

 

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