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Morning tip: Lately, Wizards' bench ranks among top 10 in NBA

Morning tip: Lately, Wizards' bench ranks among top 10 in NBA

No matter how much the Wizards continue to win, this question -- "What about the bench?" -- will persist until the boxscore pops with gaudier numbers. But there's ample evidence beyond those raw numbers to suggest the bench is adequate if unspectacular.

Only 18 points were scored by the resereves in a 112-107 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Trey Burke had seven points and five assists in 14 minutes. Jason Smith had six points and two rebounds in 17. But the best player was Tomas Satoransky who produced less in terms of the stats with four points and one assist in 13 minutes. 

Satoransky didn't attempt a field goal in the fourth quarter but he played seven minutes. At 6-7, his length and ability to stay in front of Rodney Stuckey aided in keeping the Pacers' guards from getting clean looks at the rim. He deflected an entry pass from Stuckey and then forced him into a traveling violation because of his ball puressure midway through the fourth. 

Then Satoransky fought through Al Jefferson's screen and stayed on Monta Ellis' right hand to contest his errant jumper with 6:59 left. 

"I thought this was one of his best games," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Satoransky. "He played solid. ... He handled the ball under pressure which is something he's been working on. He's been improving defensively. He's getting better. 

[RELATED: Wizards stockpiling wins in East for tiebreaker edge]

Ian Mahinmi's second consecutive game he played 13 minutes and didn't score. But to start the fourth he created a turnover with his ball pressure on Al Jefferson leading to an errant pass and blocking his drive to the rim. Both plays put the Wizards in transition to and led to four free throw attempts. It's a sign of what his understated impact can be when he's at optimum health since his knee procedures.

The way to judge the second unit -- currently Trey Burke, Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Jason Smith and Mahinmi -- is how they play defensively first. Brooks will mix and match them with starters at times, too, but their offense will have to be jump-started on the other end of the floor.

Going into the Indiana game, the stats told a similar story about the reserves. And again, Mahinmi had only played once so the full impact of his presence still is to be determined. They could end up much better. 

The net rating is determined by subtracting the defensive points allowed per 100 possessions by the Wizards' reserves from offensive points scored per 100 by them.   

Previous 25 games (19-6):  Plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions. 9th best net rating in NBA

Previous 18 Games (15-3): Plus-3.7 per 100 possessions. 8th best net rating in NBA  

Previous 10 Games (8-2): Plus-9.3 per 100 possessions. 3rd best net rating in NBA

While there are benches in the NBA that play more minutes and score more points, they're not neessarily as responsible as this group on defense. Now that Brooks has developed one of the best starting fives in the league, he's figuring out how to get more out of his reserves. 

[RELATED: Markieff Morris taxes defenses that fail to account for him]

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GM Tommy Sheppard so far proving he is good at exactly what Wizards need

GM Tommy Sheppard so far proving he is good at exactly what Wizards need

There is an argument, and I've made it before, that John Wall's contract and injury situation combine for one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Never before has a player making as much money as he is suffered an injury as serious as his ruptured left Achilles. He takes up 35% of the salary cap, is not playing this season and has no guarantees of returning to his All-Star form once he comes back.

Even if Wall does return to his prime form, and there's reason to be hopeful he can, his contract includes a lot of money for the Wizards to work around. And that has created a scenario where making small moves count matter even more than they otherwise would.

The Wizards have to maximize all of their other resources, much like the Brooklyn Nets did when they ultimately overcame the disastrous 2014 trade with the Boston Celtics that left them paying a debt of high first-round picks for years. Brooklyn worked around their draft pick blackhole by hitting on late-round selections plus minor signings and trades. And they built a foundation along the way that made them surprising heavyweights in free agency. 

The Wizards have plenty of work to do, but first-year general manager Tommy Sheppard is already proving his worth in peripheral transactions, the types that turned the Nets around. They may be less-heralded acquisitions, but they can also become major separators between GMs.

Sheppard has been running the Wizards front office for less than a calendar year, yet he already has an impressive list of marginal moves. Just recently he turned Isaiah Thomas, who was a glaring detriment on the defensive end, into Jerome Robinson, the 13th overall pick just 20 months ago.

Last offseason, his first as GM, he flipped Aaron White, a former second-round pick who was stashed in Europe, for Davis Bertans, who has become one of the best shooters in the NBA. He also turned cap space into Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga, two guys with intriguing potential. Wagner, in particular, has emerged as a building block.

There are other minor moves Sheppard has made that stand out as good ones. He may have found something in Garrison Mathews, a rookie on a two-way deal who can light it up from three. Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have been nice surprises as end-of-the-roster guys. And signing Ish Smith for less money instead of retaining Tomas Satoransky has proven to be smart decision.

Sheppard continues to nail the smaller moves but he has also hit on some of the bigger ones. He drafted Rui Hachimura ninth overall in June and he has exceeded expectations thus far. Sheppard also re-signed Bradley Beal to a contract extension in October, a move few saw coming.

What will ultimately be the story of Sheppard's tenure as GM are decisions even bigger than those. There will also be some level of luck between the draft lottery, injuries and other factors.

But the best signs for what the Wizards should hope they get from Sheppard are already there. They need someone who can maximize all roster-building opportunities and work within the tight space of their remaining salary cap.

So far, Sheppard has done just that.

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Cavaliers reportedly parting ways with coach John Beilein ahead of matchup with Wizards

Cavaliers reportedly parting ways with coach John Beilein ahead of matchup with Wizards

As the Wizards continue to enjoy the All-Star break and prepare for the stretch run toward the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, their first opponent following the break just made a significant change to their team. 

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania and Jason Lloyd, the Cavaliers and head coach John Beilein have agreed to part ways after 54 games. It was Beilein's first year on the job after a 12-year run at Michigan. 

Cleveland is expected to promote associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to replace Beilein. 

According to The Athletic's report, several factors weighed on Beilein and the Cavaliers' decision to part ways, including the team's on-and-off-court struggles, and his son's resignation at Niagra University. The Cavs were 14-40 under their new head coach this season. 

For the Wizards, they're in a position to build off a two-game winning streak they built going into the All-Star break with a matchup against a bad Cavaliers team going through major structural changes. Though it's possible the Cavs could play better under new leadership. 

Entering Friday's clash with the Cavs, Washington sits three games behind the Magic for the last playoff spot in the East. 

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